What is a Scrum Master?

… And what does it mean to be a Scrum Master for a team? Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, as I recently became the ScrumMaster for a new team.

The classic Scrum Master

According to the Scrum Guide, a Scrum Master’s mission is formulated as follows:

“The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules.”

So a classic Scrum Master is responsible for Scrum ceremonies and keeping the team on the right Scrum-path.

The Scrum Guide does not address anything else. What that means for the every-day responsibilities of a Scrum Master is left open. To see how broad this definition can be, I recommend watching Angel Medinilla’s talk on Scrum Master archetypes.

SAFe Scrum Master

SAFe extends the definition a bit:

“The SAFe Scrum Master is a servant leader who:

  • helps assure that the team follows the rules of Scrum and SAFe
  • helps the team meet their daily and iteration objectives
  • works to remove impediments in the organization
  • helps manage the teams relationships with outside stakeholders
  • facilitates team continuous improvement
  • coordinates solution implementation and delivery with other Scrum Masters on the Release Train.”


As I read the definition, I fear that a SAFe Scrum Master can be pressured to do things that are not in the team’s best interest, as otherwise envisioned by the classic Scrum Master-definition above. Ron Jeffries has written a piece about how SAFe can be improved , including the Scrum Master role. As I read the SAFe definition, the role of a Scrum Master is a little more clear than the classic one above.

The loose definition

What if a team has adapted their way of working so much that it can no longer fit inside the boundaries in the Scrum Guide? Is the role then still called “Scrum Master”? Joakim Sunden has written about how the Scrum Master role became the Agile Coach role at Spotify. They initially said that all teams must do Scrum, but learned two things over time:

  1. Scrum does not fit all teams.
  2. There is value in having someone with team collaboration in mind, associated with the teams.

My experience is, that when most people (except, perhaps, people in the SAFe world :)) talk about a ScrumMaster, they do not mean a ScrumMaster in the classic sense, but someone in the broader Agile Coach sense.

Agile level

I believe that when both team and organization has reached a certain agile level, there is no longer a need for a guardian of Scrum ceremonies and rules. But more a need for an agile coach in the wider sense. Someone who can take a conscious decision about the next step in their agile journey; a learning path that both the organization, team and coach travel together.

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August 3rd, 2015 by