What Is a Scrum Master and What Do They Do

What Is a Scrum Master and What Do They Do

Published on
July 22, 2022
Updated on
September 26, 2022
Author
Luan Campos
Reading Time
Hiring an experienced Scrum Master can be an uphill battle. While job sites like Indeed are home to thousands of Scrum Masters, not every candidate has the personality, experience, and skills to be a servant leader.

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A Scrum Master is a facilitator for development teams that follow Scrum, a lightweight Agile framework for generating value through adaptive solutions. Scrum Masters are responsible for making sure the team understands and follows Scrum values and principles. They also manage all the collaboration and communication between teams and departments to ensure successful outcomes.

Read on to learn more about Scrum Masters, what they do, and how much they make. We'll also discuss Scrum Master responsibilities and how to hire the best Scrum Master for your team.

What Is a Scrum Master?

As mentioned above, a Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that a Scrum software development team lives and breathes Scrum values. Their main role is to be a "servant leader" to the dev team — to lead meetings, remove barriers to success, and coach team members on Scrum best practices.

What Is Scrum?

Scrum is an Agile framework that helps teams collaborate and communicate. It takes its name from rugby, where the term "scrum" refers to a formation of players. The creators of Scrum chose this name to emphasize the importance of:

  • Teamwork
  • Self-organization while solving problems
  • Learning through experiences
  • Reflecting on losses and wins to improve continuously

Scrum teams have three distinct roles: the Scrum Master, the product manager, and the development team members. While there's only one Scrum Master and one product manager, there are usually multiple dev team members.

Scrum Artifacts

Scrum requires the Scrum team to identify and work on three documents called artifacts. These are used for defining:

  • The product being developed
  • Actions for creating it
  • Actions performed during the project

The three main Scrum artifacts are:

  • Product Backlog: The team's "to-do" list, the product backlog is the list of work that needs to be done. It's constantly re-prioritized, revisited, and maintained by the product owner because items may no longer be relevant as the market changes.
  • Sprint Backlog: This refers to the list of items, bug fixes, or user stories selected by the team for implementation in the current Sprint. Like product backlogs, sprint backlogs are flexible and can change during a sprint.
  • Increments: Also known as sprint goals, increments are the usable end-products of sprints. Each increment builds on previous ones. Examples include:
  • The latest prototype of a mobile app
  • The newest update to a video game
  • The latest stable version of a word processing software

Scrum Ceremonies and Events

Like other Agile frameworks, Scrum has its own ceremonies and events. These include:

Sprint

Also known as an iteration, a sprint is a short period during which the team implements and delivers a working product increment. For example, if you're working on a video game, you can deliver "chapter one" of the game during the first sprint. Most sprints last two to four weeks.

Organizing the Backlog

The product owner maintains the team's product backlog using feedback from the team and users to organize and prioritize the list. Another name for this maintenance is backlog grooming.

Sprint Planning

This meeting is led by the Scrum Master. It requires the dev team to plan the scope of the work for the current sprint. At the end of the meeting, every team member must have a clear idea of what needs to be done in the sprint and how they can deliver value to the client.

Daily Stand-Up

Also known as a daily scrum, a daily stand-up is a 15-minute meeting that happens at the same time and place every morning. The goal of daily stand-ups is to plan the next 24 hours and ensure that everyone's on the same page. Scrum Masters typically conduct stand-ups by asking every team member the following questions:

  • What did you accomplish yesterday?
  • What do you plan to do today?
  • Are there any obstacles?
Sprint Review

Performed after each sprint, sprint reviews are informal sessions for inspecting increments.

During these meetings, the dev team showcases finished product backlog items to teammates and stakeholders for feedback. Product owners may also rework the product backlog as needed.

Sprint Retrospective

Sprint retrospectives require the team to come together to document and talk about what worked and what didn't for:

  • A sprint
  • The project as a whole
  • Tools
  • Relationships between people
  • Certain ceremonies

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

Although they both manage teams, Scrum Masters and project managers play distinct roles.

Project managers focus on ensuring that projects are completed on time and meet client requirements. They tend to focus on logistics, such as timelines, budget, resources, and communication plans. Project management tasks usually include:

  • Defining project goals and scope
  • Setting schedules and budgets
  • Maintaining consistent communication with stakeholders, including clients
  • Managing risk

Project managers can work with any project management methodology, such as Waterfall and Agile. Common project management certifications include:

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): Administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the CAPM is an entry-level certification. You only need a high school diploma or equivalent and twenty-three hours of project management training to qualify for the exam.
  • Project Management Professional (PMP): Also administered by the PMI, the PMP is a leading project management certification. You need at least three years of project management experience to take the exam.

