We are often faced with the question of what Scrum Masters do all day. This question often comes from managers new to agile, or from new Scrum Masters who can’t imagine what they will do all day long. The reason it’s a difficult question, is that Scrum Masters often work on soft issues behind the scenes, and so their value is not immediately obvious.

Have you ever worked with a brilliant manager, who inspired people, got things happening, made work a great place to be, and boosted team productivity? Can you describe how they did it? These are the kinds of things a great Scrum Master can do, but to do this they need to grow some skills they might not have today.

Some common concerns that might sound familiar…

  • What do Scrum Masters do for the rest of the day, after standups?
  • Our Scrum Masters are too soft, they never push back on business/the team?
  • Scrum Masters are only concerned with process, they don’t seem to understand we are running a business and sometime we need to be pragmatic.
  • If I have to have a Scrum Master for every team, why can’t I just make them the line manager. I can justify that cost.
  • The Product Owners are always busy, maybe our Scrum Master should take on some of their responsibilities because they have time available.

Do you ever have your Scrum Master do this….

  • Tell you that you are interfering with the team when you attend their standup and ask questions
  • Tell you that you are an impediment when you get the senior developer to work on something critically important to the business
  • Ask you to assist by telling the product owner to stop committing deadlines to the client/board, before the team has estimated the work
  • Ask you if some budget could be used for a team lunch or social event
  • Does this make you think they are more of a hindrance than a help? Does it make you wonder if they have nothing better to do?
  • Do you wonder how you can get the most value out of your Scrum Master and have them be as effective as possible?

What is the Scrum Master Role

Remember that the Scrum Master role is unique to Scrum, and part of what makes it so successful. Thinking about this role in the context of other roles you might be familiar with is a mistake. The Scrum Master focuses on the long term health of the team and product. They are supposed to challenge the status quo, constantly pushing your organisation to improve.

What makes a Good Scrum Master

Scrum Masters you never hear from because everything is fine, are failing at their most important task – continuous improvement.

Good Scrum Masters are constantly observing and making small changes. They facilitate every meeting the team have, to ensure the most effective use of everyone’s time. They are focused on growing the team as a collaborating unit that delivers the most business value each sprint.

Great Scrum Masters anticipate their teams needs, and research topics like distributed source control and branching strategies in order to provide ideas of what other agile teams have done, when the team realize they need a solution.

Further reading

How can you help

Most Scrum Masters when starting out are not equipped with all the right skills, you can help in the following ways to grow those skills.

Provide training in Scrum and soft skills like facilitation and conflict resolution

Plan for them to attend agile conferences to share ideas and techniques with their peers

Allow time for self study, and provide relevant books on agile topics

Encourage them to make use of agile communities, either locally or online