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What is a Scrum Master?

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Scrum Master might sound like a cool title–and it is–but in some ways, it’s misleading. When you hear Master, you probably think authority, power, or manager. You might even consider a scrum master, a micromanager, or an authority on all activities. But that’s far from the truth. Let’s dive into what is a Scrum Master and what a scrum master does.

What is a Scrum Master—Definition

A Scrum Master is someone who coaches and drives forward a team’s process, ensuring that they follow the principles of the agile scrum methodology to allow maximum efficiency and productivity. While the Product Owner’s (PO) role is the what, the Scrum Master’s role is the how.

The Scrum Master guides and helps a development team, which is why Jeff Sutherland, one of the creators of Scrum, describes the role as “something between a team captain and a coach” (Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland, 62).

With that in mind, here are a few essential elements that are intrinsically connected to what it means to be a Scrum Master.

A Scrum Master is best known as a servant leader. Not a manager. Not a taskmaster. Not a micromanager. A servant leader. Servant leadership is the regular practice of listening, foresight, and stewardship. If you want to be an effective Scrum Master, you must view your relationship with both the PO and the team as one of support and empowerment.

Serving isn’t the opposite of leading, which brings us to the second important element: having the mentality of continued improvement. This is fundamental to both running Agile Scrum and the role of a Scrum Master. At Uhuru, we always give our best efforts, knowing that there is always room to become better.

Being in a role that focuses on supporting the team to produce the best outcomes heightens our awareness of errors or bottlenecks in a process or person. This level of forward-thinking is also a great way to support the team and individual to determine if more training is needed or if the current process needs to be reviewed and improved, making the overall business, team, and individual more empowered, independent, and successful.

Finally, there is a level of commitment and understanding that a Scrum Master must have and nurture to ensure the continuous practice of agile methodologies. Agile scrum is a process, but the way of thinking is a culture that naturally comes with the understanding of the agile methods. You can read more on how we use Scrum for agile marketing. For this blog, we will focus on the Scrum Master’s job and how Uhuru empowers the team to work in an agile scrum environment, giving our company a competitive advantage.

Now that you have a better understanding of what a Scrum Master is let’s enhance that understanding by learning what they do.

Scrum Master Roles and Responsibilities

You can categorize the Roles and Responsibilities of a Scrum Master into three categories: facilitation, empowerment, and stability.

Provide Structure and Stability

Facilitating team meetings is a routine and crucial role for the Scrum Master.

The Scrum Master facilitates Scrum meetings, including Scrum planning (determining who, how, and what team members will do), daily huddles (daily 20 minute-meetings to remove impediments), and retrospectives (team conveys what went well, what could improve, and how to improve). Each of these meetings is crucial to remove any roadblocks preventing anyone from having a successful sprint.

To facilitate effective and efficient meetings, the Scrum Master meets with the PO in a scrum stretch to ensure to include all high-priority projects in the upcoming sprint. These priorities are also communicated to the team, completing those specific tasks.

As a company grows, the Scrum Masters that oversee multiple hives, meet together in a scrum of scrums. This meeting aligns priorities, addresses any crossover hive support, and provides support to one another to ensure their hives are thriving using agile scrum methodologies.

Resolve and Improve

Empowering the team is crucial not only to create a positive and strong environment but also to create independence. Working in a hive is a collaboration of people and skills. There is not a formal manager or supervisor; everyone is the expert in their field and relies on each other to create the best outcome for our clients. From a strategic vision to creative design to a completed landing page, the entire team takes part in the result. Therefore, providing standards, processes, tools, guidelines, and templates are just a few resources that empower the individuals to complete their tasks with little to no impediments.

We do not live in a perfect world, and impediments, pivots, or hiccups can and will happen. Like a coach, a good Scrum Master stays neutral (focusing on what’s best for the client, their company, and each individual on the team), encouraging the team and providing support and direction wherever needed.

Instead of “you are not doing this well,” you should say, “how can I help you improve?”

Here are some other good examples:

  • “I hear you’re having trouble with time management, let’s review your calendar to assure your expectations are realistic and clear.”
  • “Do you need more training on XYZ?”
  • “Let’s set up a call with [team member]; their knowledge and experience will best guide you through this issue.”
  • “I see you put a lot of time and effort into this [project]. How can we make this process more efficient for you and the client?”

The Scrum Master needs to know what is impeding progress and remove that impediment as soon as possible so that the team can work at the highest level of efficiency.

For example, a Scrum Master notices at the end of a sprint that one team member completed 15 out of 35 points, which is less than half of what they committed to. That’s a serious red flag! But a good Scrum Master doesn’t just notice the problem, they ask WHY. Maybe the team member is just lazy. But more than likely, something happened that hindered them from completing their tasks–maybe another project took more time than expected, or they didn’t have what was needed to complete their projects.

These are the instances where the Scrum Master shines! They investigate the issue and resolve all impediments so the team can focus on the items that are ready and keep moving on other projects until that impediment is removed and is ready to be completed efficiently. In this manner, the Scrum Master uses their systems to resolve the obstacle while the team member doesn’t lose focus on completing the tasks in their sprint.

