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The curious case of Scrum Master’s role

At the very core, both agile manifesto and scrum are frameworks and not a detailed method or process. This was intentional because the founders of scrum wanted to keep it as lightweight framework which can be used by the organizations to develop the software with value.

However, the reason often leads to different interpretations of scrum and sometimes leads to the result which is completely against the scrum framework.

There are three distinct roles which identified within the Scrum methodology:

  • The Scrum master, who ensures the process is followed, removes impediments, and protects the Development Team from disruption.
  • The Product Owner, who represents the stakeholders and the business.
  • The Development Team, a cross-functional, self-organizing team who do the actual analysis, design, implementation, testing, etc.


And one of the most misunderstood role in scrum team is of Scrum Master. Before we go more into details of Scrum Master, if you are interested to read about the fundamentals of Scrum and the various roles defined in a Scrum team, refer to my previous post ‘A beginners guide to Scrum’

A whole lot of development organizations and teams are using scrum these days. Having said that, I have noted that most of these teams use scrum as a planning methodology focusing only on the daily scrum meetings and/or sprints. And just because it’s fashionable to say that the project follows scrum approach, someone from the team takes the responsibility of being a scrum master. In most of the cases, as the world ‘master‘ is involved, it is either the erstwhile project manager or the architect/lead developer of the project.

Scrum Master is not Project Manager

By definition, project managers have the responsibility of the planning, execution and closing of project. In addition, project manager is often a client representative and has to determine and implement the exact needs of the client, based on knowledge of the firm they are representing. A project manager is the bridging gap between the team and client.

On the other hand, a scrum master does not have any responsibility of planning and delivery of the project. The main focus of a scrum master is to make sure that he removes any impediment or blockage which comes in the way of development team.

Scrum Master is not Lead Developer

The Development Lead’s role is focused on providing more detail to the Solution Architect’s architecture. This would include creation of detailed technical design, program specifications etc. The Development Lead is also the first line of support for the developers who need help understanding a concept or working through a particularly issue. The Development Lead does not need to be hierarchically up in the organizational chart and is not responsible for the administrative work of the employees. Their primary focus is on helping the developers to deliver the quality software on time.

There has been a real debate and questions coming in if the Scrum Master should know the technical details of the software development.

It’s completely OK if the scrum master does not understand a single bit of architecture, technical design or other details of the software project.

The real focus of a scrum master is on the process and not the details of the work which development team is responsible. However, if the development team is stuck with a technical impediment which they can not solve themselves then they should contact scrum master. For e.g. it could a technical or architectural decision which they are not sure how to progress with. In such case, a scrum master can reach out to other parts of organizations or even outside organizations to make sure development team gets the answer and they can continue with.

So, Who exactly is Scrum Master?

Schwaber & Sutherland gave a precise definition of Scrum Master role in the scrum guide without detailing the day-to-day activities.

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

Scrum master is for sure not a project manager and/or a development lead. He does not manage people and he is not someone to whom people should be reporting (in context of Scrum). Having said that, it should be noted that Scrum Master is a management position. Scrum Master should have organizational management powers and ability to reach other parts of the organization to make sure he is able remove any impediment faced by the team.

Scrum Master is a shield for the development team so that they focus on what they should be doing and continue the same. A Scrum Master makes sure that the product owner is aware of the scrum process and acknowledges the structure of the framework to formulate and prioritize the product/sprint backlog.

At the same time, I am a believer that scrum master is a role rather than a position.

Have you also observed similar situation where the Scrum Master role is mingled or is not properly defined in your organization?

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