Research suggests an impressive 250% improvement in product quality in companies closely following the Scrum methodology.
It’s no surprise, then, that this framework is widely adopted, and 95% of companies using it expect to continue on account of its benefits. As we see the adoption of the Scrum framework grow in the product world, scrum master responsibilities simultaneously come into mainstream focus.
Scrum masters form a crucial piece in the Scrum methodology. Their knowledge and skillsets enable teams to prepare for uncertainties and be flexible to make any adaptive changes while ensuring the communication flow is smooth and uninterrupted. This contribution makes them a key element in effectively implementing the Scrum framework.
In this guide, we’ll elaborate on the critical scrum master responsibilities and scrum master skills needed in 2023. We’ll also provide a rundown of the exact difference between a product owner and a scrum master, as they’re often misunderstood with blurring lines.
Feel free to jump directly to any of the following topics:
- What is a scrum master?
- Scrum master responsibilities: Key tasks you need to focus on in 2023
- What are the core scrum master skills to have?
- What’s the difference: Scrum master vs product owner responsibilities
- In essence: Scrum masters translate product missions into reality
1. What is a scrum master?
A Scrum master is one of the critical roles in any company that adopts the Scrum framework. The Scrum framework is an agile and adaptive product management methodology that helps companies tackle hurdles and quickly bring superior products to market. The method enables teams to break large tasks into smaller ones and iterate quickly if any challenges arise.
A scrum master is a person who liaises between different teams and the product owner as a coach, facilitator, coordinator, and optimizer. They carry the ultimate responsibility for the outcome of the development team while remaining answerable to the product owner and the organization.
In this process, they also work with the different team members to resolve any problems or dysfunctional patterns that may come up.
2. Scrum master responsibilities: Key tasks you need to focus on in 2023
While the actual tasks performed by a scrum master can vary from company to company, here are the top ten responsibilities to expect in 2023:
Manage projects from the outset
The scrum master needs to manage the product development project right from the outset. This begins with assigning resources, planning projects, and setting sprint milestones.
Sprints are a product development cycle in which tasks are carefully broken down into smaller ones and delegated to smaller scrum teams.
- Typically, sprints last between two-four weeks, and multiple sprints eventually lead to product development.
- At the end of each sprint, meetings are conducted to track progress and identify challenges.
- During daily stand-up meetings, team members discuss progress and hurdles they encountered the previous day and what they plan to do on the day of the meeting. These usually last for 15 minutes.
- A sprint retrospective helps everyone involved to understand what went well and what did not.
As more companies now adopt a hybrid or flexible working environment, project management and meetings now depend significantly on digital collaboration tools. Therefore, in 2023, we expect to see more scrum masters use collaborative tools like Asana and ClickUp to streamline tasks.
Facilitate daily stand-up meetings, sprints, and retrospectives
It’s the scrum master’s responsibility to ensure that everyone on the scrum team can collaborate well. Currently, research indicates that 81% of employees feel more loyal to companies that allow them to work flexibly.
Consequently, more companies have shifted gears towards adopting telecommuting to enable that. With this, the three kinds of scrum meetings—daily stand-ups, sprint meetings, and sprint retrospectives—can look different now. Thus, one of the most critical responsibilities of the scrum master is to ensure that everyone across the hybrid setup appears on the chosen teleconferencing tools at the right time for smooth collaboration.
Coach team members regarding various aspects
A scrum master’s responsibility is to also act as a coach at every step along the way. This includes introducing the agile model to scrum teams if they are familiar with any concept.
In addition, with remote work, the scrum master may need to utilize eLearning solutions to ensure team members are well-acquainted with agile methodologies and the Scrum framework. The scrum master may also need to be readily available via chat, telephone, and video to answer any doubts their team members may have.
Further, as the economic headwinds have led to layoffs and a recessionary outlook, there is a dampening impact on overall employee morale. Therefore, scrum masters in 2023 also need to assume the responsibility to boost employee confidence and ensure that members of scrum teams remain motivated and positive.
Remove roadblocks and hurdles that teams may encounter
A scrum master also needs to identify roadblocks and hurdles and ensure that everything works smoothly.
Different kinds of hurdles are common during sprints. These may range from product-related difficulties to productivity issues within teams. In addition, development teams may encounter technical problems as well. To resolve this, the scrum master must be prepared to liaise with the product owner and customers.
Work with product owners to manage backlogs
It’s the responsibility of the scrum master to keep track of product backlogs, and to ensure that this information is communicated back and forth between the product owner and different teams working on it.
According to the Scrum Guide, the product backlog is an ordered list of actions to improve the product. This is different from a list of unfinished things. Instead, the backlog lists include things that are identified during sprints and daily stand-up meetings as attention-worthy.
The product owner usually creates the product backlog based on the themes that emerge during prints and daily stand-up meetings, and it’s the scrum master’s job to ensure it’s done, on-site or remotely.
Ensure that the product reaches the market on time
Scrum masters also need to ensure that the go-to-market time is as per the schedule and any challenges are overcome.
