What’s in a Name: Scrum Master

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By: Greg Smith, CSM, Project Manager | ALLOY

When I meet somebody new, at some point the conversation looks like this:

 So, what do you do?

Wow, that’s a big question! I hike, bike, walk my dog, read, parent, walk my dog, take road trips, be a husband, walk my dog some more (such a pest) ……..

No, what do you do as a job!

Oh, I’m a scrum master.

… Umm, what is that? What do you do? I’ve never heard of that.
That scenario has happened a lot with me over the years working in this digital environment. I’ve been a practicing scrum master 6 years and counting. At a previous company, I even had the CEO ask quizzically, “What does a scrum master do?”, and didn’t know they had one employed. He at least thought it was a cool title to have, and would be fun on a business card.

 It’s so much more than a cool title. A scrum master is a type of team coach. On scrum teams there are only three roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Team. A scrum master works with and for the other two roles. The primary function of a scrum master is to be a facilitator. Directly from the originator of the term and position, Dr. Sutherland, “The scrum master is to make things easier or less difficult. To help forward an action or process”.

Some responsibilities this person takes on are: facilitating agile team ceremonies (daily standups, sprint reviews, retrospectives, etc.), that scrum practices are adhered to, shepherding the team to becoming self-organizing/self-managing, help in removing any obstacles that are hindering the team, protecting the team from outside distractions, and being a servant leader. There are other functions, but those are the primary ones.

There are also some good traits of a scrum master: desire for continuous improvement, servant leadership, relationship building, a facilitator, and being able to build trust. There are other valuable traits, but these are absolutely the key ones.

This person usually finds as much or more satisfaction from helping facilitate the team’s success than their own. It’s not easy to find good scrum masters, and even harder to find great ones. A scrum master may not be developing, testing or managing a product, but this position can provide great value to a team and company by assisting teams to reach their potential.

Yes, “scrum master” is foreign to a lot of people; it’s a real thing, and not a fictional rugby position.