One of the most important ways the Scrum Master empowers the team is by protecting them. Asking the right questions and resolving foreseen issues through the planning stages. Is the team being given unreasonable expectations? Is the team being disturbed in their work? Are they being asked to deviate from their commitments? Is the team’s capacity divided evenly? These are all questions a successful Scrum Master is always asking to protect the team.

Provides Accountability

Lastly, it’s the Scrum Master’s job to hold the team accountable, ensuring they follow the principles of Agile Scrum correctly. Equally essential is holding the team accountable to their commitments each sprint/week.

For example, if the team committed to 150 points in one particular sprint, it’s your job to make sure they complete 150 points. If they’re not completed, it’s important to know why because identifying the bottleneck will guide you through processing improvements or training opportunities. Keep in mind that if the same issue keeps arising with the same person, it’s exposing a personnel issue to address.

Holding individuals and teams accountable enhances the importance of time tracking, paper trail in communication, and sophisticated project management tools, which is where the Scrum Master lives every day!

Now that you know how the Scrum Master lives in the details of operations, you may be wondering what the difference between a Scrum Master and a Product Owner is? Let’s get into it!

Scrum Master Vs. Product Owner

Remember, the Product Owner’s role is the what. They determine what the team should accomplish and what is a priority.

The Scrum Master’s role is the how. How should the team work to most efficiently and rapidly accomplish the what?

Here’s a little more detail that might help explain the difference:

Product Owner (PO)

  • Deeply connected to the client and gives client feedback to the team (lead point of contact)
  • Devotes time to understanding the clients’ marketing initiatives, goals, buyer’s and KPI’s and clearly communicating those to the team
  • Builds trust with and in the team with a high level of communication and insight into projects
  • Communicates the team’s progress to the client in ongoing meetings and updates
  • Translates the team’s end product into value for the client

Scrum Master

  • Deeply connected to the team and gives team feedback to the PO
  • Responsible for how efficient the team works and supporting capacity levels
  • Organizes prioritize in a sprint for the team
  • Controls the pace and environment of the team through facilitation, empowerment, and accountability
  • Provides the PO with data that supports and empowers decision making

The Scrum Master and the Product Owner are two different roles within the same framework (i.e., Agile Scrum). But what about in a different context? For instance, what’s the difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager? Are they the same thing?

Scrum Master Vs. Project Manager

Agile Scrum is a very different framework from the traditional way of doing things. Meaning that while the Scrum Master and the Project Manager have similarities in roles, they are much different. Here’s how:

Project Manager

  • Works with the customer to determine the direction
  • Lead role in all project-related activities
  • Identifies and defines the projects
  • Manages quality metrics
  • Customer-facing
  • Applies the top-down approach

Scrum Master

  • Works with the team (PO) to determine the direction
  • Facilitates and coaches the team
  • Works with the PO to understand the project, then facilitates progress
  • Manages client reports and process control
  • Internal, team-facing
  • Same level approach: the team is made up of equals contributing their expertise

How Uhuru Scrum Masters Work in a Remote Environment

Uhuru is not the average marketing agency–for many reasons! But one reason is that we are a 100% remote team. So what’s so different about a Scrum Master in a remote work environment? As vital as the role is for an on-site workplace, it’s even more critical in a remote company.

Working remotely allows team members to live around the globe. But with that kind of spread, comes a large variety of time-zones, higher levels of communication and importance to following the systems, making organization and accountability essential to success.

For example, at Uhuru, we place a premium on up-to-date calendars. We even have a little saying: “If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.” But it’s the Scrum Master’s job to hold the team accountable and ensure that calendars are up to date, individual and team available provides a high level of non-verbal communication. If there is a blank space, then you can add a meeting or call to connect with them. In turn, if they are working, on break, or unavailable, that is clear to the entire team.

In a remote work environment, you can’t just lean over to the next cubicle, put a note on someone’s desk, or see how long someone has been in the office. You must have processes in place to facilitate a level of transparency that is informative yet not intrusive, hence the shared calendars. The Scrum Master ensures these practices are followed and maintained to ensure the team can operate, hyper-communicate, and manage their time at the highest level.

Diligent, disciplined, self-starter, strategic with time management, and hyper-communicative are just a few qualities that make a remote Scrum Master prosperous.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably already a Scrum Master and are looking to enhance your skills and practices, or you are inspired to become one! If you’re inspired, you may ask, what does it take to become and be a great Scrum Master?

How to Become a Scrum Master

For starters, you will want to familiarize yourself with Agile Scrum, if you’re not already. Check out Jeff Sutherland’s book and read about how Uhuru uses Agile Scrum for Marketing.

Once you’re familiar with Scrum, the best way to become a Scrum Master is to get certified. The two most commonly accepted organizations that offer certification are and Scrum Alliance. Both offer in-person training (most of which include a 2-day course) and an exam that must be passed to receive certification.

You will need to renew your certification every two years, but it can never hurt to reinforce the principles you’ve learned, and you’ll most likely learn something new each time.

So there it is. That’s all you need to know about “what is a Scrum Master.”

The question is, does this sound like you? Do you have what it takes to be a Scrum Master?

Do you love a challenge? Are you border-line OCD and pay attention to detail? Do you thrive in coaching people to be the best they can be?

Then you will make a good Scrum Master, maybe even a great one.

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