Who Is: The Scrum Master

The Many Hats of a ScrumMaster

The ScrumMaster is not a super hero. 
They are normal people like you and me, and they know a heck of a lot about Scrum.  I fact, they might even be masterful in their knowledge of Scrum.  ScrumMasters may be able to be certified by trainers or exams within a few days, but that doesn’t make them a true master of Scrum.  At most, a ScrumMaster certification means that they’ve demonstrated a basic knowledge of Scrum by taking an exam (and possibly surviving a couple days of training).
The ScrumMaster acts as a guardian. 
Though this act may not be natural for some people, protecting the team from outside influences and interruptions is the ScrumMaster’s responsibility. This may require a ScrumMaster to physically stand between some one with perceived authority and the team. Uncomfortable as it may be, this is sometimes the only way to protect the team. This has rarely (not never) ended in physical assault. By shielding the team from interruption, the ScrumMaster allows the team to focus (a Scrum Value) on what they need to do for the time being. Being recognized for doing this well almost ensures an increase in trust (an Agile Principle).

The ScrumMaster acts as a doctor. 
The ScrumMaster may act as a doctor, of sorts.  Looking at team data and looking out for the team’s overall health.  Identifying areas that the team is weak, and suggesting remedies.  Ultimately it is up to the team to either take the ScrumMaster’s advice, much like real doctor / patient relationships.  Whether the team takes the ScrumMaster’s advice or not, the ScrumMaster will always look out for the team and tell them how their current health may affect their future.

The ScrumMaster acts as a nurse. 
Similar to the doctor role, the ScrumMaster also performs the duties of a nurse – sort of.  They inspect team’s environment and help curate an environment of trust – internally and externally.  Strong, cohesive teams need safe and supportive environments to operate in.  ScrumMasters often help the organization provide this for the team.

The ScrumMaster acts as a psychologist. 
Though the ScrumMaster role does not require one to be a student of Psychology, it surely doesn’t hurt.  The best ScrumMasters have an innate connection with the psyche of their team members. Through frequent discussions with team members, the ScrumMaster may provide diagnostic assessments to how the team is getting along. Team cohesion is extremely important in Scrum. These interviews provide a valuable portal to the team’s current state.

The ScrumMaster is a master. 
Not unlike the masters of martial arts, a ScrumMaster is a master of Scrum (it’s right there in the name of the role…). ScrumMasters know all about the basic fundamentals of Scrum – the Roles, Events, and Artifacts. But, they also know about how human beings operate on a Scrum Team, and how to help a team, practicing Scrum, seem effortless in achieving their goals. A master of Scrum realizes that people do not always start out knowing everything they assume they know, that their comprehension of advanced topics within an art will eventually reveal that their previous self-awareness was simply assumed.
The ScrumMaster is like a bloodhound. 
Like a bloodhound follows a scented trail, a good ScrumMaster asks the right questions and follows leads to find hidden problems. There are always problems, but if no one specifically identifies them, and the ScrumMaster’s job is to help the team solve problems, then the ScrumMaster much sometimes go find the problems that are hiding. Usually ScrumMasters use their knowledge of system in use, relationships within the organization, and help from others on and off the team to understand what may or may not be a problem.

The ScrumMaster is NOT a mother hen. 
It may be said that certain ScrumMasters mother hen their teams too much. This is sometimes true. Please do not think that all teams need to be protected against all influences and interruptions 100% of the time.  Much like a helicopter mom being a bad thing, it can be a bad thing to protect the team too much. Too much protection will definitely endanger the team’s ability to self-organize and may stifle empowerment, so this must be watched closely.

The ScrumMaster acts is an Agile Junkie! 
The greatest ScrumMasters are consumed with wanting to learn more about Agility and those who are Agile. It is part of the human condition to always seek more knowledge in a certain area(s). That area, for SrumMasters, is usually Agile-centric. Some may read books, blog, articles, etc. endlessly. Others will watch videos or listen to podcasts. Still others will seek to investigate, in person, how other organizations implement their Agile practices, or seek master-apprentice relationships. There are no prescribed limitations, nor are there required methods to use to attain more Agile experience or knowledge.

