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Scrum Master: Everything You Need To Know

Articles,28 Nov 2019
Scrum Master: Everything You Need To Know

As your software company has expanded, you’ve likely identified a key area for growth: productivity. The leading Agile framework is Scrum, in which employees can have one of three primary roles within a Scrum Team. The first role is the Product Owner, the individual who manages all decisions about the Product Backlog. The second is called the Development Team. They are collectively responsible for completing each task in the current Sprint. Our primary focus today is on the third component of the team: the Scrum Master.

What is a Scrum Master?

The primary role that an Agile Scrum Master will play is that of a cultural and communication leader. It’s their prerogative to manage external and internal communications towards and within the Scrum Team. After all, it’s critically important for the entire organization to understand how to properly interact with the Scrum Team. Stakeholders outside of the group should always have access to the team’s project management platform so they can get real-time updates on development progress. This eliminates the need for email inquiries asking, “Where are we with the project?” because they can see it with their own eyes.

Equally important are the interactions between team members, which must be productive to ensure that they achieve the goals of the Sprint. The tailored nature of a Sprint means that individuals should remain focused on just the assigned tasks by the Product Owner. The Scrum Master will then identify barriers that impede team performance and the completion of assigned tasks. These can include unnecessary interruptions, a lack of focus, non-Sprint activities, and more.

In essence, the success of the Scrum Team depends on the effectiveness of the Scrum Master.

What is a Certified Scrum Master?

Scrum Master Certification brings with it several professional and organizational benefits. We’ll discuss those shortly, but first, let’s talk about how to get the specific Scrum Master certification that’s relevant to your situation.

First, what is Scrum Master Training exactly? Can a detailed-oriented, hyper-organized person just assume the role of Scrum Master and expect success? Maybe sometimes, but most likely not all of the time. Scrum Master Training ensures that they genuinely understand the Scrum framework, can serve the organization effectively and can identify ways to keep the Development Team highly productive.

So what is a Scrum Master course? They are training sessions that can be held both in-person and virtually. As one example, through the Scrum Alliance, one can earn three different levels of Scrum Master certification.

  • First, a basic certificate: Students learn the initial Scrum concepts critical to success to serve as the Scrum Master.
  • Second, an advanced certification: This is available after a full year in the role of a Certified Scrum Master. This certification is designed to grow their skill sets including the unique ability to expand the Scrum framework beyond their team. They can spearhead Scrum implementation throughout the rest of the departments in your software company.
  • Finally, a professional level: Certified Scrum Master Professionals demonstrate a complete mastery of all aspects of the Scrum framework. They are committed to the process and you should count them among your most valuable assets. They are the ones who truly “get it” and know the value of Agile processes inside and out.

Although certification is not always necessary, a Scrum Master who has invested time and money into their career demonstrates a level of commitment to your company that your stakeholders are looking for. At the bare minimum, managers should expect employees to take basic training courses if they wish to become the team’s Scrum Master.

Roles a Scrum Master Plays

Next, let’s look at the Scrum Master Role. In effect, the Scrum Master is the glue that binds the entire Agile framework together. Without their leadership, the Scrum Team will lack the necessary checks and balances central to any Agile system. The role of a Scrum Master in Agile fills this gap. However, their roles and responsibilities change for each segment of the Scrum Team.

The Development Team

Because the Development Team is doing the bulk of the Sprint’s assigned tasks, the Scrum Master plays an extremely crucial role for them. When Sprint tasks remain uncompleted, it delays the software development process. Then, out of necessity, the Product Owner begins to push back deadlines.

Adaptation becomes key here. The Scrum Master must identify the risk to the Sprint early on during Daily Scrum. Scrum Theory calls this Deviation: incomplete tasks give rise to greater risk for the organization. The Scrum Master mitigates this by:

  • Identifying problems
  • Incorporating Solutions
  • Managing Sprint Retrospectives.

The Product Owner

Once the Product Owner has decided on the direction of the upcoming Sprint, It’s now the job of the Scrum Master to communicate that to the rest of the team. As a servant leader, Product Backlog review is an extremely important component. One-on-one time helps to effectively plan what needs to happen within that Sprint.

The Organization

The Scrum Master plays a unique role within the software organization. First, they must make sure that the rest of the organization understands the operational structure of the Scrum Team. Companies that are new to Agile methods often face resistance from those accustomed to older methods. It’s not uncommon for someone to email a software developer to request changes or ask for updates. However, this breaks the Scrum framework and can delay Sprint tasks from being completed.

A more appropriate method of communication would be for that same team member to have access to the Scrum project management software so they can see the status updates on their own without disrupting the Development Team. Furthermore, changes need to be communicated to the Product Owner who can add the request to the Backlog.

Where does the Scrum Master come into play here? It’s their job to make sure everyone outside of the Scrum Team understands this process. In turn, this makes organization-wide adoption of Scrum easier down the road — another job for the Scrum Master.

What Does a Scrum Master Do?

A Scrum Master’s daily duties will vary based on the needs of the group. On Monday, they may be leading the Sprint kick-off meeting. Tomorrow, they may have a one-on-one with the Product Owner to review Product Backlog items. At the end of the Sprint, they’ll lead the Retrospective Review. Regardless, the goals of a Scrum Master are simple: ensuring that the Scrum framework is followed, is successful, and is reproducible across the organization.

So what does a Scrum Master do in Agile? They act as the point person for the successful implementation of the framework. As an example, let’s revisit the product change we mentioned a few moments ago. Some Development Teams will change tasks mid-Sprint. While in the grand scheme of things a single additional task may not affect productivity, it sets a precedent. The more of these that get added to any single Sprint, the Development Team will complete fewer and fewer planned tasks.

It’s the job of the Scrum Master to ensure this doesn’t happen. They should look for these deviations. In essence, it’s their responsibility to make sure everyone understands the goals, structure, and functionality of the Scrum framework.

How to Become a Scrum Master

As more organizations adopt Agile methods, driven employees have wondered how to become a professional Scrum master. First, it’s important to understand how to become a certified Scrum Master.

  • Be prepared to learn. Scrum creators Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland put together an excellent guide. You can download it HERE. Read it, internalize it, and begin practicing its methods.
  • Next, look for courses online or locally to earn your basic certification.
  • Be prepared to wait. Advanced certification requires at least 1 year of basic certification. And, even more study and experience are necessary to move to the third stage: Professional Scrum Master Certification.

Finally, embrace Scrum. As you grow in your understanding of how to become an Agile Scrum Master, you’ll start talking it and creating it as a second language. That’s a good thing! It shows your commitment to the framework and is indicative of future success!

Scrum in Your Company

The Scrum framework is a highly effective way to increase team collaboration and productivity. The Scrum Master plays an essential role in its success by working closely with each member of the team to ensure adherence to the framework.

As your team considers adopting Scrum or another Agile framework, consider Z-Stream! It’s a full-service workflow tool, which keeps everything your team needs in one easy-to-use interface. It easily integrates with development tools such as Github and Gitlab, plus Google Docs easily syncs with our system.

If you’re looking to give your Scrum Master the tools they need to succeed, contact us today to find out how Z-Stream can take your Scrum Team to the next level! Start increasing your team’s efficiency right now with a free trial!