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How the Scrum Master Role Improves Value Delivery in Your Organization

June 27, 2023

When the Scrum Master role is deployed effectively it should drive productivity gains in your product development: increased capacity, better visibility, reduced time to market, and improved over all quality. It is a critical role in the effective delivery of your products using agile methodologies. In this article, we describe the characteristics of effective Scrum Masters, and how they improve the delivery of value in your organization.

What is the Scrum Master Role?

The Scrum Framework was developed as a response to the challenges of traditional waterfall-based project management for software development.  The Scrum Master was introduced as one of three roles within the Scrum team, the others being the Development Team itself and the Product Owner. As agile methodologies have matured and become ubiquitous, great Scrum Masters continue to be an essential element of successful agile teams.

Role Within a Development Team

A Scrum Master is the first among equals of an autonomous team accountable for ensuring their team is meeting its commitments. They shouldn't manage team members or second-guess team decisions, but they should work with the team to promote transparency, identify root cause problems, and support remediation activities that are adopted. A team collectively decides on the commitments for what will be accomplished in an iteration, and the Scrum Master holds them accountable to it. For example, if commitments are missed, the Scrum Master leads the self-discovery of the team to determine why. It’s analogous to the coach of a professional sports team: they don’t compete with the team on the field, but they strategize, shout instructions, and give encouragement from off the field.

Responsibilities & Goals

The Scrum Master is responsible for understanding how the team works and guiding them through the interactions with each other to achieve their commitments. This involves facilitating the Scrum events (planning, daily stand-up, review, retrospective), but there is more to it. The Scrum Master works to keep the team productive, removing obstacles and distractions that inhibit their progress and distract the team from completing their tasks. This should manifest itself as a stable and reliable output on each iteration from a high-performing agile team.

For organizations transitioning to Agile, this is often the first goal for the Scrum Master: to establish a predicable output from the team to build credibility with business partners.

A second goal is perhaps more important in the long run: after establishing stable output, the Scrum Master should guide the team in improving it, in growing it’s delivery capability. This is how great Scrum Masters improve value delivery for their organizations. Working with the team to continuously find incremental improvements, overall productivity improves over time. Productivity can mean a stable, high-quality output in changing conditions, but ideally this means a higher capacity that can be used for other improvements, creating positive feedback.

What a Scrum Master Is Not

It is useful to elaborate on the role of a Scrum Master by describing what the role of a Scrum Master is not. In many organizations that employ traditional project management roles, the following comparisons are often made:

  • A Scrum Master is Not a Project Manager. Although there are similarities, the Scrum Master role is very distinct from a Project Manager role. The Scrum Master’s focus is on the team and team outcomes, whereas a Project Manager focusses on the project plan and execution. Project Managers may issue directives to teams, but a Scrum Master works with a team to collectively define goals. This is most clearly seen in decision making: a Scrum Master makes decisions with the team, but a Project Manager has the responsibility of decision making for the team.
  • A Scrum Master is Not Just a Cheerleader. In some organizations, a weak Scrum Master role is perceived to be just a cheerleader: someone who books meetings in calendars, produces reports, and provides coaching advice. In these situations, the Scrum Master is not actually involved with the team and doesn’t understand what the team is doing or how it works together. A Scrum Master should be an integral part of the team.
  • A Scrum Master is Not the Process Police. A Scrum Master’s role is not just to enforce the Scrum Framework. They use the framework and reflect on its application, but the goal is to get better results. The goal is not to be a perfect Scrum team.
  • A Scrum Master is Not a Domain Expert. A Scrum Master does not need to be a domain expert on the outputs of what the team is developing. In fact, it’s possible to be a very effective Scrum Master while possessing only a cursory knowledge of what the team produces. The team members themselves should possess the necessary expertise.

Skills and Experience


Scrum Masters must be able to act as a spokes person for the team. This involves effectively communicating amongst the team, upwards and outwards. The Scrum Master needs to manage the stakeholder communication for delivery issues, and they must champion the team when engaging colleagues outside the team to address external blockers. This requires the ability to effectively communicate with many different levels in an organizational hierarchy.


With the Product Owner, the Scrum Master must be able to negotiate on behalf of the team. While the Product Owner negotiates with the sponsors on what is delivered, the Scrum Master must negotiate for the ability to deliver. This often involves speaking with operations and planning for releases. For example, testing environments are often maintained by operations teams and the requirements for the test environments must be negotiated with operations.

The Ability to Influence

The ability to influence is a critical skill for a Scrum Master when working with a team. The Scrum Master must be able to guide the team toward the goals they have set out without having the power of authority. The Scrum Master must influence through building trust, empathy, and a shared sense of purpose with the team.

