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

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

Scrum is an agile project management methodology that helps teams manage projects across industries. However, scrum, as with other project management methodologies, can only benefit organizations when applied correctly. That’s where a scrum master comes into play.

What Is a Scrum Master?

A scrum master is responsible for ensuring that the scrum is implemented correctly in an organization. To do so, the scrum master helps organizations set up a scrum framework, which is made up of meetings, roles and responsibilities, techniques and tools which are required for a smooth scrum process.

Not everyone on the team will have the same understanding of scrum concepts like sprints, product backlog or user stories. That’s especially true for teams new to scrum project management.

Without a scrum master promoting and supporting the process and helping product owners and team members understand the theory, practice, rules and values of scrum, the project can flounder and fail.

To collaborate with teams and help them plan, schedule and track their work, scrum masters need project management software like ProjectManager. With ProjectManager, you can use kanban boards to plan agile sprints, manage your product backlog with task lists, create a product roadmap with online Gantt charts and much more. Get started for free.

ProjectManager's Kanban boards are ideal for a scrum master
ProjectManager’s online kanban boards are ideal to manage agile sprints. Learn more

What Does a Scrum Master Do?

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, giving orders or demanding ROI, they’re there to help teams be more productive through the practice of scrum.

While a scrum master is a crucial member of the scrum project management team, a scrum master doesn’t act as a project manager because scrum teams are self-organizing. In fact, a scrum master isn’t responsible for the success of the project, but instead is responsible for the correct implementation of agile project management practices to complete projects.

They take a holistic approach to product development or software development, 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.

To better understand what a scrum master is and what it does, let’s compare the scrum master role against two similar project management positions, project managers and agile coaches.

Scrum Master vs. Project Manager

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 on the other hand are agile project management experts that help project teams make sure they’re effectively implementing the scrum methodology.

Scrum Master vs. Product Owner

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.

Related: Free Agile Sprint Plan Template

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. Agile Coach

While these two positions have a common goal, which is to ensure that agile project management practices are properly implemented in an organization, the agile coach has a wider scope than the scrum master.

While scrum masters focus on working with a single team to deliver agile projects successfully using the scrum method, the agile coach works at a larger organization-wide scale, helping executives and management teams transition into an agile mindset.

Why Should You Become a Scrum Master?

The best reason to become a scrum master is that it’s a role that’s being implemented by companies from large industries such as software development, manufacturing, pharmaceutics, construction and many others which are transitioning into agile project management.

Now let’s review the roles, responsibilities, skills and average salary for scrum masters so you get a better idea of what to expect in a scrum master job description.

Scrum Master Roles

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The scrum master constantly dispenses 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 and events (i.e. product backlogs, scrum meetings to burndown charts) and common-sense project management communication efforts.
  • 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’re 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 core responsibilities of a scrum master.

  • 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.
  • Use scrum tools such as scrum boards to manage the team’s workload
  • 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.
  • 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.

Scrum Master Skills

Besides being agile project management experts, scrum masters interact with the project team on a regular basis. For this reason they must demonstrate the following skills:

  • Conflict Resolution skills: As most team leaders know, conflict resolution is a vital part of team management, especially when leading agile self-managed teams. This is why scrum masters must be able to mediate between team members and help them determine what’s the best course of action whenever there’s a dispute of some sort by prioritizing what benefits the project the most.
  • Communication skills: Scrum masters lead scrum events such as sprint planning, daily scrum meetings and sprint reviews, so it’s vital that they have excellent communication skills to make sure they’re able to guide the scrum team while listening to everyone’s ideas.
  • Organizational skills: Agile project management requires scrum masters to excel at prioritizing work. That’s because scrum teams plan their work in sprints, which are recurrent meetings where the scrum master helps the team determine what tasks will be done in the next weeks, so scrum masters must be able to prioritize and develop strategies to meet short term goals.

Scrum Master Salary

The salary of a scrum master, like any other project management role varies depending on their experience and location. However, according to glassdoor the scrum master salary range goes from $77,000 to $170,000 a year, and the average scrum master salary in the US is approximately $105,000 a year.

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 Certifications

Scrum master training programs teach the fundamentals of scrum project management and help one become intimate with what the scrum team roles are, what events are and what artifacts are, among other fundamental aspects 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: 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 test covers the history of scrum and the basics of the process. 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.

Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

The Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification by Scrum.org is a two-day course that will teach you the basics of Agile and Scrum and how you can apply these methodologies in your organization. In addition to this, Scrum.org offers two more certification programs, PSM II and PSM III, which build upon the knowledge from PSM and expand your abilities as a scrum master.

SAFe Scrum Master (SSM)

This scrum master training is designed for those who want to help organizations implement agile and scrum at scale. It not only teaches about the different tools and techniques a scrum master should know about but also focuses on leadership.

How ProjectManager Helps Scrum Masters

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 online 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.

ProjectManager's live project dashboards are ideal for any scrum masterProjectManager's live project dashboards are ideal for any scrum master

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.

ProjectManager's kanban boards are perfect for scrum teams and scrum masters alikeProjectManager's kanban boards are perfect for scrum teams and scrum masters alike

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

Related Content

There are many moving parts to implementing a scrum framework for your organization. That’s why we’ve created blogs, guides and templates for those who are getting started with scrum.

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 online project management software that works with self-organizing scrum teams and sprints. Be a scrum master with ProjectManager by taking this free 30-day trial.

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