A Blog from QualiTest

Why do we need a Scrum Master?

A Scrum Master is responsible for making sure that the team (including the Product Owner) follow the principles and processes of Scrum. Learn more about the role of the Scrum Master by Lydia Burnet.


Lydia Burnet, Scrum Master at QualiTest

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been at giffgaff for 2½ years. I spent a 1½ years as a tester, 6 months as QA Lead and have now had 6 month’s experience as a Scrum Master. So what is a Scrum Master? Well it’s more than just an over-inflated job title! A Scrum Master is probably best described as a facilitator but before I go into that I’ll quickly describe how the scrum process works.

A scrum team is made up of developers and testers, a Product Owner and a Scrum Master. The Product Owner prioritises a list of items (stories) that the team will work on (a backlog). The sprint starts with the team committing to a set amount of work they can complete within the timeframe (sprint planning), at giffgaff the sprints are 2 weeks. The team will then work on the items that they have committed to, with the aim of completing everything by the end of the sprint. Throughout the sprint, features will be developed and demonstrated to the Product Owner and relevant stakeholders. There is usually a bit of back and forth until a Product Owner deems an item is finished (done) and can potentially be shipped. The sprint will then conclude with a meeting where the team reviews how well (or not well) the last sprint went (retrospective) and how they improve for the next sprint. Then the team are straight back in to planning and the next sprint starts.

An excellent video demonstrating scrum can be found at here. Also, here’s a diagram that may help to visual the process:


Now on to Scrum Masters. A Scrum Master is responsible for making sure that the team (including the Product Owner) follow the principles and processes of Scrum. They strive to make the process as efficient as possible by getting as many features to done as possible (with no defects of course!). However, Scrum Masters are not managers, they are ‘servant leaders’. We do not enforce rules, instead we encourage, coach and facilitate. Ultimately, we want teams to be self-organising and learn to do whatever it takes to get the job done by adapting to whatever situation is thrown at them. A good Scrum Master should be paving the way for the team to deliver their best work, which usually takes the form of removing blockers such as navigating Change Management, chasing third parties or even making sure the temperature in the office is just right!

A Scrum Master’s job is never done, there’s always something that can be improved. As an example from giffgaff, when we released code we had our ‘Community team’ write the release notes. This meant that sometimes they’d misinterpret what we’d delivered or couldn’t answer questions that arose from our members. To improve this, another Scrum Master and I have started writing the release notes and answering questions. This has the added bonus of receiving rapid feedback for new features and also to quickly find out if there’s a bug or something needs improving.

But if a team is performing well then why do we need a Scrum Master at all? Good question (well I did ask it myself). Let’s take the coach analogy. If you have an all-star team, people might argue that a coach isn’t needed. However, as seen time and time again, without someone gently guiding a team, they can lose their way and performance decreases. Sometimes very little guidance is needed but taking away the coach can have a detrimental effect, especially when the pressure is on. Sports coaches, like Scrum Master’s, will obverse a team and then thinks of ways that the team could improve. When something goes wrong, like the star playing being ill, the coach or Scrum Master will encourage the team to see if they can solve or work around the issue themselves. If the problem cannot be solved by the team, then the Scrum Master will take it upon themselves to resolve.

More information on the Agile Scrum Process can also be found here.