Role of Scrum Master in scaling in Agile

Role of Scrum Master in scaling in Agile

The Author:
Alyona Lubchak
Alyona Lubchak,
SAFe program consultant

The role of Scrum Master is simple and difficult at the same time. Simple, because the core responsibilities are described in the Scrum Guide, which everyone relies on. Difficult, because this role has quite a lot of additional duties and functions. And their list expands significantly when the Scrum Master works with many teams.
I suggest using the example of the SAFe and LeSS frameworks to consider the main events in which the Scrum Master participates and additional activities.

Role of Scrum Master in Scrum

To illustrate the essence of the position, I will give a quote from Mike Cohn:

«Scrum Master is like a conductor who helps a group of musicians to create something unique, something they would never have created on their own»

If you refer to the Scrum Guide, then the duties of this specialist are described as follows:

1. Regarding team, Scrum Master must:

Teach team members self-organization and cross-functionality.
Help create valuable increments – something that has value for the end user.
Contribute to the elimination of obstacles to the progress of the team, that is, not to do it themselves, but to teach specialists how to achieve it.
Monitor that all scheduled Scrum events are on time, positive and productive.
I often see how this role comes down to the Scrum Master monitoring that the team completes all the assigned tasks, noting it in Jira and considers it a success. And yes, he actively books all the necessary Scrum ceremonies in the team’s calendar. In fact, this role is much broader than described in the Scrum Guide. For example, in addition to working with the team, the Scrum Master should also help the Product Owner.

2. From the perspective of Product Owner, Scrum Master should:

Help to find methods to effectively define Product Goal and manage Product Backlog;
Help Scrum Team to understand the need for clear and concise elements of Product Backlog;
Help to establish empirical planning of products in difficult conditions;
Organize the process of cooperation with other stakeholders. Product owners are not always able to build communication with stakeholders effectively. The task of Scrum Master is to help establish communication.

3. For organization, Scrum Master also has certain functions to perform:

Helping the company to work according to the Scrum methodology. For example, to contribute to the solution of difficulties that may arise in the team, to conduct training, coaching. In short, become a Scrum Ambassador.
Plan and implement the methodology throughout the organization. If it is a large company, you can move the IT department to Scrum, and the other departments will work as they are used to. After that, the specialist’s task will be to understand the need for other departments to switch to new processes. Thus promoting the spread of Scrum throughout the company.
Help employees and stakeholders understand the essence of the empirical approach.
Remove the barrier between the business department and the team. Separating stakeholders and developers is a big mistake. It is often assumed by Scrum Masters who previously held the position of project manager.

Role of Scrum Master at scale

How does the world of a Scrum Master who works with not one but many teams change?
The first question that will be faced by the specialist is: how to organize the work?
With one team, everything is usually clear: there is a Scrum Guide, which describes the basic recommendations. When there are five or more teams, the question is to choose a scaling framework for organizing effective work.

My advice: analyze your existing needs, company culture, experience with a particular framework, including the experience of teams working on Scrum and how close the Agile culture is to the company – and based on this, make a decision about a particular framework.

If you have up to three teams, in our opinion, you don’t need a framework. Your work will be based on self-organization and self-coordination of teams. Additionally, introduce Scrum of Scrum meetings to communicate between team representatives to track cross-team progress and work on obstacles.

If there are more than three teams, it is necessary to choose a framework.

Role of Scrum Master in SAFe

If you chose SAFe, let’s see how the Scrum Master role will change compared to Scrum. Let’s consider the example of the simplest version of SAFe – Essential SAFe, which covers up to 125 people working on a joint product. Of course, all the main points that were in Scrum will remain, but the processes introduced by SAFe will appear:

  • Facilitation of additional ceremonies within the team: PI Planning, preparation for it, cooperation with other teams, etc.
  • Collaboration with other Scrum Masters, product managers and owners, architects, and other roles. As you can see, communications are becoming more extensive.
  • Improvement of program execution progress. The Scrum Master must now think not only about the performance of his team, but also about improving the performance of all teams working together.

Role of RTE in SAFe

SAFe introduces the additional role of RTE (Release Train Engineer – Chief Scrum Master). Key responsibilities of this role:

  • Help improve the efficiency of teams working within the same ART (Agile Release Train). At the same time, Scrum Master will do this at the level of his team, while RTE will do it at the ART level.
  • Facilitate PI planning and synchronization, monitor progress, debrief. The essence of the work remains similar to the work of a Scrum Master, but is complicated by the increase in the number of people participating in joint meetings.
  • Help teams manage risks and dependencies. When it comes to one team, it often depends on itself. If the process is scaled, the teams become interdependent.
  • Conduct coaching Scrum Masters with regard to Lean, Agile, their vision of work process organization.
  • Monitor progress toward goals and help teams overcome obstacles they cannot overcome themselves.
  • Cooperate with VMO (Value Management Office) and Lean Portfolio Management team.
  • Assist in Lean User Experience, a method of creating design based on user experience. When you work with many teams, there is always the risk of focusing on technical details and losing customer focus.
  • Improve the quality of cooperation between teams and business representatives.
  • Promote Communities of Practice and the use of quality management practices.
  • Help teams to continuously improve and be a Servant leader.

As you can see, the area of responsibility of the RTE is much wider than that of the Scrum Master.

Role of Scrum Master in LeSS

LeSS (Large-Scale Scrum) is a rather interesting framework with its own rules for organizing work. It also provides for the role of Scrum Master. Here, ceremonies and new roles are added: for example, Area Product Owner (APO), if the product is really large. Despite these innovations, the core of the framework remains Scrum: there is a Scrum master, a cross-functional team, and a product owner.
Speaking specifically about the role of Scrum Master, LeSS emphasizes that Scrum Master helps each team member see how his or her participation affects the entire system: interactions, delays, causes, opportunities.
Scrum Master focuses on the team, product owner, organization, and development practices during his work. In particular, he or she coaches the product owner to be in this role, to be closer to the product users, to help the organization implement LeSS, and to constantly monitor and present new development practices to the team.

Further reading

To delve deeper into this topic, I recommend reading the following literature:

  • Scrum Guide;
  • Dean Leffingwell Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises;
  • Coaching Agile Teams Lyssa Adkins;
  • Great ScrumMaster Zuzana Sochova;
  • The Fifth Discipline. The Art and Practice of The
  • Learning Organization Peter Senge;
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Patrick Lencioni.

If you want to learn all the necessary skills to successfully fulfill the role of Scrum Master in the company, we invite you to the SAFe Scrum Master course.