When adopting the agile approach to product management, you need to have the right supporting structures in place, and scrum methodology provides the crucial framework to make agile a practical reality.
Within the scrum team, the scrum master supports the development team, the product owner, and the entire scrum framework.
The scrum master has a pivotal role to play, helping the team deliver its incremental goals.
Who is the Scrum Master?
The scrum master is an individual who has the task of championing agile and scrum, reinforcing its theory, values, rules and practices.
It is a team role, because the scrum master must interact with other scrum team members, and represent the team and its processes to those outside it.
Here, the idea of a master is not an authority figure but an expert in agile and scrum, who can influence rather than command.
The scrum master clears obstacles for the scrum team, and within the team, and helps establish an environment where the team will work effectively.
Another way to look at the scrum master role would be as an agile coach.
Master or Servant?
As we’ve pointed out, the master in the name refers to a mastery of all the aspects of agile and scrum methodology, rather than being in charge of others.
In fact, the scrum master is there to serve the needs of both the development team and the product owner, within the scrum team.
The scrum master supports the development team by:
- Coaching the team to help its cross-functionality and self-organisation, and during its sprint planning
- Coaching it in environments which do not fully understand scrum methodology
- Protecting the scrum team from external interference
- Helping it create high-value products
- Removing obstacles to its progress
- Putting together scrum events where necessary.
The scrum master serves the needs of the product owner by:
- Ensuring everyone in the team understands the goals and scope of products in development
- Making sure the product owner can maximise the value of the product backlog and supporting them with its development
- Understanding product planning and project deadlines
- Understanding and practicing agile approaches
- Putting together scrum events where necessary.
How Does the Scrum Master Work Outside the Team?
As well as supporting and serving the needs of the scrum team, the scrum master also has an important part to play in the wider context of an organisation or business.
They become a kind of go-between, helping the organisation in its adoption of scrum methodology.
The scrum master can be especially useful in helping others understand scrum and how to put it into practice.
In this sense, they act as an agent of change, and this in turn boosts the productivity of the scrum team by creating a wider supportive environment through a process of change.
Scrum masters can accelerate this process of change and the cultural shift to agile working by interacting with other scrum masters in an organisation.
Scrum Master and Project Manager: What’s the Difference?
You might be thinking that there’s plenty of common ground that a scrum master shares with the established project manager role.
Both require excellent communication and organisation skills, as well as good leadership.
But does this mean you can simply slot a project manager into a scrum master role, or even dispense with the scrum master altogether and stick with your tried and tested project management arrangements?
The answer is no.
- The scrum master needs to be an expert in applying the agile approach, understanding its methods and practices inside out.
- The scrum master role has a strong coaching and consultative element, and requires the individual occupying it to be able to change people’s behaviours and mindset
- This is not a management role – the scrum master must lead by example, influencing others.
Being a scrum master is neither simply a facet of project management, nor is it interchangeable with the project manager role.
Are there Any Pitfalls?
Making the change to agile working using a scrum framework involves a cultural shift, and this can be challenging to organisations and businesses.
Automatically assigning existing project managers scrum master roles may not work out if they are unfamiliar with scrum. You cannot fill a scrum master role effectively without the necessary experience and knowledge of scrum.
Rather than manage a team, a scrum master must be able to coach it, and to lead it by influence. They can only do this if they are sufficiently immersed in scrum methodology and the agile mindset.
Therefore, making the change to agile takes careful preparation, including nurturing key individuals to become scrum masters.
What are the Benefits?
A major benefit of the scrum master that they act as a kind of mentor for the scrum team.
Because they are so familiar and well-versed in the various aspects of scrum, they are a ready resource for the team to turn to, providing practical support. And they are an integral part of the team, which means they can empathise with the team and understand its issues.
At the same time, the scrum master supports the administrative infrastructure of scrum and the product owner, drawing on this same pool of expert knowledge an insight.
Finally, as a means of adopting agile approaches to project management, the scrum master helps organisations transition to new ways of working.
How Do You Create Change?
Change comes from adopting new ways of working, which is where agile can make a huge difference. But beyond agile principles there have to be practical tools and support to support this transition. The scrum framework provides this support, and the scrum master is a key player in it.
If you want to know more about the benefits of the agile approach and the scrum framework, please contact Simple Progression.