Why being a Scrum Master is a full time job

May 14, 2011  ·  Sandy Mamoli

An adequate Scrum Master can handle two or three teams at the time; a great one can only handle one”. (Michael James - An Example Scrum Master’s checklist)

I found that organisations, teams and new Scrum Masters (even freshly certified ones) often aren’t sure what the Scrum Master role entails and what value it provides.

Here is my attempt to summarize what a good Scrum Master does:

The Scrum Master role

Some teams are like symphony orchestras, so they need a leader who keeps everyone on the same sheet of music. Conductors have to be deeply familiar with each instrument and with the music, yet they don't play in the band or tell the musicians what to do. They let the music provide detailed guidance; their job is to bring out the best in the musicians, both individually and as a group." (Mike Cohn - Succeeding with Agile) "A Scrum Master is like a conductor coordinating the efforts of musicians, helping them to play together. Some teams are like jazz bands, so they need a leader who encourages improvisation.

In general the Scrum Master ...

  • makes sure the team is running (good) Agile development

  • assists team members in adopting and improving Agile Development

  • helps the team maximise throughput and to work in the best possible way

  • protects the team from disturbance and external threats

  • is a “servant leader” with no formal authority - all authority is granted by the team

  • has no direct authority over Agile development team members but does have authority over the process

As a Scrum Master you do ...

Some activities I would expect from an experienced Scrum Master:

  • Remove impediments

  • Facilitate meetings (sprint planning, retrospective, review, daily stand-up)

  • Coach the team on the Agile development process and make sure the team improves over time (note the caveat “experienced”)

  • Re-enforce good practises

  • Challenge bad practises and habits and work towards their removal

  • Make sure people do what they have agreed to do

  • Make sure that the team follow the team ground rules they have defined

  • Make sure that quality is a team effort and commitment to the “done” statement is taken seriously

  • Provide transparency via the product and sprint backlogs, daily stand-ups, demos and a visible workspace

  • Assist in reaching the sprint goal (help with story creation, testing, making coffee, etc if necessary - loads of ad-hoc stuff)

  • Ensure that a collaborative culture exists within the team

  • Support the Product Owner

  • Improve the team’s engineering practices and tools

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate

  • Smile lots, make people laugh, and make the team feel that you are one of them not an outsider

… as a Scrum Master you are not expected to do all of this yourself but you are responsible for that it happens.

Also, check out Kane Mar’s excellent mind maps of the Scrum Master role here.


Tags: Agile, Agile coaching, Scrum, ScrumMaster, Team.