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Agile: The Scrum Master

Scrum Masters lead teams in effectively and efficiently living the Agile Values.
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What is a Scrum Master, anyway? Let’s start with the basics. It is important to understand what Scrum is before we jump to the importance of the role. Scrum is a light-weight framework that is the most adopted way of working in Agile. It's based on three pillars – transparency, inspection, and adaptation.  The Scrum Framework helps teams address and solve intricate problems in a fast-paced environment while still allowing them to produce creatively and generate customer value. This may seem a bit nebulous, but that’s the point. Scrum is intentionally iterative, serving to guide how we discuss problems together rather than simply implementing strict guidelines.

Now, we are ready to answer the question: “What is a Scrum Master?” A Scrum Master is a group facilitator who coaches the Scrum team, ensuring they work within agreed upon parameters and processes. However, there are many intricacies to the role outside of this straightforward definition.  Scrum Masters are not there to traditionally manage people from a classic top-down approach but rather focus on a bottom-up approach. They must be deeply involved in the process, effectively communicating, meticulously organizing, and continuously motivating the Scrum team.

The role of Scrum Master is a versatile one, requiring skillful perception and intuition to keep the team on track to meet goals, remove obstacles and distractions, and serve as a liaison between the Scrum team and others across the organization. Their work does not stop there, though. Scrum Masters, despite the title, are not masters of any one element at all, but serve in a variety of functions to improve efficiency and effectiveness.  A day’s work may include coaching and providing support, hosting daily standups, assisting with backlog tasks, fighting obstacles of success, and any other tasks that help the team reach their ultimate goal.

With all these responsibilities and skillsets, you may be asking, what does this role actually mean? We know that in this position, it is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to uphold the pillars of Scrum (transparency, inspection, adaptation).  But let’s talk a little bit more about the Scrum Framework in action. Scrum teams work in Sprints – a focused period of time, typically one month or less, for completing key objectives and goals.  The Scrum Master starts the day with a Daily Standup, a 15-minute daily team ritual where the Scrum Master thrives. The Scrum Master guides communication to optimize collaboration – dissecting work completed since the last meeting and collectively planning next steps. This is the Scrum Master’s opportunity to reiterate the team vision, coach the team through obstacles, guide conversation away from out of scope issues, and refine the backlog of project tasks product backlog. This connection point means everyone can quickly and comprehensively understand the successes, challenges, and progress of their whole team, opening communication channels to increase collaboration and, ultimately, producing a stronger product.

Due to the intentionally quick nature of the Daily Scrum, which by now you may have realized has name roots in rugby’s circular formation for restarting play, it is crucial that the Scrum Master has the key qualities of communication and intuition, but how do these manifest? Scrum Masters have inspirational and motivational leadership styles.  They soar in both big picture thinking and connecting the dots for the team, but they also understand the complexities of team dynamics and are skilled in reading people.  They are thoughtful listeners and intentionally pair people who have complementary skills or similar obstacles to face.  

The Scrum Master understands that each of these Daily Scrums are small tipping points where teams will sink or swim and treats this responsibility with care and passion.  They keep motivation and the short time horizon in mind while reminding us what we are striving for, where we are going, and celebrating wins along the way. Scrum Masters understand that if you have seen one scrum, you have, in fact, only seen one scrum: each is unique and focuses on a wide array of roadblocks and successes. There is no such thing as a perfect way to host a Daily Scrum or operate within the Scrum Framework. Scrum Masters understand this, are adaptive, and keep focused towards realistic goals.

As we see Agile ways of working skyrocket in popularity, the Scrum Master serves as a real Renaissance (wo)man. Strong intuition, time management, organization, prioritization, and communication skills help the Scrum Master coach and support the Scrum Team.  They work daily to keep the team on track for deliverables, challenge their thinking, and lead them to and through wins.  A successful Scrum Master helps build teams that are adaptable, transparent, efficient, courageous, focused, and respectful. In an rapidly evolving world, where teams face hurdles at every turn, these proactive, curious, humble, and responsible leaders offer great value as Scrum Masters and create highly effective and efficient teams.