This is an excerpt from Exploring Scrum: The Fundamentals.
While the Product Owner is the Team Member who is accountable to the Business for the value of the Team’s Results, the ScrumMaster is accountable to the Business for making sure that Scrum is used correctly, that the Team uses Scrum in a positive way, and that the Team is constantly improving.
The ScrumMaster is seldom a ‘master of Scrum’; but the ScrumMaster is the Team Member whose primary responsibility is to help the Scrum Team use and improve its use of Scrum. This isn’t simply for Scrum’s sake; it’s because the Team needs to get better at doing what the Product Owner needs it to do. In practice this means that the ScrumMaster works with the other Team Members to help the Team produce Quality Results at a rapid, though sustainable, pace.
I will describe the roles of the ScrumMaster’s in the context of the team maturity model14, which says that as a team matures it goes through four phases: forming, storming, norming, and performing, which are briefly defined as:
- Forming: when the Team is getting together, figuring out what its objectives are, and the Team Members are getting to know each other;
- Storming: different ideas compete for consideration, Team Members compete with each other for dominance, Team Members figure out what behaviors don’t work, and so on;
- Norming: Team Members start to adjust to each other and develop work habits that allow them to work together, they figure out what does work for them, and they become capable of actually getting work Done;
- Performing: the Team functions as a single unit and works without inappropriate internal conflicts or with the need for supervision.
This model makes it easy for me to describe the ScrumMaster’s primary goal, which is depicted in above. This goal is to get the Team Performing as quickly as possible, and then keep it there, or maybe even push it further towards hyper-Performance, which is when the Team is doing so well the ScrumMaster becomes ‘invisible’. In any case, this means that the ScrumMaster is constantly helping the Team Members deal with, and fight through, the environmental forces inside and surrounding the Team, in order to help them improve.
The ScrumMaster helps the Team mature to become a performing unit in many ways. One of them is to help the Team Members achieve and maintain focus – on both Product and Practices. The Product Owner’s job is to prioritize what part of the Product to focus on, and the ScrumMaster’s job is to help the Team achieve a well-balanced set of Practices. Teams consist of people, and the ScrumMaster role is to help them become a performing unit as fast as possible so that they can maximize their performance in the direction set by the Product Owner.
Now, this is actually a pretty simple description of the ScrumMaster’s job, but it leads to some significant discussions about what it means and how to do it.
Role Unique to Scrum
The ScrumMaster is a new leadership role that is unique to Scrum. Even though it’s a leadership role, it comes with no management power; that is, a ScrumMaster has no actual management authority over the people on the Scrum Team. Any authority that the ScrumMaster has is moral authority that is granted to the ScrumMaster by the Team.
The ScrumMaster uses this moral authority to help the Team improve its internal processes; to help the Team become more cross-functional, self-organized, self-managed, and self-aware; and the ScrumMaster works with the Organization and the Team to manage the impediments and constraints that are affecting the Team.
Not only that, but there are many aspects (sub-roles or responsibilities) of the ScrumMaster role. Each of these sub-roles is familiar to us, but the combination of them is special. There is no official list of these various responsibilities, but here are some of them that I talk about when coaching ScrumMasters:
The ScrumMaster is constantly working with the Team, helping it get better, facilitating its self-organization, and assuring that it follows the Scrum process.
The ScrumMaster teaches the Team what Scrum is and how to use it. The ScrumMaster is constantly working with the Team Members to help improve their knowledge and use of Scrum. The ScrumMaster also helps the Team Members improve their technical abilities, in any way that he or she can.
The ScrumMaster acts as a referee in most internal disputes on the Team. This is a special case of the Facilitator role, but is common enough that it needs to be called out separately.
The ScrumMaster acts as the conscience of the Team, especially when it comes to the Team Values I described in chapter 2.1. When a Team Member (or the Team as a whole) is not living the Values it is the ScrumMaster’s job to make this fact visible and try to do something about it. This often, but not always, causes the ScrumMaster to call for an Intraspective (discussed later in this chapter) to discuss the issue with the Team.
The ScrumMaster acts as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to process. That is, when the ScrumMaster notices a ‘process smell’ the ScrumMaster should talk to the Team about it in order to resolve and correct it.
One of the primary responsibilities of the ScrumMaster is to manage the impediments or constraints that are getting in the way of the Team. Often, the ScrumMaster does this by facilitating the Team to manage its own impediments and constraints, but sometimes the ScrumMaster must work with the Product Owner, Business Owner, or others in the Organization to help deal with them.
The ScrumMaster is a Team Member, and brings his or her own skills to the Team, working on the Team’s Stories and Tasks. Often, the ScrumMaster understands how the Organization works; so helping the Team adapt to the Organization and helping the Organization adapt to the Teambecomes one of the things the ScrumMaster usually does – often in tandem with the Product Owner.
The ScrumMaster is not simply a collection of these sub-roles, though. The basic idea is that the ScrumMaster will do ‘whatever it takes’ to help the Team get better so that the Team can do the work the Product Owner requires of it. When I coach ScrumMasters, I constantly enjoin them to ‘make it work’ no matter what is going on.
Because of this ‘make it work’ attitude the ScrumMaster often needs to take the cultures of the Team and the Organization into account. There is no ‘one size fits all’ guidance to give a ScrumMaster – it is all situationally dependent. Not all ScrumMasters are appropriate for all Teams, and ScrumMasters must be constantly self-evaluating to determine if they are being effective. If they are not, they owe it to their Teams to get themselves replaced.
 Bruce Tuckman, “Developmental sequence in small groups,” Psychological Bulletin 63 (6), 384-99.