Say you’re about to sign a software outsourcing contract and need to decide on team composition. You might be wondering:
What is the value of a Scrum Master?
If software development is your field, I’ll bet you’ve asked yourself that question at least once at some point in your career. I know I have.
Therefore, it’s quite understandable that our clients would also have trouble grasping the nature of the role. We often hear them ask:
What do Scrum Masters bring to the table? Do we need one? If so, why?
And that’s not at all surprising.
What is surprising, though, is that within the software development community itself there is also a certain degree of confusion as to the exact nature of the role and its purpose—even among veterans and professionals.
In light of that, Paweł Jurdeczka—one of the most experienced Product Owners and Scrum Masters at STX Next—sat down with me to solve the mystery of the elusive Scrum Master and dispel any doubts about them once and for all.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the role of Scrum Master and the value they introduce to your software development team.
Table of Contents
From a certain point of view, software development is much like team sports.
Bear with me here.
Imagine you’re putting together a sports team. I leave the discipline to you, so long as it involves teamwork.
Now, first things first, you obviously need the players if you have any hopes of winning. That would be your software developers.
All developers have their own individual strengths and need to work well with others to achieve their shared goal. Without great players, your whole game falls apart.
Okay, so who else do you need to guarantee your team’s success?
One role that definitely needs to be filled is the manager. Tasks, budget, and resources need to be properly distributed so that the whole project runs like a well-oiled machine. In software development, all of these and more fall under the purview of the Product Owner.
It would seem like we have everyone we need, right?
Well, not quite. There’s still one key player we haven’t considered, and that’s who can make or break your entire enterprise.
That’s right; it’s the coach.
The coach trains the team, looks after the team, keeps their interests at heart, and makes sure every member is taken care of.
Who is it in software development?
None other than the Scrum Master—a role often misunderstood, sometimes neglected, and one that can be the deciding factor in the success or failure of your project.
In a Scrum Team, the synergy between these three entities is everything. They should work together and lift each other up to produce the greatest results.
The 8 Stances of a Scrum Master by Barry Overeem describes it best:
That sweet spot in the middle? That’s your goal. That’s what you should be aiming for.
So if you want your team to win the game—or, in this case, deliver the product on time and within scope—make sure you bring a Scrum Master into the fold.
First and foremost—and this is rather self-explanatory—the Scrum Master makes sure your team follows the Scrum framework.
Why should you care about this, though? “What is Scrum, anyway?” is what you may be asking yourself. Luckily, we’ve already answered that very question in another article. Head over there to get more details on Scrum.
Most importantly, the Scrum Master does everything in their power to help the team perform at their highest possible level.
A big part of that is work speed.
Scrum Masters repeatedly ask one fundamental question:
“Are we doing things as fast as possible?”
...then do whatever they can to boost team performance and productivity. They are concerned with the effective and the efficient.
In order to achieve their goals, the Scrum Master does a number of things, such as:
- locate roadblocks and detect problems,
- remove blockers and propose solutions,
- facilitate teamwork and improve communication,
- identify areas of improvement and suggest changes.
The bottom line is: the Scrum Master uses hard data—facts and figures—to help the development team keep their focus where it belongs.
The Scrum Master is not in charge of your developers’ precise workload. They neither distribute nor control the assigned tasks.
Scrum Masters don’t micromanage, instead choosing to follow the philosophy of servant leadership.
The idea behind servant leadership is simple, but brilliant:
- putting others before yourself,
- sharing your power with others,
- helping others do their best work.
Like any good coach, the Scrum Master stands on the sidelines and gives the team advice, at the same time leaving them to their own devices.
Scrum Masters look at the team as a whole, apply a strategy best suited to a particular team, and trust each member to manage themselves, believing it will yield the greatest results for everyone involved: the company, the team, and the client.
The force majeure behind every decision a Scrum Master makes is that the team comes first, before the leader. In that regard, the servant leadership of Scrum Masters fully embraces the principle of “win-win or no deal,” which is something that’s very close to our hearts.
No, really, it does.
If you’re a startup, your team is small, or you’re only beginning to build your product, you don’t need a Scrum Master on your team from the get-go.
Whether you’re expanding your existing development team or building one from scratch, usually you start off small just to hit the ground running. At that point you need developers, testers, a Product Owner—not a Scrum Master.
Considering the addition of the role to your team at all depends entirely on team and project size. Your budget is limited and your #1 goal is to deliver a working product. Therefore, in small teams, the Scrum Master is simply unnecessary.
Once you’ve spent some time developing your software project, you should look back on its growth, analyze the projections, and identify your stage of project development.
How far along are you?
Is the work going well?
Should you change your team composition?
Typically, as your project grows, so does your team. If you choose to scale up, you will need someone to manage your larger team.
That is when you should think about getting a Scrum Master on board; they are the person you need to solve your problems and answer your questions.
At the end of the day, the point of having a Scrum Master is performance optimization—and the value of adding one to the team is inherently rooted in your product’s life cycle.
Let’s end this article by once again addressing the core problem at its heart:
Is the role of Scrum Master essential or optional?
And once again, the answer is: it depends.
If your development team is small and/or unlikely to scale up, having a Scrum Master is overkill, and may even be a mistake. You know what they say about having too many cooks in the kitchen.
On the other hand, if your team is large and/or likely to grow over time, you may find yourself in need of an extra pair of hands to keep things under control. Then, the Scrum Master very much comes in handy.
So if you care about team performance and work speed, and your team and project are large enough to warrant it—get a Scrum Master.
Thank you for reading our article!
We have many gifted Scrum Masters at STX Next who are passionate about their work and willing to share their Scrum expertise with the world.
If you want to delve deeper into Scrum, look no further than these two posts:
- What Is Scrum, Anyway? An Introduction to Scrum Development
- 4 Common Scrum Misconceptions (and the Number One Scrum Mistake)
And if it’s the role of the Product Owner you’re interested in, why don’t you give these two a read: