What Is a Scrum Master? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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PM Articles by ProjectManager.com. 

A scrum master might sound like a character in a role-playing game, but it’s a serious agile project management job that’s rooted in leadership. The scrum master is responsible for ensuring a true scrum process over the course of a project. They hold together the scrum framework, facilitating the process for the organization, product owner and scrum team.

What Is Scrum?

According to Scrum.org, Scrum is an agile framework that allows teams to work on complex projects and deliver high-value products by approaching problems iteratively. It’s a simple, straightforward and easy-to-implement way of project planning that is very popular for software development and product development projects. Scrum project management can pivot and encourages continuous feedback and user stories, which allow scrum masters to more accurately fulfill a customer’s needs.

Thanks to its many benefits, the scrum methodology continues to grow in popularity. According to the Scrum Alliance report last year on “The State of Scrum,” 89 percent of agile project management users use the scrum approach, where 62 percent of those polled have an in-house scrum coach and 86 percent hold a daily scrum meeting.

These statistics show the importance of the scrum master, for no scrum team should be without one. So let’s take a closer look at the scrum master role.

What Is a Scrum Master?

The scrum master is the person on the team who is responsible for managing the process, and only the process. They are not involved in the decision-making, but act as a lodestar to guide the team through the scrum process with their experience and expertise.

What is a scrum master infographicWhat is a scrum master infographic

Not everyone on the team will have the same understanding of concepts like scrum, product owner, product backlog or user stories and that’s especially true for teams new to the scrum framework. Without a scrum master promoting and supporting the process, who can help product owners and team members understand the theory, practice, rules and values of scrum, the project can flounder and fail.

What Does a Scrum Master Do?

While a scrum master is a crucial member of the scrum project management team, they are not involved in agile release planning. That’s done by the product owner and the scrum team. A scrum master doesn’t act as a project manager; a scrum team is self-organizing. In fact, a scrum master isn’t responsible for the success of the project’s result.

Yet, without a scrum master the whole scrum framework would fall apart. The scrum master is the glue that holds the project together by facilitating, though not participating, in the daily scrum meeting (one of the four scrum ceremonies). Scrum masters help the team maintain their burndown chart and set up retrospectives, sprint reviews and agile sprint planning sessions.

Related: 17 Scrum Master Interview Questions to Find the Right Hire

Scrum Master Roles & Responsibilities

The scrum master has several roles and responsibilities in a project. One way to look at the scrum master is as a servant leader. They’re not part of a hierarchy, barking orders or demanding ROI.

Instead, they’re taking a more holistic approach to product development or software development work, offering their scrum project management knowledge to others while promoting a sense of community and supporting a shared decision-making power inside the scrum team.

Scrum Master Roles

Here are some of the main roles of a scrum master:

  1. The scrum master serves the product owner by making sure that the goals, scope and product domain are clear to everyone on the scrum team.
  2. Scrum masters offer agile project management techniques and tools to manage the product backlog effectively and help the scrum team members know that there is a need to prioritize urgent user stories in the product backlog.
  3. Another big role that the scrum master plays is to constantly dispense information to project stakeholders about where the current agile sprint and product or software development effort stand. This can be done via the various scrum artifacts (i.e. product backlogs, scrum meetings to burndown charts) and just common-sense project management communication efforts.
  4. Scrum Masters also know project planning in an empirical environment. Naturally, a scrum master is adept at planning agile sprints and can lead agile teams. They are responsible for setting up scrum meetings as needed to direct or pass on information about the process.

Scrum Master Responsibilities

When it comes to scrum master responsibilities, the main goal of a scrum master is to act as an agile coach, helping scrum teams to self-organize and work cross-functionally to better manage their product backlog and maximize their efficiency.

Here are some of the main scrum master responsibilities:

  1. Scrum masters assist with getting the team to create a high-value product by removing obstacles in their scrum process and coaching them through daily scrum meetings or other venues when help is needed.
  2. The scrum team should be able to count on the scrum master to clear the path ahead of them, by removing roadblocks or prioritizing user stories in the product backlog. This will allow them to focus on the user stories that are currently on their plate to get them done as efficiently and effectively as possible.
  3. Finally, the scrum master also helps the organization by leading and coaching the transition into a scrum framework. In this capacity, the scrum master will lead change that increases the productivity of the team while working with other scrum masters and product owners to help foster the use of the scrum methodology throughout the organization.

