When you’re thinking about roles on engineering teams, it’s easy to focus on the ones that involve daily coding. But actually, being on an engineering team can involve a range of responsibilities. One important role is that of the Scrum Master.
In a nutshell, the Scrum Master leads the engineering team on projects and makes sure that each individual member of the team achieves success. However, because Scrum Masters (as the name implies) work with a specific development framework called Scrum, there’s a little more nuance to it.
Read on to learn what a Scrum Master is, what exactly they do, the skills they need, and how you can get started taking on this role within your team.
What is scrum?
To understand what a Scrum Master is, you have first to have a basic grasp of Scrum. Scrum is a development framework that focuses on teamwork, collaboration, accountability, and an iterative work process in order to update and improve on software. It’s closely related to Agile software development, which is an approach to completing projects that’s also used fairly often in the tech world.
The premise that drives the Scrum framework is simple and sequential: First, begin with the things you can see or what you know, then keep track of your progress, making tweaks as you need to. Of course, there’s more to it, but this is the core of the Scrum process.
Within the Scrum framework, teams develop small pieces of applications in development sessions called sprints. Dividing the project up in this way enables the team to catch mistakes faster and fix them quickly. As a result, there’s much less overall risk of app failure or security issues, as well as a lower development cost.
Crucially, when a team uses the scrum framework, there’s a designated Scrum Master who’s in charge of the process.
What a Scrum Master does
A Scrum Master is charged with ensuring everyone on the team stays focused, on task, and continues to work well with each other during and between development sprints. A scrum master is a lot like the conductor of an orchestra, but one that works with all the players, individually and as a group, to help them perform their best.
This person is a combination of a coach, technical expert, and manager that makes sure a team of developers and programmers is organized and effectively communicating with each other. Scrum Masters also contribute to tech development as needed, and are responsible for delivering the team’s work upon deadline. More than likely, this person’s job title won’t be Scrum Master; in fact, Scrum Masters are usually engineers who are playing this role on a particular project. (That said, there are certainly people who hold the job title of Scrum Master, particularly at very large companies.)
So is a Scrum Master the same as a Project Manager?
A Project Manager and a Scrum Master are two very different animals. In short, a Project Manager focuses on the product, while a Scrum Master’s focus is the process. Let’s break this down a little more.
A Project Manager takes ownership of the project at a high level and interfaces with executives, customers, and others to ensure the project maintains the proper focus. A Scrum Master maintains a singular focus on the team's process to create the product. They may work with the Product Manager, but only to provide updates and solicit higher-level feedback.
The tasks of a Scrum Master
A Scrum Master’s daily work is guided by the needs of the team. It’s not uncommon for there to be last-minute changes as individuals or groups run into issues during a project. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of what a Scrum Master does:
- Meetings for sprint planning: In these meetings, the Scrum Master makes sure the team stays focused on their goals and doesn’t over-commit to objectives out of the original scope of the sprint.
- Host standups: Scrum Masters host daily standup meetings designed as relatively brief status checks that give the team members a chance to ask for or offer help.
- Administration of the scrum board: The scrum board consists of software that is used to keep track of the project’s progress in detail. The Scrum Master may have to check that everything is up-to-date and functioning in a way that supports the sprint or overall project at hand.
- One-on-one meetings: Some Scrum Masters use one-on-one meetings to check in, coach, or get feedback from developers or other stakeholders.
- Reporting progress and performance: The Scrum Master has to analyze how the elements of the product are being built, how the process is working, and how any scrum management tools are working.
- Internal consultation: From time to time, team members may need some coaching on working with the rest of the team or within an Agile environment. The Scrum Master facilitates these meetings, ensuring everyone is working well with the process.
- Workflow improvement: A Scrum Master has to keep an eye out for issues that could or have already begun to affect the project's progress. They also think of ways to improve efficiency and make the lives of developers easier.
What skills do you need to be a Scrum Master?
Coding is an essential skill for Scrum Masters. While a Project Manager may be able to work with little to no knowledge of coding, a Scrum Master needs to understand the coding process intimately to do their job.
This doesn’t mean that they have to be an absolute whiz at every programming language a dev team uses to build apps, but they do need to understand at least some of the basics. Having a working knowledge of coding can help them better design systems that help developers get the job done.
To gain a basic understanding of how to code, you can check out our Code Foundations Skill Path. This will give you an overview of the programming tools involved in coding and how they’re used.
To be an effective Scrum Master, you also need to have soft skills, like:
- Clear, effective communication
- The ability to maintain a focus on high-level objectives
- Planning and foresight of potential pitfalls
- The ability to listen and empathize with the concerns of others
Run the scrum
In addition to our Code Foundations Skill Path, you can also dig into several more specific courses that will give you the background knowledge you need to be a Scrum Master. These include:
- Learn Java
- Learn HTML
- Learn How to Code
- Learn SQL
- Learn PHP
- Learn Python 2
- Learn Python 3
- Learn C#
These courses give you an in-depth look into how each of the languages is used to create solutions, which will make it easier for you, as a Scrum Master, to support and guide your team. Check out more in our course catalog.