Who is Scrum Master?

Who is Scrum Master?

Apeksha Patel
2nd Apr, 2019

Who is Scrum Master?

There seems to be a new role on the block – ScrumMaster.

Job openings and career opportunities for this role are increasing.

How many times have you come across a job posting or an opportunity for a ScrumMaster?

And how many times have you wondered

  • Who Exactly is a ScrumMaster?
  • What is this role?
  • What are the responsibilities?

So let’s talk all about a ScrumMaster

A ScrumMaster is a Change Agent, a coach, and a facilitator.

ScrumMaster as a Change Agent:

Scrum Masters are hired to help teams transform from where they are today to a better state with better outcomes. In order to improve outcomes, the teams have to do things differently.

It’s natural that whenever there is a change, people resist. Just because people, resist, it doesn’t mean that people are bad. It only means that they are not able to see things differently than they are seeing today.

Can Organizations bring change by force? Yes, they can. However, the changes may not be intrinsic and may be temporary.

So one of the main reasons why the Scrum Masters are hired is to help the teams look at things from different perspectives to enable them to transform.

We develop specific images about someone or something based on learning from our surroundings. These are called mental models. These mental models are big constraints to enabling change.

A change agent is someone who can bring about a change either by influencing with data, experiments, experience sharing, setting an example, open communication, providing feedback, providing a different perspective, etc.

For example; Yours is a newly formed Scrum Team. The Programmers and the architects feel that they cannot start the coding unless the architecture is blue-printed. That is a mental model.

A Scrum Master creates awareness of these mental models and helps the team by running an experiment to create visibility so that the team can inspect and adapt.

ScrumMaster is this change agent who is responsible to create awareness of mental models to help teams and organizations improve.


ScrumMaster as  a Facilitator:

A facilitator is someone who helps a group of people improve their system by helping them identify the problems, solve the problems themselves, and make their own decisions. Not by doing it for them; but by enabling them.

For example; Let’s say, in the middle of the sprint, the customer comes and changes the priority. PO can either accept the change or put it in the backlog.

ScrumMaster facilitates the decision-making by creating the visibility of the impacts of accepting v/s not accepting the change in the current sprint, by showcasing short-term and long-term implications so that the PO can make a better decision.

That’s facilitation in its simplest form. You are not doing the work for them, but you are enabling them to get their own work by helping them understand the purpose behind doing it, by creating the visibility of the big picture, and the impacts of doing v/s not doing it.

A ScrumMaster is that Facilitator who creates that visibility of the big picture so that the team is empowered to identify and solve problems and make well-informed decisions.

ScrumMaster as a Coach:

When we talk about a coach, it can be divided further into two major parts based on the focus of coaching the ScrumMaster provides.

  • Systems Coach
  • Relationship Coach

What is a Systems Coach:

To understand the role of a Systems Coach, let us understand what is the meaning of a System.  

Our organizations are systems, made of components like engineering, finance, hr, admin, etc. each of which is interdependent, has to interact, and has one unique goal of achieving the organization’s vision.

They represent the structure, processes, policies, and people that actually form the System. Wherever there is a System, there are Systemic issues.

A systemic issue is an issue that can’t be attributed to an individual or a team but exists due to the inherent nature of the system.

For example; Let’s say, your PO has been pulled by the management to work on multiple products. As a result of this, your PO is not available to review the work of the development team.

This is going to impact the Dev Teams' ability to achieve the Sprint Goal. A ScrumMaster identifies this as a systemic issue and creates visibility around the impacts this can cause and addresses this impediment.

As a Systems Coach, a ScrumMaster identifies and addresses these systemic issues and helps the teams focus on achieving their goals.

What is a Relationship Coach:

We understood what is a System. One big part of the system is People. People are different. When people with different skills, domains, experiences, languages, cultural backgrounds, etc. come together and become a part of the system, it is inevitable that they will have different ways of working, opinions, etc. which can lead to conflicts.

These conflicts, if not resolved in a healthy manner, can lead to dysfunctions and create relationship issues between these people. This may impact the final results the team is working towards.

For example  One of the team members of your Scrum Team was vulnerable to sharing his/her concerns about some ad hoc requests from the management – other than the Product Owner.  

However, someone published their discussions and action items in an email and copied the management. And that broke the trust in the team and the team member stopped sharing anything further. This is a dysfunction in the team.

A ScrumMaster identifies and addresses these dysfunctions in the team to enable them to build trust, and have constructive conflicts so that they hold each other accountable to achieve the results that they committed.

As a relationship coach, a ScrumMaster needs to coach this relationship between the different components of the system to help teams and organizations improve.

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