In contrast, Scrum Masters are exclusive to Scrum projects and teams. Additionally, their focus is on the Scrum team rather than logistics. The main goal of a Scrum Master is to lead and coach teams on Scrum best practices. They're also responsible for supporting team members and resolving communication issues. Other tasks may include:

  • Fostering good teamwork and communication within the team
  • Facilitating meetings, including sprints, daily stand-ups, and retrospectives
  • Addressing issues that are holding the team back

In-demand Scrum certifications include:

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM): Administered by the Scrum Alliance, the CSM is highly sought-after by employers. Candidates need to take a course and pass an exam to get this certification.
  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM I): An alternative to the CSM, the PSM I is administered by Scrum.org. Applicants only need to pass an exam to be PSM certified.
  • Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO): The CSPO certification validates candidates' knowledge and training in being a product owner.
  • Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Scrum Master (SSM): Administered by Scaled Agile, SSM teaches candidates how to coach Agile teams to deliver maximum value at scale. It also gives them the tools and guidance needed to work effectively in remote environments.

Scrum Master vs. Product Manager

Scrum Masters are also distinct from product managers. Unlike Scrum Masters, who focus on getting the team to deliver high-quality work, Product managers are responsible for developing products for your company. They own the product strategies for products, specify their functional requirements, and oversee feature releases.

Many small companies have been tempted to cut costs by combining the Scrum Master and product manager roles together. However, we don't recommend this, since the Scrum Master and the product manager fulfill two different roles on a Scrum team.

When the two roles are combined into a single individual, that individual will most likely gravitate towards the role they're most comfortable with. For instance, if the individual is more comfortable leading people than developing product strategies, they will probably spend more time being a Scrum Master. As a result, you won't have a high-performing product manager.

What Does a Scrum Master Do?

In a nutshell, Scrum Masters are coaches and servant leaders for a Scrum team. They educate the team on Scrum to ensure that they're following the Scrum framework. They're also responsible for removing roadblocks and fostering an environment for continuous improvement.

What Techniques Could a Professional Scrum Master Use?

A skilled Scrum Master should use the following techniques to ensure milestones are met and high-quality products are delivered on time:

Tuckman's Stages of Group Development

A professional Scrum Master must know how to manage a team according to Tuckman's stages of group development. Here's what they should do for each stage:

  1. Forming: The Scrum Master explains foundational Scrum principles. The goal here is to change the team's habits, especially if they're new to Scrum.
  2. Storming: Once the team has a solid grasp of basic Scrum principles, the Scrum Master will encourage them to plan how they will act together. The Scrum Master will also be responsible for building trust, establishing processes, resolving conflicts, and coaching the team on conflict resolution and assertiveness skills.
  3. Norming: The Scrum Master shows the team ways to get better at Scrum. They will encourage them to take responsibility and ownership of their actions and push for continuous improvement.
  4. Performing: The Scrum Master prevents the team from sliding backward by acting as a coach and facilitator.
  5. Adjourning or Change: The Scrum Master celebrates the team's achievements. They also identify changes early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Problem-Solving Frameworks

Good Scrum Masters should also know an array of problem-solving frameworks, including:

  • The Cynefin framework: Created by Dave Snowden in 1999, the Cynefin framework is a conceptual framework for decision-making. It provides five decision-making contexts: clear, complicated, complex, chaotic, and confusion. Scrum Masters can use these contexts to understand their own and other people's behavior.
  • Shu-Ha-Ri: Japanese for "first learn, then detach, and finally, transcend," Shu-Ha-Ri is a martial art concept for describing learning stages on the path to mastery.

Tools for Root Cause Analysis

The best Scrum Master for your team must also be familiar with Scrum master tools for root cause analysis (RCA). These tools can help Scrum Masters identify root causes of events and approaches for responding to them.

There are many Scrum tools for RCA, including:

  • Fishbone diagrams: Also known as an Ishikawa or a cause-and-effect diagram, a fishbone diagram is a visual way to look at cause and effect. The "head" of the fishbone is the problem you want to solve, while the "bones" symbolize the potential causes of the problem. Scrum Masters can use fishbone diagrams to identify why something went wrong.
  • Five Whys: Scrum Masters can also identify root causes by asking "Why?" five times. Here's how it's done:
  • State the problem.
  • Ask a question about the problem.
  • Ask "Why?" five times.
  • Recognize the root cause.
  • Force-field analysis: This RCA tool requires Scrum Masters to follow these steps:
  1. Describe your proposal or plan for change.
  2. Identify the forces driving change.
  3. Identify the forces that resist or are unfavorable to change.
  4. Score each force according to the amount of influence each has on your plan.
  5. Decide whether or not to go through with the change.

