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What Should a Scrum Master Really Do?

Category : Scrum ยท by

A Scrum Master is Like a Police Officer

I’ve often thought that a Scrum Master is like a Police Officer. A Police Officer first learns the law and then has the job of upholding the law. Most of what a Police Officer does is around the law but not necessarily just the law. Police officers are responsible for keeping the peace. Ensuring that event attendees, from sports to music, are kept safe and having a good time. They attend road traffic accidents and clear up the mess. They might deliver bad news to you if a loved has been hurt or injured and is in hospital. They might provide an escort through heavy traffic to safe guard a precious life giving transplant organ. They look for missing children. They attend schools to advise our children how to stay safe.

The list is endless and mostly not about the law. This is similar to a Scrum Master. In this case the law is the Scrum Guide. The Scrum Guide tells us that the role of the Scrum Master is “promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide”. In other words upholding the rules of Scrum, much in the same way that Wikipedia defines a Police Officer as “empowered by a state to enforce the law”.

The Scrum Master’s job therefore is to make sure, primarily, that everyone in the Scrum Team is sticking to the Scrum rules (enforcing the law). This could be the role of a “Good Scrum Master” as suggested by Geoff Watts in “Scrum Mastery” but the same book might also describe a “Great Scrum Master” like a Police Officer that has duties wider than enforcing the law.

So what are the wider duties of a Scrum Master?

Scrum Master Duties

A “Great Scrum Master” should be responsible for

  • Organising and Facilitating meetings.
  • Actively encouraging and running story workshops or feature mapping sessions.
  • Insisting on a project Inception meeting and facilitating it.
  • Ensuring the Product Owner has a refined and prioritised backlog
  • Encouraging the team to define definitions of Ready and Done then ensuring the team holds itself accountable to them.
  • Encouraging the team to use good software development practices and ensuring the teams holds itself accountable to them.
  • Ensuring the Product Owner does not pressurise the team into taking too much into the Sprint Backlog.
  • Monitoring the teams happiness levels to identify areas of concern and helping them work through it (see my team survey post).

Like the Police Officer, the list of Scrum Master duties is endless, and mostly not about the Scrum Guide. So if you find that your Scrum Master is sticking only to the law, point them at this list or Geoff Watts book on “Scrum Mastery” and set them on the right path.


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