Scrum Master – Leader, Coach, or Project Manager?

When a large development organization took on Agile and Scrum for the first time, the role of the scrum master was the most difficult to understand and staff with the right skills.  The organization, the scrum master, and the teams all had a different definition of the job.  In a nutshell, the challenge was in understanding the role in relationship to traditional software development and project management roles.

The organization, still comfortable with command and control, viewed the role as an extension of the existing management hierarchy, i.e. the scrum master would direct the team to achieve their goals.  We are used to command and control.  The Scrum Master must now be our command and control agent on the scrum team.

Many of the scrum masters didn’t feel that they were responsible for the results of the team, even though the organization felt that way.   They still thought that management was completely responsible and there role was simply to report status  to management.  Sometimes the scrum master had been picked based on those that were most expendable from the delivery capacity of the team.Finally, the team defined the role as simply updating the storyboard and running the stand up.  They still felt that the managers were responsible for the results.   They didn’t feel accountable to their scrum master or any of their team mates.  They were still individual contributors that had been brought together to form a team and remained independent.

team graphic

As time went on, the scrum master evolved to a very important role with a common understanding among all parties.  Furthermore, it was staffed with people that understood the expectations and were committed to making the transition to a new way of doing things.   We came to the understanding that the role had elements of leadership, project management, AND coaching.  As with any effective leader, the scrum masters had to learn when to act in those various roles.  The individuals that became scrum masters were committed to achieving results, but understood that it was up to the team to deliver in a collaborative fashion.  They also understood that management must be available as a support system.  Ultimately all parties felt responsible for success, and began to understand what role they played in that success.

Below is my view of some of the duties of a scrum master, grouped by leadership, project management, and coaching.  This may not match your organization, but hopefully provides a starting point for comparison.


The scrum master is responsible for leading a scrum team to achieve sprint and release goals.   They challenge the team to focus on results and maintain high quality, while facilitating their success by resolving barriers.

Another responsibility is to act as liaison/spokesperson for the team, representing the team’s interests with management and vis-a-versa.

Project Manager

They work closely with Product Owner, R&D Manager, analyst, and technical leads to define the backlog and create a release plan.  Leads team planning meetings and facilitates estimation.

Scrum masters track the implementation of highly complex features, some that may have steel threads to other teams.  They ensure that assets and resources necessary for success are identified.  Based on this identification, they will usually work with their management team to secure these resources.

They lead the daily stand up meeting to track progress towards goals and flow of work items, and updats all project tracking and forecasting data.


The scrum master creates a culture of teamwork, empowerment, and high motivation.  They provide feedback, coaching, and guidance to team members that do not act consistently with these goals.  They maintain an environment of continuous improvement through regular retrospectives and team dialog.


The scrum master is a critical role and can provide tremendous value, but it can take time to evolve.  Be patient and observant with the people staffing this role, and provide open forums for everyone to discuss the challenges.

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