… Scrum Teams are to be self-organizing. The process of self-organizing includes determining certain key roles and responsibilities within the team.
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A self-organizing team cannot objectively see itself, and thus has difficulty improving, identifying problems, and even maintaining velocity and quality.
Traditionally, development projects have been run in a top-down command and control mode, but it has not worked well in the modern workplace. Development Teams consisting of intelligent, creative individuals must have the freedom to self-organize. Indeed, self-organized teams are central to Scrum. But self-organization also brings problems. In particular, a team needs someone to oversee leadership, provide encouragement, and show the way to discipline. The team needs someone to keep them “honest.” A team occasionally needs an “official” face or spokesperson to the outside world – someone to go to when you want to communicate with the team, but don’t know who to go to. Without these functions being done, the team flounders.
However, within a more egalitarian team, these types of activities do not work well. People are reluctant to pick them up, because it feels like you are kind of breaking the egalitarianism. People feel uncomfortable doing these things, and don’t like to volunteer to do them – it isn’t because of a lack of commitment or a lack of recognition that the task is important, it’s just a natural product of a self-organizing egalitarian team. Teams often find someone to fill a role such as Project Management that makes things right to keep things functioning smoothly by patching each instance of recurring problems; however, such practices distance the team from owning their own problems and taking the initiative to solve them in the most satisfying way.
Select one person to be the ScrumMaster, who helps the team execute the Scrum process effectively, and to continuously improve. The ScrumMaster does this by taking an objective view of the Scrum Team. The ScrumMaster takes responsibility for helping the team to continually become more effective.
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Perhaps the best way to characterize the overall role of the ScrumMaster is as Coach for the team and its members. The ScrumMaster is generally accountable for the process, and particularly for regular delivery of Regular Product Increments by the Development Team (see: ScrumMaster Gets Fired). Ideally the Scrum Team selects the ScrumMaster. Selecting the ScrumMaster is often the team's first act of self-organization. In any case, the ScrumMaster serves at the pleasure of the team.
The ScrumMaster is a role that is very slightly separate from the rest of the Scrum Team. The person in this role provides leadership and encouragement, holds up the standards of discipline, protects the team, and facilitates communication as necessary. This is particularly important when team members may be unwilling or even unable to carry through on these. The ScrumMaster is often the first point of contact for interactions outside the team, and in general is often a clearinghouse for information. This can be supported and made visible through patterns like Small Red Phone.
The ScrumMaster is not a manager and has no direct control over the team's decisions or actions. The ScrumMaster may never direct the team about what to do or how to do their job, but must employ effective persuasion and motivation. The only power that a ScrumMaster has is to remove a disruptive person from the team (see Remove the Shade). One key job of the ScrumMaster is to fight complacency (see Beyond the Happy Bubble).
Although the ScrumMaster is slightly apart from the rest of the Scrum Team, the ScrumMaster must be considered by all to be a full member of the team. The ScrumMaster is a member of the team first, and the ScrumMaster second. Though the ScrumMaster role has overt responsibilities to the team, neither the team nor the ScrumMaster wield any direct power over each other. The ScrumMaster and the rest of the team should view each other as peers.
Note that the primary responsibilities of the ScrumMaster are to support and improve the team. However in many teams, the most visible activity of the ScrumMaster is running the Daily Scrum meetings and other meetings, and this may give the false idea that ScrumMasters just run meetings and deal with administrivia. It is important that the ScrumMaster and the entire team recognize the larger, more important role of the ScrumMaster. In a good Scrum Team the Development Team convenes its own Daily Scrum with or without the ScrumMaster. The team may invite the ScrumMaster to facilitate the Sprint Retrospective.
In the pattern, Producer Roles, Coplien and Harrison explain that team members typically are either "producers" (people who directly contribute to the ROI of the organization), or "supporters" (people who help the producers do their jobs). The ScrumMaster is the quintessential supporter: everything the ScrumMaster does should focus on helping the rest of the team (who are typically all producers) be effective. There are many ways the ScrumMaster can do this, and the most important are described in the other patterns mentioned here.
The ScrumMaster is sometimes the face of the team to the rest of the world. However, in no way does it mean that the ScrumMaster is the communication channel for the team. On the contrary, team members should communicate freely and frequently with anybody they need to. But occasionally a single contact point is expedient, and the team should inspect and adapt in having the ScrumMaster fill that role. In addition, the ScrumMaster can help protect the team against unwanted distractions (see Firewall).
Where should the ScrumMaster come from? Ideally, the ScrumMaster comes from within the team, but the team may have nobody who is willing or capable. In that case, the ScrumMaster will of course come from outside. Thus there is danger of a lack of Community of Trust — trust will have to be established. Note that managers should not appoint a ScrumMaster for the team. Managers may propose a possible ScrumMaster, but the team decides whether to accept the person. Note also that for an inexperienced team, it is useful to select a highly experienced ScrumMaster.
Good ScrumMasters rarely exist in the wild; you have to develop them. However, there are several desirable skills:
Many of the skills are the same as those used for traditional project management. However, there is a danger in bringing in a traditional project manager as your ScrumMaster: they may fall back into old habits, and Scrum is very different from traditional project management. The job isn't to compensate from team lapses and shortcomings but to make them visible and support the team, working together with them to eliminate recurring problems.
Should ScrumMasters also have development responsibilities? This can be quite tempting, especially if it appears that the ScrumMaster doesn't have enough ScrumMaster duties to keep him/herself fully occupied. However, avoid it for a couple of reasons:
There are many ways a ScrumMaster can help their Scrum Team. They may need to ensure there is a high amount of collaboration within the team. There may be a need in the team to keep focused on quality and delivery to the Definition of Done (see DoneMaster). The ScrumMaster will need to continually encourage the team follow its processes; watch for and correct deviations (see Sheepdog). In some organizations it is essential for the ScrumMaster to protect the team from unnecessary external distractions (see Firewall). The Product Owner may also require help to be more effective in their role; here the ScrumMaster will be required to train the Product Owner (see Product Owner Trainer). There are many other examples we could include here and we encourage ScrumMasters to explore widely to ensure they are doing the best work they can to support their Scrum Team and organization and they stay within the Spirit of Scrum (see The Spirit of the Game).