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Scrum Master: A New Career Path For Agile Processes & Organizations

By Ron Montgomery (1117 words)
Posted in Project & Process Management on May 14, 2013

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By Ron Montgomery, Management Consultant & Owner, OnPoint, LLC

The role of Scrum Master is often misunderstood, and for good reason.  According to the Scrum Alliance, “The ScrumMaster is a facilitative team leader who ensures that the team adheres to its chosen process and removes blocking issues.”  In most organizations, particularly those just beginning their agile journey, there is no exemplar or precedent for such a role.  How common is it for a leader to ensure that a team adheres to its chosen process?  Typically, a leader will TELL the team the process it should follow.   And how often do we see leaders focus on removing “blocking issues” (impediments)?  That sounds a lot like servant-leadership, which is often discussed but rarely practiced.


Since scrum is a relatively new model, there are still divergent opinions on the Scrum Master role.  Some consultants/trainers insist that Scrum Master is a management role, since it takes some clout to remove impediments.  Others say that the Scrum Master should be chosen by the team from amongst its own members.  Although both approaches have there own merits, as a consultant I have learned that clients may listen to what consultants have to say, but they ultimately select their own paths.  A local group of agile practitioners employed by large firms in various stages of the agile journey recently discussed the role of Scrum Master, and provided useful perspectives that are incorporated into this article.


Is Scrum Master a role or a position?

Most of the firms in our group added the role of Scrum Master to existing positions.  They favored the flexibility of this approach because it allowed them to assign the best person regardless of the person’s current position.


One of the firms originally defined the Scrum Master as a role, but eventually chose to define it as a position within the I.T. organization because of the unique skills and talent required.  The Scrum Master is expected to have deep technical experience, thereby obtaining a level of respect within the project team. 


Who fills the role of Scrum Master?

Among the participants in our local discussion group, the Scrum Master typically had an I.T. background as an analyst, a technical lead or a technical project manager.   One of the participants noted that it was the job of the project manager to ensure the Scrum Master role is filled, and sometimes the project manager fills that role directly. 


What are the requirements and duties of a Scrum Master?

One primary requirement for a Scrum Master is to work well in an agile environment, which means functioning within the servant-leader model rather than the command and control model.  This does not mean that the Scrum Masters are passive.  Indeed, they are expected to challenge the team member behaviors and adherence to team processes.  This may require the Scrum Master to admonish a team member who is habitually late to daily stand up meetings or who violates team rules. 


The Scrum Master must be good at coaching, especially during the early stages of a firm’s agile journey.  Team members must adapt to a new model of working that requires them to sign-up to develop deliverables, to be accountable for their own performance, to work collaboratively, and to focus on continuous self-improvement.  For team members accustomed to being told what to do and when to do it, agile teams can be challenging.  The Scrum Master must skillfully coach team members and help them in their transition.


The Scrum Master is responsible for removing impediments that are preventing the team’s progress, and these may be the result of decisions or behaviors of management or customers.  Therefore, the Scrum Master must be firm and diplomatic and possess good negotiation skills.


Scrum Masters maintains metrics to help the team track their progress against their commitments and take corrective action as needed.


Finally, the Scrum Master must have good facilitation skills and to use those skills in leading scrum “ceremonies” as summarized below:

  • Daily stand up meeting at which team members identify accomplishments, plans, and impediments
  • Sprint planning meetings at which the team works with the product owner to identify the work to which they will commit in the upcoming sprint
  • Sprint reviews at which the team reviews accomplishments with the product owner
  • Sprint retrospectives at which the team identifies opportunities for improvement


Why would I want to be a Scrum Master and how do I get started?

An experienced Scrum Master is in demand in the job market.  All of the firms in our discussion group are hiring Scrum Masters.  A recent search on Dice.Com yielded 656 hits on the search team “Scrum Master.”    So, if you have the right attitude and aptitude to be a Scrum Master, you will have plenty of job opportunities.  Of course, you will need experience and training (see Additional Resources below). 


Additional Resources:

Certified Scrum Master (CSM) training

Agile Training (from the fellow who trained me in 2005)

Agile Alliance 2013 Conference

Agile Careers Site


{#/pub/images/RonMontgomery1.jpg}Written by Ron Montgomery, Management Consultant & Owner, OnPoint, LLC Ron is certified as a Project Management Professional, Agile Certified Practitioner and Certified ScrumMaster with over 35 years of hands-on experience in business planning, software development, process improvement & deployment of software solutions.  By partnering with clients to drive business value from technology projects, Ron assists clients with business planning, IT strategy, project and program management, vendor selection and team training/mentoring.


Do you have a management question for Ron? Please visit our Project Management Community and he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Comments (3)

Ann McCabe posted on: May 29, 2013

Great article. Thanks!

sarah nelson posted on: April 23, 2014

good article.

Perrry Joel posted on: April 23, 2014

The SBOK guide of http://www.scrumstudy.com will give you a clear understanding of how to run effective daily standup meetings. It also provides you detailed information on Agile Project Management methodologies suchas planning/review/retrospective meeting, and how to take advantages of related tools and so on.

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