Technical Skills

Technical skills can be useful for a Scrum Master but are not strictly necessary. Consider the example of Jira or any other work management tool. While the Scrum Master should be adept at using the tool to track progress and report on velocity, they need not require the expertise to be the tool administrator.

Flow Engineering

A good Scrum Master should have a solid understanding of the principles of flow engineering. This is the practice of optimizing the flow of work through the development process. A Scrum team is cross functional, and the Scrum Master must be able to assist the team in coordinating interdependent activities. Optimizing flow is how a Scrum Master can improve the efficiency, quality, and speed of development to deliver better products.

Organizational Structure

Scrum Masters do not usually report in to the same unit as the team members to allow them a degree of autonomy. It is more common that Scrum Masters are part of a larger product development team, or possibly report into the project management office (PMO).

This may seem similar to a Project Manager, but in practice the reporting structure is different. Whereas a Project Manager is accountable to the project sponsors for overall progress, the Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring the teams are standardized, providing stable delivery, accountable to being asked what to do. The Product Owner is responsible for what is being delivered.

Scrum Master Authority

The Scrum Master should not be the manager of the team. It’s an influencer role. The Scrum Master is part of the Scrum team, all of whom are peers, and therefore does not have direct authority over the members. Instead, the Scrum Master’s authority flows from their accountability(on behalf of the team) to provide predictable, stable performance.

Relationship with the Product Owner

The Scrum Master works collaboratively with the Product Owner within the Scrum team, and they often come from disparate areas in the corporate hierarchy. The Product Owner is responsible to the business and therefore has authority regarding prioritization of features and scope changes. Separating the responsibility of predictable delivery (Delivery Team) from the responsibility of what is delivered (Product Owner) was an important innovation in Scrum. It allows the Scrum Master to focus on team delivery improvements without the burden of weighing trade-offs against hitting release targets.

A Dedicated, Distinct Role

Ideally, the Scrum Master should be a dedicated role. A single Scrum Master can effectively support 2-3 teams depending on the experience of the Scrum Master and the maturity of the teams. Beyond that, the ability to focus on the team and interactions is diminished.

Organizations often adopt agile development with the hope of improving their capacity, and they often don’t have the option of hiring an additional headcount to act as the Scrum Master. In these situations, it is common for a single individual to fill multiple roles. The only caveat is that the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles are not filled by the same person.

Common Challenges

For an organization that is starting on an agile journey, it is useful to examine some of the common pitfalls that occur when trying to roll-out the Scrum Master role in an organization.

Rebranding Project Managers

Organizations often start from a project-based model in which they have Project Managers responsible for the delivery of projects. In this environment it is common for Project Managers to transition into the Scrum Master role. However, it can be difficult: an effective Scrum Master needs a capable Product Manager to manage the business. Since this responsibility formerly fell to the Project Manager, it can be a challenge for everyone to establish new working habits. Unfortunately, organizations sometimes slip back into their familiar work habits, with the Scrum Master acting as a Project Manager, but just “rebranded” with a different title.

One Scrum Master for Multiple Teams

Another challenge can be at the other extreme: organizations hire one additional headcount to act as the Scrum Master for all their teams. This limits the Scrum Master’s ability to understand how the teams are operating and to reflect with them on areas for improvement. Ideally, the Scrum Master supports a single team. In practice, a Scrum Master might support a maximum of 2-3 teams. Any more than that is a common cause for Scrum Masters who are perceived to be cheerleaders, as we discussed earlier.

Combining Scrum Master and Product Owner Roles

  1. Similar to rebranding Project Managers, organizations that have a limited headcount sometimes “double-up” agile roles and assign both the Scrum Master role and Product Owner role to a single person. This is strongly discouraged because you are left with the challenge of a single individual determining how much work needs to get done. The strength of Agile rests on separating the responsibilities of what is delivered (Product Owner) from coordinating how it is delivered (Scrum Master).    

The Value of the Scrum Master Role

In conclusion, the Scrum Master is acritical role if your organization is interested in adopting Agile or improving its agile maturity. The goals of implementing and supporting a strong Scrum Master role are summarized as follows:

  1. They standardize and stabilize delivery of your team outputs by demonstrating reliable and sustainable delivery to your business partners.
  2.  They grow performance over time by encouraging continuous improvement practices on the team, constantly guiding the team to find ways to improve performance.
  3. They improve delivery overall by focus sing on creating flow, which is a driver for improved value for your organization.

Bringing a Scrum Master to a problem should immediately reduce the anxiety because they understand the framework of how to get work done, regardless of the domain. When done right, a strong Scrum Master function has the power to genuinely transform a business, creating a real and lasting impact on its success.

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