Nearly anyone who has heard of Scrum has heard of the term Scrum Master. But what is a Scrum Master exactly? What is their role in a Scrum team? What is the difference between a Scrum Master and a Product Owner? In this blog we take a look at the role of the Scrum Master, their responsibilities, the relationship they have with the Scrum team and what you need to do to become one.
Scrum Master Roles and Responsibilities
The role of Scrum Master is a relatively new one and with that, it is a role which is not universally defined in the exact same way. However, it is possible to describe the most important aspects or characteristics of the role. As you may or may not know, a Scrum team consists of the development team itself, a Product Owner and, of course, a Scrum Master.
The Scrum Master is the person who supports the rest of the Scrum team in their understanding and application of Scrum. Essentially the Scrum Master is in a leadership position where instead of managing the team, they manage Scrum itself. They are a guardian of the Scrum process and ensure it is understood and adhered to by everyone in the team. More importantly, the Scrum Master is a servant-leader:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling
that one wants to serve, to serve first.” – Robert K. Greenleaf
This aspect is crucial as the Scrum Master is there to guide and enable. This includes removing impediments, coaching team members on how to self-organize, and facilitating Scrum events. Aside from this, the Scrum Master also helps those who work with the team understand which of their interactions are helpful and which are a hinderance to help maximize the business value.
As part of their everyday tasks, the Scrum Master is responsible for facilitating the various Scrum events. The events are often also referred to as rituals or ceremonies. This includes sprint planning, daily stand up, sprint review and sprint retrospective. One of the most important aspects of this facilitation is enforcing timeboxing. This means ensuring that the agreed time (or timebox) is kept to.
Being a servant-leader, the Scrum Master often serves their team by supporting them with certain goals. The Scrum Master serves their Product Owner by working with them to maximize ROI and ensure the backlog is managed effectively. On the other hand, the development team is served by the Scrum Master through mentoring or coaching, the fostering of creativity and helping further the maturity of the team through skill sharing. In this respect, the Scrum Master is more focused on ensuring the team runs optimally whilst the product owner is more focused on the direction the team is moving in.
Scrum Master vs. Product Owner
So, what is the difference between the Scrum Master and the Product Owner? The key distinction lies in their direction of focus. The Product Owner is the person who owns the product vision and as a result they are the link to the business and the customer. Essentially, they are the connection between the Scrum team and the world outside. Due to their position, the Product Owner receives a whole host of information from the customer and the business. They take this information, distill it and communicate it to the team. The Product Owner protects the team by shielding them from these multiple sources of communication which could potentially be confusing.
Being the owner of the product vision has certain strings attached to it. The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the business value of the product. In order to do so, they need an intimate knowledge of how the product is used by the customer as well as the value it brings the customer and the business. The Product Owner uses customer feedback to create items for the product backlog that address the needs of the customer.
The Product Owner owns the product backlog and is responsible for ensuring that backlog items are clear, well defined and the right size. The order of priority is also their responsibility and the highest value stories must be seen to first. Feedback or input that they receive is broken down into user stories, with clear acceptance criteria, that can fit into sprints. To serve the team, the product owner must stay ahead of planning cycles so that the team have the information they need to be able to estimate the work and so that the backlog remains adequately filled.
As you can see, the roles of Scrum Master and product owner are quite different. The Scrum Master has their focus inward, to the team and the execution of Scrum. Being a servant-leader, they support and enable the development team and helps drive team maturity. On the other hand, the product owner faces the business and the customer to provide much-needed input to develop the product. They do this by guarding the product vision and prioritizing the backlog items for the development team.
How to become a Scrum Master
To become a Scrum Master, you can follow a training or take an exam to get the qualification you need. EXIN Agile Scrum Master has been designed specifically with the scum Master role in mind. It teaches you the guiding principles of agile and combines them with Scrum, the most-used agile methodology, to create a certification with real-world applications. The addition of practical assignments means that you get to practice applying the skills that you’ve learned. This practical approach enables you to get started as a Scrum Master as soon as you complete your certification.