Now that we’ve looked at the main roles and responsibilities of a scrum master, let’s see how they compare to project managers and product managers.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

Both scrum masters and product owners are involved in the process of managing the product backlog of an agile project. They’re both aware of the user stories that are needed to deliver a successful product.

But the main difference between them is how they contribute to the scrum process. Product owners plan in the medium or long term, while scrum masters are concerned about the daily performance of scrum teams.

Scrum Master vs. Product Owner

Project managers are responsible for developing project plans that have all the project management guidelines to successfully manage projects, which cover areas such as scheduling, planning, risk management, among others.

Scrum masters optimize processes and ensure that there’s a dynamic environment for scrum teams so that they can complete their goals.

Scrum teams like to work on kanban boards to organize their user stories and product backlog, and plan agile sprints. ProjectManager has award-winning project management tools for agile teams like kanban boards and reporting features to keep scrum masters, project managers, product owners and scrum teams on track. Want to take your scrum team to the next level? Try our software free today.

kanban board for scrum teamskanban board for scrum teams
ProjectManager has a kanban board view that lets scrum teams manage their sprints. Learn more

How to Become a Scrum Master

What’s the pathway to becoming a scrum master? The most linear course to becoming a scrum master is through formal scrum master training and certification. There are several organizations that offer scrum master certification programs.

For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) has a scrum master training program called “Disciplined Agile Scrum Master” (DASM) which certifies you as a professional scrum master.

Similarly, the Scrum Alliance offers a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) distinction that teaches the candidate how to get scrum teams to work at their highest levels.

Scrum Master Certification Programs

The certification process teaches the fundamentals of the scrum framework and helps one become intimate with what the team roles are, what events are, what artifacts and rules are, and other terms and procedures of scrum.

Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) by PMI

This scrum master training course will certify you as a scrum master who’s capable of leading agile teams and implementing project management methodologies like agile, kanban, lean and scrum.

DASM Requirements

This scrum training program doesn’t have any entry requirements. The PMI created it for people who are unfamiliar with scrum, but want to obtain a scrum master certification.

DASM Certification Exam

The DASM exam contains 50 multiple-choice questions. You’ll need to answer questions about agile and lean methodologies, kanban and scrum project management techniques.

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) by Scrum Alliance

A CSM is a professional scrum master who’s capable of applying scrum project management techniques across industries and implementing scrum processes in projects and organizations.

Certified ScrumMaster Requirements

The requirements for CSM certification are fairly minimal. First, have some familiarity with the scrum framework. Then there’s a two-day, 16-hour course, which is taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer, who provides an overview of how to organize and support a scrum team.

ScrumMaster Certification Exam

The exam contains 35 multiple-choice questions, where 24 must be answered correctly for a passing grade. The test covers the history of scrum and the basics of the process. Specific topics include product backlogs, planning releases, problems that can occur, scalability, scrum roles, sprints, how to conduct daily scrum meetings, tasks, reports and team organization.

How ProjectManager Helps Scrum Masters & Scrum Teams

A scrum master is just that, a master at scrum. And while they can guide and inform the scrum team on best practices, they aren’t going to do the work for them. A scrum master will, however, tell the scrum team that they need to have the right tools for their sprint.

ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that gives scrum teams real-time data to pivot quickly as requirements change. The dashboard collects status updates and instantly translates them into easy-to-read charts, giving teams the information to respond to changes fast.

dashboard for tracking sprints and project progressdashboard for tracking sprints and project progress

Backlog Grooming and Collaboration

Any scrum master will tell you the importance of maintaining your product backlog, and ProjectManager has kanban boards that collect user stories that can be filtered by priority and more to keep your backlog well-groomed. Then use the board view to plan your sprint and provide transparency into the workflow for the product owner.

kanban screenshot in ProjectManager.comkanban screenshot in ProjectManager.com
ProjectManager.com lets you work in multiple views: kanban, task list, Gantt and more. Try It Free!

Don’t worry about the scrum team or even the stakeholders having a hard time getting up to speed with our tool. The onboarding is quick and easy, the UI is simple to understand and the fact that it’s cloud-based means anyone can access it at any time. When you put it all together, it’s clear that ProjectManager is the most robust scrum software on the market. Try it today!

Do you want to be a scrum master? It’s a cool title, but it’s more than a name. There’s a lot of responsibility and having the right tools to facilitate the scrum process is key to any scrum master’s success. ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that works with the self-organizing teams and short tasks of a scrum framework. Be a scrum master with ProjectManager by taking this free 30-day trial.

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