Having a good understanding of a job’s definition is essential for good execution. This is especially true for the role of the scrum master in the scrum framework. The scrum master has a special role in the scrum team and thus it is a very interesting and challenging one. Although scrum defines the role of the scrum master, it still leaves many questions open about that mystery role.
1 Different Scrum Master Styles
Out of experience, and also from discussions that we had with other scrum team members, we found out that many teams understand the role of the scrum master in several different ways. Interestingly enough, some understandings are even in contradiction with each other, especially when it comes to the question about who is the leader of the team. There even might not be a leader of the team at all. In the following sections I will introduce three scrum master styles.
As a facilitator, the scrum master helps the team to make decisions and ensures team communication. The SM should be a mirror to the team. This means that the scrum master will point out problems, but not solve them. This is the task of the whole team. The scrum master neither makes decisions nor dominates team communication. However, the scrum master is allowed to step up, after the team asked them to take action.
The scrum master is not the leader of the team, hence in the same position like the other team members. The tasks of the scrum master include to remove any impediments from the team, making sure that the team can focus on development and on delivering the product. The scrum master should teach scrum to the scrum team, making sure all involved persons are understanding the rules.
In some teams the scrum master is also the manager of the team members. This can lead to several difficulties. The scrum master will probably dominate the team in both communication and making decisions. No matter whether being dominant on purpose or just by being the manager, it might cause the team members to feel less and less responsible for the whole project. The manager then would have command and control. However, this is in contradiction to the team-centric scrum philosophy.
1.3 Servant Leader
Instead of being a controlling person, the scrum master is a servant leader to the team. In this role, the SM leads the team, but in a different way than a manager. Servant leadership is about being patient, respectful and selfless towards team members. A servant leader would point out things that are not working, without taking responsibility away from the team. Furthermore, a servant leader stays in the background and supports team communication and team decisions.
As a team lead in this definition, the scrum master ensures proper programming standards and also helps the product owner to prioritize the backlog. Other than this, the scrum master should be a facilitator here as well, like described above.
2 Behaviour during Meetings
It is part of the scrum master’s role to schedule team meetings, as well as to open and to close them. Both team and scrum master can easily misunderstand this, because in typical cases the scheduler of the meeting is also the “owner” of the meeting. However, this is different for team meetings in scrum.
During team meetings, the team is the owner of the meeting. The team will discuss, make decisions and come to solutions. The scrum master just helps the team to schedule the meeting, make required preparations and so on. But that role should not be understood as the owner of the meeting.
Of course, the scrum master should participate in discussions during these meeting. That person belongs to the team as well, like all other team members. But the SM should make it clear that the role in the meeting is a team member, not a leader.
We encourage our scrum masters to stay vocally in the background to avoid dominating the meeting. The other team members should be encouraged to discuss and decide, and should also understand the idea of the scrum master being a facilitator, not as the one who decides on problems. In case several solutions exist for a certain problem, we encourage the team to vote for their favourite solution.
The opinions about what a scrum master should be and should not be are very different. The manager position and the facilitator position do not have anything in common, whereas the servant leader is a role in between.
Scrum is all about the team. The team makes decisions about solutions and is in charge for implementing them. This makes each team member aware of the product and responsible for the whole team’s delivery (and not only the part a team member was working on).
With too much domination, the scrum master can easily prevent the team from working as a team. A scrum master should keep in mind that the task is to help the team to implement the backlog, and not to dominate the team.