A recent Gartner report states that 45 percent of product launches are delayed by a month. Delays may be due to several factors, such as hurdles during development, failed quality tests, and many more. Most importantly, the lack of a robust marketing plan often severely affects product launch schedules.
Scrum masters need to take care of this with sprint retrospectives. Sprint retrospectives are meetings at the end of each sprint to track what went well, identify obstacles and decide the next sprint’s plan. The idea is to ensure proper contingency management to avoid delays.
Seek feedback from customers and clients
Seeking regular customer feedback is also among the critical scrum master responsibilities.
Only one out of every 26 customers tend to complain directly about products. In other words, a lack of negative reviews doesn’t necessarily mean a product is faring well. This makes it necessary to actively seek external end-user feedback to ensure that future product updates are relevant and valuable.
Scrum masters often need to contact customers and clients and seek feedback directly. Additionally, survey tools such as SurveyMonkey, TypeForm, and JotForm are handy for fueling data collection to leverage during product improvement sprints.
Perform and oversee quality assurance tests
A scrum master needs to conduct or oversee quality assurance tests regularly, which could be a sprint in itself. Quality assurance is an essential aspect of product development to ensure that the final product which reaches the market is without any errors or bugs.
Facilitate open communication between teams and other stakeholders
The scrum master’s role is to facilitate and ensure open communication. During a product development cycle, several teams and stakeholders, from C-level executives to end-users, are involved.
With multiple entities, managing back-and-forth communication is needed. Therefore, it’s the scrum master’s responsibility to ensure smooth communication between the development team and product owner to decision-makers within the organization and customers.
Track key performance indicators and adopt a data-driven approach
Tracking key performance indicators (known as KPIs for short) specific to Scrum methodology is another crucial scrum master responsibility. Here are some of the KPIs that scrum masters are typically responsible for:
- Sprint burndown: This chart represents the rate of completed and remaining work
- Team velocity points: This KPI tracks the number of story points that can be returned during a sprint. In other words, it helps tick elements off a sprint’s checklist.
- Customer satisfaction (CSAT): A product is successful only when end customers are satisfied. Hence, even after the launch of the product, the scrum master is responsible for gathering ongoing feedback from customers and evaluating CSAT scores.
In short, the scrum master is responsible for identifying relevant KPIs and adopting a data-driven approach to product development.
3. What are the core scrum master skills to have?
Given the essential and elaborate set of responsibilities, scrum masters need to have suitable professional and interpersonal skills to do their job successfully.
Alongside their roles as a coach, facilitators, coordinators, and optimizers, scrum masters also need the knowledge to understand technical issues that the development team may encounter. Although they do not have to be technical experts, they need a general understanding of the technology they are working with.
In addition, developing the following scrum master skills is helpful too:
- Practical communication skills to smoothly liaise with the different stakeholders
- Managerial skills to handle teams and conduct meetings
- Sharp problem-solving skills to address any issues as they arise
- The virtue of patience to navigate challenging circumstances
- Accurate reporting skills to report outcomes to product owners
These are the necessary scrum master skills to ensure that all tasks are completed successfully and timely.
4. What’s the difference: Scrum master vs. product owner responsibilities
Product owners and scrum masters are both scrum-specific roles. Often, product managers are also members of the same team. As such, it can get confusing to differentiate the role and responsibilities of a product owner and a scrum master. However, it’s important to note that they’re distinct in scope.
The scrum master is the in-house scrum expert who ensures that the scrum team operates at its best potential. They act like team leaders who coordinate and optimize scrum outcomes.
On the other hand, a product owner works more toward the daily operational tasks that go into building the product and fulfilling the product strategy (as laid out by the product manager). In that sense, they’re like the development team’s supervisors, managing aspects like the product backlog and writing user stories and requirements.
Here’s a tabulated list of scrum master responsibilities vs product owner responsibilities.
|Scrum Masters||Product Owners|
|Liaise between product or business owners and development teams to ensure that the deliverables reach the market as per schedule.||Visualize the product and ensure that the same version of the product is rendered in reality.|
|Responsible for coaching and training different teams within the Scrum framework.||Responsible for communicating changes to the product’s vision, which the scrum master in turn, helps enforce.|
|Ensures obstacles and distractions are handled adequately along the way.||Ensures projects are on track by conducting collaborative meetings with scrum masters.|
|Responsible for creating small teams that propose and test different hypotheses and, in turn, reflect on the outcomes and iterate||Responsible for the product’s entire life cycle and ensuring that it is successfully launched in the market.|
5. In essence: Scrum masters translate product missions into reality
As you now know, the scrum master responsibilities they’re expected to perform are diverse. They conduct various sprints and stand-up meetings based on the Scrum framework. They act as a conduit between product owners and team members who work on the task. In addition, they also work with the development team and ensure that the product arrives in the market on time.
The roles of product owners, scrum masters, and scrum teams are all vital in helping materialize a finished product that companies can launch quickly into the market. While product managers have a vision regarding the product, scrum masters make sure that this mission gets translated into a product that arrives in the market on time.
Are you a beginner looking to learn how to manage product development cycles? Then check out this free 5-day product management short course, or read the following guides: