Scrum Master: Much More Than an Agile Project Manager

What is a Scrum Master? Is he or she the master of Scrum? Is he the boss? Who is the boss of the Scrum Master? What does the Scrum Master do? How does this role differ from a typical project manager?

Let’s clear a few things up.

  • The Scrum Master is not the master of Scrum, he or she is trying to “Create the conditions for the team to succeed” – doing whatever is necessary to support and ensure that the team is awesome!
  • The Scrum Master is not the boss – the Scrum team is a self-managed entity with no boss
  • The Scrum Master is not a project manager that does Agile activities
  • The Scrum Master is a member of the Scrum team, therefore has no boss
  • The Scrum Master basically does a few powerful activities, and that’s it

Scrum Master responsibilities include:

  • The most important duty of a Scrum Master is to make sure Scrum is well understood and practiced. He or she does this by explaining its principles, showing its process, engaging with the team, connecting with others outside the team and, most importantly, being the example by living the Agile values and showing the Scrum behaviours.
  • One of the most valuable objectives for a Scrum Master is to focus on creating an empowering, supportive and love-filled environment for the team. This can have a huge impact on the lives of the team members, and through them to the lives of those connected to the team.
  • Also, the Scrum Master must also help remove obstacles that stand in the way of the team’s progress. He can do this by removing them himself, enlisting others to take care of them, rallying the team to overcome them, and/or even sparking a change in policy or rules in the organization.
  • Another important responsibility of the Scrum Master is to facilitate the Scrum meetings. These include the Sprint Planning meeting, the Daily Scrum meeting, the Sprint Review meeting, and the Sprint Retrospective meeting.
  • Another important duty is to build the capacity of his fellow team members. It is critical to help build up their skills in using Scrum and helping do the same. If this is not done, then Scrum will not be sustainable in the long term.
  • A more advanced duty of the Scrum Master is to use Scrum and Agile to enhance the creativity, learning, and abilities of the overall organization. This is hard and requires tremendous support from senior management and peers. And this is the responsibility that has the best chance of making a lasting and meaningful impact.

TIP: Once you become proficient in the basic responsibilities of a Scrum Master, focus on improving and enhancing the organization.

Typical Journey for a Scrum Master

Some Scrum Masters go through a journey to become an amazing and outstanding Agile coach. This journey may include: starting as a “Scrum Guy” (taking notes, scheduling meetings), then on to a “Scrum Mum” (moderate the meetings, assign tasks, team interface), then could move to become an “Awesome Scrum Master” (facilitates the meetings, focuses on long-term learning, encourages proactive behaviour), and then might move finally to an “Ultimate Agile Coach” (act like a mirror, asks powerful questions, great listener). This is one mental model that Scrum Masters may follow.

Being a Scrum Master is quite hard. It takes patience, perseverance, kindness, passion, excitement for learning, and plenty of support from others. If you are thinking of becoming a Scrum Master, adopt a mode of learning – this will make your job so much easier.

Differences Between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager

Fundamentally, a Scrum Master is focused on improving the team’s ability to be effective and productive. This is in contrast to the focus on managing the project which is done by the project manager. Other differences between the Scrum Master and project manager include (not an exhaustive list):

  • Helping the team use Scrum effectively instead of managing the team
  • Removing obstacles no matter the size or type instead of removing obstacles directly tied to the project deliverables and timeline
  • Facilitating and helping others facilitate the key Scrum ceremonies instead of leading the status updates and giving direction
  • Focusing on the team’s advancement instead of focusing on the project plan
  • Working with a team that will (hopefully) continue after the project instead of working with a group of individuals for the duration of the project and then working with others for the next project

Keep in mind, that this is a short list of differences. One of the most interesting concepts to note is that the roles and responsibilities of a typical project manager are split between the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Team Members once a group moves to using a Scrum approach. This change is usually quite difficult for the individual that was the project manager and is now the Scrum Master.

TIP: If you are shifting your role from a project manager to a Scrum Master be patient with yourself and ask for help as this is a difficult transition.

A great video to start thinking about Scrum and the kinds of things that Scrum Masters need to be aware of is “Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell” by Henrik Kniberg –> I have shown this video to many groups and organizations with many “a-ha” moments and visible shifts in paradigms.

What other insights do you have about the Scrum Master? What challenges did you face taking on this new role? If you were a project manager and are now a Scrum Master, what differences did you notice? And what similarities did you notice?

Thanks and enjoy your journey with Agile values and Agile frameworks!

Paul J. Heidema

Warm regards,

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