What is a scrum master's role and how to become one?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The Scrum Master role is the driving force of any Scrum team, a small group working together to deliver a product, typically using Agile software development practices. This is a complicated role with plenty of responsibilities and requires many skills, all of which you use to help the rest of the team reach a goal. Understanding the role of this professional and what the job entails can help you determine if the role is a fit for you. In this article, we explore these skills and offer advice on how to get further experience.

Scrum Master role

Typically, the Scrum Master's role is to improve how the Scrum team works and coaching them towards delivering the best outcome or product they can. Everything you do in the role works around this, including:

  • C**oaching the whole team:** Coaching the overall Scrum team so that the product owners and developers know their roles and how to best perform them.

  • Keeping people updated: Informing the team, especially new arrivals, about Scrum processes and the scope of the project as a whole to ensure a cohesive vision.

  • Making things easier: Removing barriers that may get in the way of the team's productivity and resolving any conflicts that might arise during work, including potential outside distractions.

  • Listening to problems: Listening to the concerns of Scrum team members to make sure that they have what they require.

  • Maximising efficiency: Improving the Scrum processes themselves to maximise efficiency and allow every team member to work at their best and contribute to a greater whole.

  • Holding meetings: The Scrum Master is not just in charge of completing work, nor is he directly responsible for it, but he is responsible for finding a way to help the team execute the overall project. Scrum Masters hold daily meetings with the team where they mainly fulfil certain jobs and where concerns, impediments and progress can improve.

Related: How to get scrum master certifications (plus career info).

The scrum framework

This particular word defines everything surrounding the Scrum Master and Scrum team, and not everyone is familiar with it. Scrum's name takes inspiration from the teamwork-based rugby formation and fittingly emphasises close collaboration at every turn. Scrum is the most common form of Agile development, a philosophy that seeks to streamline or otherwise improve solutions through a core principle of iterative development.

At the core, Scrum methodology is about incremental development cycles where projects make progress in ‘sprints' of work between multiple small steps. The team typically reaches each step after a few weeks and can change based on the needs of the specific project. Every set goal is beneficial for the entire team to achieve, as the Scrum process is a collective method.

The soft skills of a scrum master

Soft skills, such as ones focusing on people and communication, are instrumental for a role where you support and motivate a team. You cannot underestimate the importance of social intelligence in any setting, but as a Scrum Master, your whole team may be relying on you to help them. Beneficial soft skills include:

Empathy

Simple but essential, empathy may be a requirement for virtually any role where you interact with other people. Being able to empathise with them enables you to help them work at their own pace and lets you know how to handle any concerns they might have. Building relationships is key to being successful in the position of Scrum Master or any managerial role and you can best achieve this by empathising with those under your wing. If they know they can count on you to understand and to help, they might feel more secure when doing their tasks.

Related: Interpersonal skills: definitions and examples.

Teaching

As mentioned above, a Scrum Master educates the team on Scrum methodology so that they know how to follow the precise processes. This is not as simple as reading out a description and expecting the team to instantly know the ins and outs of Scrum. A team that better knows Scrum may be able to implement it more effectively and, knowing the benefits of this framework can be a strong motivator. For that reason, effective teaching skills are paramount for a Scrum Master role.

Servant leadership

Many of the Scrum Master's responsibilities demonstrate servant leadership – this means that even with their position, they are serving the employee. A Scrum Master helps their developer to do the best they can; they do not delegate the tasks themselves, merely facilitate its completion. Being a good servant leader means prioritising the needs of your team and understanding your position as an equal member of that team rather than someone with special authority.

Conflict resolution

Tension and friction can emerge within any team as personalities clash – this is especially likely throughout a busy project. If this happens, then the future of the project might even come into question. This is why a good Scrum Master mitigates these tensions and ensures a healthy work environment. This is not an easy feat; remain neutral during a disagreement while navigating the situation to find the best compromise for everyone. Maintaining good cohesion amongst the team is the best way to have the Scrum sprints completed on time.

Communication

It is beneficial that a Scrum Master is able to communicate well, both to employees within their team and third parties, such as clients. Clear and concise communications ensure Scrum Masters can build strong relationships with other individuals and reduce human errors caused by poor communication.

Related: What are conflict resolution skills? Definition and examples.

The hard skills of a Scrum Master

You don't always focus upon motivational meetings and friendly chats as a Scrum Master, you also might learn at least several key hard skills. These usually involve technical training of some kind and go beyond handling delicate situations and simply communicating with other employees.

Scrum knowledge

The most important hard skill of a Scrum Master is simply knowing how Scrum works. You cannot implement this framework without a thorough comprehension of the principles and the processes behind it – and Scrum Masters often get additional training on top of their certification to solidify their knowledge. The more you understand Scrum, the better you can bring it to life. Understand the business you are in, as this can influence how you choose to implement Scrum across the team.

Technical expertise

Software developers typically use Scrum methodology so they can construct programs to a high benchmark of quality. For a Scrum Master to succeed in this role, learn the software that is in use and the exact processes involved. The software and general technology used by a team can greatly impact how efficient their work is, so a Scrum Master is knowledgeable enough to ensure teammates are also equipped for the job as they can be.

Organisation

A good level of organisation is absolutely essential when it comes to completing any project on time and to a good standard. This structure is intrinsic to Scrum and is the backbone of the whole Agile system with the way it divides the workload across the various increments. Scrum Masters often use project management tools to ensure the team stays organised and connected at every turn. They have an intimate knowledge of their operation to best track how work is progressing during the typical sprints. It is also beneficial for a Scrum Master to organise their time efficiently.

What qualifications does a Scrum Master require?

Once you understand Scrum Masters and the work they do and the skills they possess to do it, you may find it easier to suit yourself for a Scrum Master job. Becoming a Scrum Master might not be an easy task, as many employers prioritise those with certification. Accreditation is available at three different levels, all bearing the title of Professional Scrum Master.

Each of these ranks has its own unique assessment and may help to increase your rank and your duties may also increase. It is not just assessments that they offer, but the courses to help pass those assessments. For anyone who wishes to be a dedicated Scrum Master, getting this certification could certainly prove to be the best choice. If you have done that or are otherwise confident enough in your practical abilities, you can begin searching for Scrum Master positions across the country.

Related:

  • Project manager vs scrum master: what's the difference?


Explore more articles