Scrum Master Roles and Responsibilities

Now that you have a better understanding of what a Scrum Master does, let's take a look at Scrum Masters' roles and responsibilities.

What Is Part of the Role of the Scrum Master?

As with all roles, a Scrum Master's duties vary depending on the industry, company, and project. However, most are responsible for:

Coaching the Software Development Team

The Scrum Master ensures team members understand Agile Scrum Artifacts, ceremonies, and processes. They also help team members to:

  • Understand their roles
  • Follow established processes
  • Have a sense of project ownership
  • Stay focused
  • Improve continuously
  • Become better problem-solvers
  • Take responsibility for their actions
  • Resolve communication problems

Conducting Scrum Ceremonies

Scrum Masters also conduct Scrum ceremonies, such as daily stand-ups, Sprint Retrospectives, and Sprint Reviews. They will make sure that all team members, including remote employees, are able to attend and participate in these events.

Holding One-on-One Meetings

Scrum Masters may meet with stakeholders and team members individually to iron out disagreements about work styles and processes.

Coordinating with Other Teams

The Scrum Master helps the dev team improve relationships and communications with other teams, such as:

Reporting

Scrum Masters analyze burndown charts and other planning tools to understand what needs to be built and how.

Board Administration

Scrum Masters work as the administrator of the Scrum Board — the visual status of your Sprint and the face of your process.

The Scrum Board usually consists of a wall or whiteboard with columns and sticky notes. Most Scrum Boards have three columns: "To do," "Doing," and "Done." Scrum Boards can be physical or digital.

Promoting SAFe Quality Practices

Scrum Masters should also promote SAFe practices. SAFe guides teams to continuously improve the quality of their deliverables and meet the Definition of Done (DoD). Teams can use SAFe roles, artifacts, activities, workflows, and templates to deliver value.

Supporting SAFe Adoption

In the same vein, the Scrum Master should support the adoption of SAFe across the enterprise by teaching non-Agile teams and stakeholders how to interact with Agile teams and by participating in the Scrum Master Community of Practice.

Removing Roadblocks

Lastly, the Scrum Master helps the team stay focused by removing roadblocks and distractions that can impede progress.

For example, if team members are spending too much time on trivial meetings, the Scrum Master can work with stakeholders and meeting organizers to determine who actually needs to attend the meetings. In the same vein, if certain team members have too many obligations, the Scrum Master can meet with the product manager and other stakeholders to reorganize the workload.

Learn more: What You Should Look for in a WordPress Developer

How Much Does a Scrum Master Make? Senior and Entry-Level Salaries

A Scrum Master's salary varies greatly depending on skill level and experience. Scrum Masters with more skills and experience enjoy higher salaries.

Entry-Level Scrum Master Skills and Salary

An entry-level Scrum Master has zero to five years of relevant working experience.

Since they have little to no professional experience, they generally have lower salaries. According to ZipRecruiter, the average U.S.-based entry-level Scrum Master makes $81,566 per year or $39 per hour.

Most companies expect entry-level Scrum Masters to have the following skills:

  • Familiarity with Scrum and Agile
  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Robust mentoring and coaching skills
  • Some experience working with remote teams
  • Familiarity with project tracking software like Jira

Senior Scrum Master Skills and Salary

A senior Scrum Master has over five years of relevant working experience. As such, they enjoy higher salaries than their entry-level equivalents. According to Glassdoor, the average senior Scrum Master in the U.S. makes a whopping $117,062 per year, with cash compensation averaging $9,392.

Senior Scrum Masters are expected to have the following skills:

  • Over five years of experience working in Scrum
  • Over five years of experience with coaching stakeholders and team members on Agile and Scrum methodology
  • Strong collaboration and communication skills
  • At least three years of experience working with remote teams
  • Significant experience facilitating Scrum meetings
  • Advanced presentation, research, and problem-solving skills
  • Proven experience establishing timelines for iterations and sprints
  • Proven experience promoting and supporting SAFe quality practices

Hire An Experienced Scrum Master Through Revelo

A skilled Scrum Master can help your team build faster and smarter. However, hiring an experienced Scrum Master can be an uphill battle. While job sites like Indeed are home to thousands of Scrum Masters, not every candidate has the personality, experience, and skills to be a servant leader.

Luckily, Revelo's here to help. All of our talent has been rigorously pre-tested for their knowledge, skills, and English proficiency. We'll also help you deal with complex hiring issues, such as tax and immigration.

Contact us today to start hiring Scrum Masters.

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Luan Campos

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Full-Stack developer with 6 years of experience working with MERN stack. Worked for multiple transnational companies focused on web and cloud, technology services, and R&D. Major professional experience in Frontend with Javascript, Node.js, React.js, and Vue.js

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