Myths about the role of the Scrum Master

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Myth: The Scrum Master is just another way of saying Project Manager

Not only do both roles do completely different things, but generally a Project Manager has a hierarchical role above the team, something that is not true of a Scrum Master.

Myth: The Scrum Master is the leader of the Scrum Team

The Scrum Master is not a Project Manager and does not have a higher role than the Scrum Team than the rest of the team.  This is a common myth that can lead to disaster when adopting Scrum.   It is human nature to look for someone to lead a group.  Scrum teams are self-managed and decide how they are going to work and what rules (in addition to those imposed by Scrum) will be established.

Myth: The Scrum Master’s role is not as important as that of the Product Owner

Both roles perform different functions and have different responsibilities.  The Scrum Master makes sure the Scrum Team is not inhibited by external forces that would detract them from getting their work done, removes any internal or external impediments that prevent the Scum Team from being successful, and most importantly, coaches the Scrum Team on the proper adoption of the Scrum framework.

The PO has a similar responsibility but focuses on the product to ensure the product meets their business need, user stories are well defined, work is prioritized and finally reviews all work done in a sprint and finally accepts that work.

Understanding these differences, why would the Scrum Master figure be less important?

Myth: A Scrum Master has to work full time in that role 

The necessity of having a full-time Scrum Master varies based upon the maturity of the Scrum Team, the organizational maturity and culture.

Scrum Team members new to Scrum will need more attention from the Scrum Master as they mentor these new team members on the Scrum process and Framework.  Other more mature Scrum Teams will need less attention since they are self-actualized and may only reach out to the Scrum Mater to help in dealing with any impediments.

Myth: The Scrum Master’s ideas and suggestions are always accepted

A Scrum Master has no authority over the team. The Scum Master can suggest, asks the right questions, makes others reflect, and mediate between individual Scrum Team members. While a good Scrum Master should be able to understand the team and suggest ideas that are well-received.

Myth: What is a Scrum Master?

If all of these myths are incorrect then what does it mean to be a Scrum Master?

Myth: Scrum Masters help their team

As opposed to a Project Manager or an organizational manager the Scrum Master serves the team, not the other way around. The Scrum Master must be constantly paying attention to the concerns of the Scrum Team and offer suggestions to them on how to resolve these concerns.  It is similar to being a parent you don’t want to solve your child’s problems or concerns but instead, offer suggestion on how they can remedy them.

Myth: The Scrum master encourages the team to complete the tasks everyone agree to

If the Scrum Team agreed that in a sprint a task was to be performed by all, the Scrum Master should ensure that all of the Scrum Team members did complete it.  If not, were there impediments that prevented them from completing it?  Did all team members contribute?

Myth: A Scrum Master is successful when the team learns to manage themselves

A Scrum Master is not a Project Manager, so this person does not have expected goals for each of the team members and is not considered successful only when they have done a good job. So, one way of realizing whether or not their work is productive and bears fruit is that the team has learned how to manage itself. This means that the degree of maturity within the team increases, and it is less and less dependent on the Scrum Master to carry out the Scrum process.

Myth: Scrum Master keeps Scrum true to the framework

The Scrum Master is the gate keeper to keep the team within the Scrum framework.  Many times teams will vary from the framework and adopt some practices that can have a negative impact to the team and the product they are trying to deliver.  An example is to elongate the sprint past the time that was agreed to just to make sure they complete something.  The right approach is to put it back into the Product Backlog for reprioritization by the Product Owner.

Myth: A Scrum Master should help remove any impediments the team faces 

Another one of the responsibilities of the Scrum Master is to do everything possible to make sure the sprint goes well and help to deal with any impediment that causes the team to fall behind.  This does not mean that no one else in the team can do it, but it is the responsibility of the Scrum Master to make sure impediments are dealt with.

Conclusion

A Scrum Master is a role that is fairly new compared to the traditional Project Manager.  Many times the two are confused with each other which are the farthest from the truth.  A Scrum Master is a facilitator, mentor, and coach who primary mission is to help the team be successful in delivering a product that meets the need of the business.