Good leaders must first become good servants.
—Robert K. Greenleaf
Scrum Masters are servant leaders and coaches for an Agile Team. They help educate the team in Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Kanban, and SAFe, ensuring that the agreed Agile process is being followed. They also help remove impediments and foster an environment for high-performing team dynamics, continuous flow, and relentless improvement.
Although the Scrum Master role is mainly based on standard Scrum, Agile Teams—even those teams that are applying Kanban—establish this position to help the team meet its goals and coordinate activities with other teams. The Scrum Master role is taken by a team member whose primary responsibility is assisting the self-organizing, self-managing team achieve its goals. Scrum Masters do this by teaching and coaching team practices, implementing and supporting SAFe principles and practices, identifying and eliminating impediments, and facilitating flow.
The Scrum Master role is a unique Agile team member who spends much of her time helping other team members communicate, coordinate, and cooperate; generally, this person assists the team in meeting their delivery goals.
The Scrum Master is a servant leader who enables teams to self-organize, self-manage, and deliver via effective Lean-Agile practices. The Scrum Master supports and enforces the Scrum process and other rules that the team has agreed. The Scrum Master also helps the team coordinate with other teams on the Agile Release Train (ART) and communicates status to management as needed.
An effective Scrum Master is a team-based servant leader who:
- Exhibits Lean-Agile leadership – Exhibits the behaviors of a Lean-Agile Leader with a Lean-Agile Mindset. Helps the team embrace SAFe Core Values, adopt and apply SAFe Principles, and implement SAFe practices.
- Supports the team rules – The rules of an Agile Team are lightweight, but they are rules nonetheless, and the Scrum Master is responsible for reinforcing them. These may include the rules of Scrum, Built-In Quality practices from Extreme Programming (XP), Work in Process (WIP) limits from Kanban, and any other process rules the team has agreed.
- Facilitates the team’s progress toward team goals – The Scrum Master is trained as a team facilitator and is continuously engaged in challenging the old norms of development to improve performance in the areas of quality, predictability, flow, and velocity. They help the team focus on daily and Iteration Goals in the context of current Program Increment (PI) Objectives.
- Leads team efforts in relentless improvement – Helps the team improve and take responsibility for their actions; facilitates the team retrospective. Teaches problem-solving techniques and helps the team become better problem-solvers for themselves.
- Facilitates meetings – Facilitates all team meetings, including (where applicable) the Daily Stand-up, Iteration Planning, Iteration Review, and Iteration Retrospective.
- Supports the Product Owner – The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner in their efforts to manage the backlog and guide the team while facilitating a healthy team dynamic with respect to priorities and scope.
- Eliminates impediments – Many blocking issues will be beyond the team’s authority or may require support from other teams. The Scrum Master actively addresses these issues so that the team can remain focused on achieving the objectives of the Iteration.
- Promotes SAFe quality practices – SAFe provides guidance to assist the teams in constantly improving the quality of their deliverables and meeting the Definition of Done (DoD). The Scrum Master helps foster the culture of technical discipline and craftsmanship that is the hallmark of effective Agile teams.
- Builds a high-performing team – Focuses on ever-improving team dynamics and performance. Helps the team manage interpersonal conflicts, challenges, and opportunities for growth. Escalates people problems to management where necessary, but only after internal team processes have failed to resolve the issue; helps individuals and teams through personnel changes.
- Protects and communicates – Communicates with management and outside stakeholders; helps protect the team from uncontrolled expansion of work.
- Responsibilities on the train – The Scrum Master helps coordinate inter-team cooperation and helps the team operate well on the train.
- Coordinates with other teams – The Scrum Master is typically the representative in the Scrum of Scrums (SoS) meeting, and they pass information from that meeting back to the team (see Program Increment for more details). They often coordinate with the System Team, User Experience, Architecture, and Shared Services. It is important to note, however, that the responsibility for inter-team coordination cannot be delegated entirely to the Scrum Master; every team member shares responsibility in that regard.
- Facilitates preparation and readiness for ART events – Assists the team in preparation for ART activities, including PI Planning, System Demos, and the Inspect and Adapt.
- Supports estimating – Guides the team in establishing normalized estimates and helps the team understand how to estimate Features and Capabilities.
Sourcing the Role
The Scrum Master can be a part-time or full-time role, depending on the size of the team, the context, and other responsibilities. However, at Enterprise scale, it can be a challenge to sell the need for a full-time Scrum Master for each Agile team. After all, if the enterprise is organizing 100 new teams, it probably isn’t economically or politically practical to take 100 full-time development team members and assign them to these new duties—duties that don’t include development or testing. Nor is it economically viable to hire a full- or part-time consultant for each team to help them learn and master the new methods. That could kill the transformation before it even gets started, and before the teams have had a chance to prove the value of the role.
Therefore, SAFe takes a pragmatic approach and assumes, in general, that the Scrum Master is a part-time role. During initial SAFe adoption, however, the job may be more intensive. At this stage, the organization may find it beneficial to bring external consultants on board to coach the teams while they become experienced in Scrum and SAFe. These outside consultant Scrum Masters will often coach multiple teams in the organization.
Learn More www.scrumalliance.org.  Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.
Last update: 2 October 2018