What is a Scrum Master?
Scrum masters serve as facilitators for agile teams working under the scrum methodology. They’re the point person responsible for understanding the big development picture of each sprint. They bridge the needs of product management, sales, marketing, operations, and product development.
The scrum master works closely with the product owner to translate epics, stories, and other items on the sprint list into actionable tasks for developers. While they don’t need as much context and business savvy as product owners and product managers, they must have a solid understanding of the reasoning and implications behind each initiative.
Scrum masters assign and delegate tasks appropriately, ensuring the team’s work aligns with priorities and the overall schedule and ensuring the team is fully deployed and not idle. They use the rituals and processes of the agile methodology to keep the team on track. The methodology fosters communication and quickly addresses any issues. The goal of scrum is to maximize productivity and speedily deliver value to customers.
What is Scrum?
Scrum is a popular methodology in agile software development. It allows a cross-functional team to self-organize and move quickly on projects. The methodology encourages continuous feedback to guide decisions and work adaptively according to that feedback.
Hirotaki Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka devised the framework for product development and named it “scrum.” They took inspiration for the formation used to restart play in rugby matches. Scrum occurs when players come together briefly in a tightly packed formation. Moreover, team members work in unison to gain possession of the ball. In addition, the idea was to stress the importance of teamwork and frequent communication. Scrums provide the framework to develop products and manage other complex projects successfully.
In this environment, the scrum master is responsible for keeping the project moving forward. In addition, the scrum master also facilitates the team’s daily standup meeting each morning. Typically, the scrum master runs these meetings by asking the team members the following questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- Are there any obstacles in your way?
Scrum Master Responsibilities
Other names for the scrum master include servant leader, coach, or facilitator. Despite using the term “master,” the person in this role does not have the authority to make strategic or substantive decisions about the project.
Scrum masters aren’t “management,” either, and don’t bear sole responsibility for the project’s outcome. Instead, the entire team shares in that ownership and accountability, with the scrum master only responsible for managing the process and moving the project toward completion.
The scrum master’s responsibilities include:
- They are helping the team agree on what they can achieve during each development sprint (or another period).
- They facilitate the daily standup (sometimes called the daily scrum) and helping the team reach a consensus.
- Helping the team make progress on the project by ensuring each person is working on the right tasks, helping to remove any obstacles to the team members’ progress, and protecting the team from distractions.
Scrum Master Job Description
Being a scrum master is all about helping others get things done, as the scrum master themself doesn’t write requirements or code or test plans themselves. Scrum masters communicate, coordinate, and facilitate, doing whatever it takes to help the team deliver what’s asked of them.
Training and Certification
The scrum methodology has become so ubiquitous in software development that Scrum Alliance offers a widely recognized Certified Scrum Master (CSM) designation to professionals who complete the course and pass the official CSM exam.
There are also other industry courses and certifications that can help you learn the fundamentals of the profession and demonstrate proficiency to potential employers. For example, Scrum.org offers a Professional Scrum Master (PSM) course and a more advanced PSM II course. The organization also awards the following certifications:
- PSM Level I (which demonstrates basic scrum proficiency)
- PSM Level II (which demonstrates advanced scrum proficiency)
- PSM Level III (which indicates a distinguished level of scrum proficiency)
Some Agile thought leaders also believe scrum masters should complete the Certified Scrum Developer course to understand better how developers are using Agile, empowering them to be even better coaches and mentors for the team.
Scrum Master Certification Cost
Multiple organizations offer certifications for scrum masters, with varying reputations and accompanying quality. Scrum.org provides the gold standard.
Their Professional Scrum Master Certifications cost $150 for PSM Level 1, $250 for Level 2, and $500 for Level 3. Note that these prices are for each attempt, so failures resulting in retakes could make the exercise even more expensive.
And while one can prepare for these exams using online resources, books, or their own hands-on experience, many prefer taking a dedicated course on the subject.
Scrum Master Online Training
Many trainers offer in-person and online courses to prepare learners for the various Scrum Master certifications. Qualified instructors and training companies will have experienced practitioners at the helm who have already completed all the exams themselves.
The Scrum.org courses—Professional Scrum Master and Professional Scrum Master II—are designed to get students ready to pass the PSM certification exams. There are both two- or three-day courses as well as self-paced offerings. They typically include an initial attempt at the corresponding exam and are priced in the U.S. $1,000 to $1,500 range.
With so many options, those considering this training should shop around to find a course that matches their schedule, preferred learning style, and budget.