What is a Scrum Master?


What is a Scrum Master?Scrum Master? What are they? What do they do? There are many blog posts around on this topic. Many of them I agree with, but I wanted to take a stab at it myself. You see I am a Scrum Master, it’s one of the ways I define myself. So to all intents and purposes this is what I try to be.

Scrum Master as a Practitioner

With teams becoming more savvy as agile consumers, a Scrum Master needs to have more than just Scrum in his knowledge arsenal. There are no limits to the knowledge from other contexts to which a Scrum Master can pull from. Scrum, Agile, Lean, Kanban, systems thinking, complexity theory, sociology, psychology and psychotherapy, games, comedy, drama, facilitation, listening, negotiation. These are just a handful of areas my work has me looking into in some way to apply beyond the basics frameworks of scrum.

Somehow I can find something, often metaphorical, sometimes literal, that I can learn from and apply to a context. All the while bearing in mind that the tools are useful and varied and don’t have to be applied as designed.

I try to arm people with the knowledge I’ve gleaned and let them decide how best to apply it to their own context problems.

I see Scrum as a very loose set of guidelines within which the creativity of the team can produce something incredible.

Scrum Master as a leader

How do you define a leader? Oxford Dictionaries says this
“The person who leads or commands a group”.
That’s a little stuffy for me and frankly not something I and much of the agile community would agree with. Deming says
“A leader’s job is to help people”.

Perfect, that sounds better. I love helping people & the teams I work with. I’ll do whatever
I can to provide an environment that gives the team autonomy, supports their needs, failures and learning. I’ll help them to solve problems rather than provide solutions.
I’ll be their conscience and remind them when they veer from their moral, ethical or practical code.

Scrum Master as a Coach or Mentor

Easy one right? It’s just telling people how to do something they don’t know..

Wrong. I’m no expert on the subject of coaching, but the little I do know suggests that’s not it. Something I often see from new, inexperienced or simply bad Scrum Masters.
I was taught it as having aspects of motivational, educational and consultive dialogs with people.

I try to be non judgmental, open to all ideas and try to build on them rather than block them or disregard them. I see it as being a listening, questioning exploratory activity that helps the person or persons being coach come to their own conclusions and decisions. If I do make suggestions, I ask the recipient that if they accept the suggestion they must take responsibility for it’s implementation. Sometimes it may be as simple as showing someone a skill or technique they didn’t know, other times it will be exploring ideas and seeing what emerges.

Scrum Master as a Therapist

Honestly, Therapist! The longer I do this job, the more I come to believe that psychotherapy has a huge part to play in our working and non working lives. Culturally it can take many forms that have changed over the socio-historic timeline. Confessional, (at one time a public activity), Marriage Guidance, Ritual Exorcism, they are all forms of therapy at some point. They are all methods of dealing with our problems.

Scrum teams have many, infinitely varied problems. A bit like the coaching facet, I see the Scrum Master as someone that helps the team work through the problem rather than ‘fix’ it for them. Teach a man to fish, not give a man a fish.

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2 Responses to “What is a Scrum Master?”

  1. Anand K July 30, 2012 at 12:38 #

    As mentor or coach, shall scrum master help to align product day to day work with team member’s long term career objectives?

    • Scrimmers July 30, 2012 at 12:58 #

      I think it’s important for a Scrum Master to support people and their career development. Sometimes that may be at odds with the needs of the organisation, other times they’re the same thing.

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