A ScrumMaster is a facilitator.
ScrumMasters are great at getting conversations going, and keeping them going.  They are good at keeping track of the relevant timeboxes, and coming up with interesting ways of urging quiet people to add their thoughts to conversations, while encouraging louder people to give them the time and space to do so.  The ScrumMaster’s facilitation skills are sometimes innate, but can be learned (or unlearned) over time.  Their facilitation abilities can be used for many different types of interactions between groups of people, not just for Scrum events.

A ScrumMaster is a coach.
Great ScrumMasters are able to see greatness in their team members. They can see their teammate’s strengths and weaknesses, and have the trust of their teammates to help make them stronger in all areas. Just like a coach on an athletic team. Coaches inspire, instruct, encourage and support – all without stepping foot on the field.

A ScrumMaster is a guide.
Just as a guide in a foreign land will point out ‘What you may see over there…’, ScrumMasters will provide examples of what other teams are doing and the results they are observing. They are knowledgeable about, and can provide details on the cultures of other organizations. They bring to light information that may be hidden unless people go looking specifically for it. Moreover, ScrumMasters are great at interpreting all of this and presenting it in terms understandable to the audience.

A ScrumMaster is NOT a statitician.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the ScrumMaster’s responsibility to compile or record team-centric data to clarify meaning, and draw practical conclusions. This behavior can absolutely drive a wedge between the ScrumMaster and the rest of the Scrum Team.  Every Sprint provides more data about the team, their cohesion, the product’s health, and many more areas. But the Scrum Team should decide how to collect these data, or whether to collect them. If these data are collected, it is up to the Scrum Team to decide what they should do with it.

A ScrumMaster may be a referee.
At times, ScrumMasters may need to serve as a referee, of sorts. At these times, the ScrumMaster will need to be able to provide a neutral viewpoint/stance, and facilitate communication among team members or between different teams.

A ScrumMaster is a scientist.
Scrum is about experimentation, and ScrumMasters know best which experiments teams should consider running.
A ScrumMaster will help the Scrum Team research, making a hypothesis and testing it out to find out what works. If an experiment fails to support the hypothesis, the team still learns vital information about themselves and the system they are in.

A ScrumMaster is a servant leader.
Servant leaders are neither just servants, nor just leaders. ScrumMasters devote themselves to serving the needs of others, while also focusing on meeting their unrequested needs. Servant leadership is tricky. The leadership part of a Servant Leader is only needed as long as leadership is not emerging among team members. There is a little Catch 22 thing that goes along with this. As long as the ScrumMaster is playing the role of a Servant Leader, other leaders on the team may not emerge, AND the ScrumMaster should serve as the Servant Leader as long as team members are not emerging as leaders. The servant part is not as tricky. Whatever the team needs, the ScrumMaster should try their level best to provide it (unless the team members are reasonably able to provide for themselves).

A ScrumMaster is a concierge.
The ScrumMaster tries their best to make the team members’ experience on the team happy and memorable. This may involve suggesting creative ideas for celebrating the teams successes. It may involve talking with other leaders in the organization to share creative ideas for rewarding teams who have shown great innovation. It may also resemble a ScrumMaster’s ability to consistently provide fun and productive Sprint Retrospective formats.

A ScrumMaster is an air traffic controller.
ScrumMasters can be relied upon to help maintains a safe and orderly flow of traffic. They help prevent collisions, or impediments from the team getting their expected word done. If problems do arise, and they always will, the ScrumMaster may request the help of Development Team members to figure out what the root of the problem is, and they should all work together to fix the problem before it gets worse.

‘The Many Hats of a ScrumMaster’ was developed by Maria Matarelli, Susan DiFabio, Dan Neumann, Rick Waters and Rich Valde.