What is a Scrum master? A key role for project success

Oct 20, 20238 mins
CareersProject Management ToolsSoftware Development

With agile development a standard practice at most companies, Scrum masters are in great demand. Here is a look at the Scrum Master role, responsibilities, relevant certifications, and expected salaries.

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Scrum is a powerful framework for implementing agile processes in software development and other projects. This highly adopted framework utilizes short iterations of work, called sprints, and daily meetings, called scrums, to tackle discrete portions of a project in succession until the project is complete. There are three key roles within Scrum: Scrum master, product owner and Scrum team members.

What does a Scrum master do?

The Scrum master is the leader of a Scrum team and is responsible for championing a project, providing guidance to the team and product owner, and ensuring all agile practices are followed by team members. The Scrum master not only addresses all facets of the agile development process but also serves the business, product owner, team, and individuals and facilitates communication and collaboration between all these elements.

Scrum master role and responsibilities

Because the role is at the nexus between the business, product owner, agile team, and individuals, the Scrum master’s responsibilities will vary depending on the unique needs of each business and team. Some Scrum masters also serve as a team’s project manager. Some also fill the role of an organizational agile coach. Others do not.

Generally, Scrum masters fulfill the following responsibilities, as laid out in The Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum team
  • Working with other Scrum masters to increase the effectiveness of Scrum in the organization

Scrum masters also act as facilitators and servant leaders, helping to remove barriers for their team, protecting team members from any external factors that might derail progress on their work, and aiding in resolving any conflicts within the team, with stakeholders, or the business at large.

Scrum master job description

At a more granular level, a Scrum master’s responsibilities and tasks differ depending on which team members they’re working with:

  • At the business level, the Scrum master creates a development environment that is creative, safe, productive, and supportive and enables multidirectional collaboration.
  • At the product owner level, the Scrum master facilitates planning and helps product owners understand and adhere to Scrum techniques and practices.
  • At the team level, the Scrum master provides guidance, coaching, support, and facilitation, and helps remove any obstacles that teams may encounter along the way.
  • At the individual level, the Scrum master supports individual efforts, addresses any issues that arise, and removes obstacles to help individuals be focused and productive.

Scrum master certifications

Two well-recognized organizations, Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org, offer Scrum training and certifications.

Scrum Alliance, established in 2001, is one of the more influential organizations in the agile community. It is a nonprofit association with more than 500,000 certified practitioners worldwide. Key certifications that the Scrum Alliance offers include the following:

Scrum.org was founded in 2009 by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the originators of Scrum, as a “global organization, dedicated to improving the profession of software delivery by reducing the gaps, so the work and work products are dependable.”

Scrum.org offers a number of Scrum-related certifications, including the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) at three levels:

  • PSM I: This level of certificate holder demonstrates a fundamental understanding of Scrum and its principles and can apply these concepts in guiding Scrum teams.
  • PSM II: This level of certificate holder has an advanced level of Scrum mastery and can apply the Scrum methodology in team settings involving complex projects.
  • PSM III: The highest level of PSM certificate holders demonstrate a “distinguished level” of Scrum mastery, including how to coach, facilitate, and teach Scrum teams in complex organizational settings.

For more information, see “Scrum master certification: Top 13 certs for agile pros.”

Scrum master salaries

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a Scrum master across all industries and experience levels is US$106,024, with a typical range of US$86,000 to US$131,000.

Breaking salaries down by years of experience yields the following average salaries:

  • 0-1 years: US$95,914
  • 1-3 years: US$101,209
  • 4-6 years: US$109,204
  • 7-9 years: US$112,739

Scrum master jobs

Since Scrum can be applied to virtually any organization, Scrum masters are in high demand as companies continue to look for ways to get their projects completed and their products to market faster. According to data from Zippia, demand for Scrum masters is expected to grow by 9% through 2028, while research from Best Accredited Colleges suggests that the growth rate for those holding the Certified ScrumMaster credential will be 24% through 2026.

Project management offices (PMOs) or product development departments within many business sectors hire Scrum masters to streamline their software development processes. This can include software, healthcare, aviation, technology, engineering, construction, real estate, publishing, financial, marketing, manufacturing, education, insurance, government, and others.

The following four job boards provide a good starting point for those seeking a new job as a Scrum master:

Scrum master vs. project manager

The role and responsibilities of a Scrum master appear similar to those of a project manager. But while a Scrum master may also fulfill the role of a project manager, there are key differences in the roles and responsibilities of each, including the following:

 Scrum masterProject manager
General role
  • For projects using agile methodologies, a Scrum master is a key role. He/she plays the role of a facilitator and coach for agile development teams in ensuring products are delivered on time with the quality specified.
  • For most types of projects, a project manager takes the lead role in all project phases and activities, including planning, leading, managing, monitoring, and closing of projects.
  • Support product owners throughout product development.
  • Lead Scrum meetings and provide team support during sprint planning and execution.
  • Provide coaching to agile teams.
  • Ensure agile principles are followed.
  • Assist teams with prioritizing and managing of sprint backlog to ensure timely and accurate product delivery.
  • Help teams deal with any barriers to successful delivery.
  • Identify and document business and project requirements, plans, and progress.
  • Determine, document, and manage the scope of a project, tasks, milestones, timelines, the budget, and resources.
  • Lead and mentor project teams.
  • Determine and assign tasks and priorities.
  • Allocate, monitor, and manage project resources.
  • Set, monitor, and manage project timelines.
  • Manage project quality parameters.
  • Develop strategies for managing risks, as well as risk tracking.
  • Manage all stakeholders and their expectations.
  • Communicate task, milestone, and project progress and changes to relevant stakeholders.
  • Ensure project goals are met.
  • Close out projects and activities.
  • Identify lessons learned.