Over the last several years, many have wrestled with the question of how to make the difference between project manager and ScrumMaster, between coach and boss, more readily understood.

How can this explain the shift in a way that is easy to absorb regardless of a person’s background and inclination?

When experienced Scrum practitioners are around to mentor a new ScrumMaster, the transition to Scrum is usually smooth. When experienced ScrumMasters (ESM) mentor new ScrumMasters, for example, they can help them understand many of the consequences of failure in part because ESMs have failed so many times themselves! ESMs can also show them the difference between failure and success.

ESMs first fill the role of ScrumMaster themselves, setting an example. Then they invite the new ScrumMaster to begin. They coach the new ScrumMaster after every meeting and throughout the day. They point out opportunities for the ScrumMaster to help the team. They point out ways that the ScrumMaster can tell when the team needs help. They also point out instances in which the ScrumMaster is controlling rather than guiding and explain what the consequences of such acts are likely to be.

The ScrumMaster is responsible for making sure that all the pieces of the Scrum process come together and work as a whole:

  • The Product Owner must do his or her job.
  • The Team must do its job.
  • The chickens (management) must be kept in line.

The Product Owner and the Team must collaborate appropriately and use the Scrum meetings for inspection and adaptation.

The responsibilities of the ScrumMasters can be summarized as follows:

  • Remove the barriers between development and the Product Owner so that the Product Owner directly drives development.
  • Teach the Product Owner how to maximize ROI and meet his or her objectives through Scrum.
  • Improve the lives of the development team by facilitating creativity and empowerment.
  • Improve the productivity of the development team in any way possible.
  • Improve the engineering practices and tools so that each increment of functionality is potentially shippable.
  • Keep information about the team’s progress up-to-date and visible to all parties.

When the ScrumMaster fulfills these responsibilities, the project usually stays on track. These responsibilities should be enough to keep the ScrumMaster busy; no ScrumMaster should have any time leftover to act like a typical boss. Indeed, a ScrumMaster who acts like a program manager probably isn’t fulfilling all of his or her duties as a ScrumMaster.

In my experience, some people intuitively understand the ScrumMaster role and take to it like a duck to water. Others struggle to understand Scrum and sometimes make harmful mistakes as they learn. However, even the successful ScrumMaster requires several Sprints to get going. When I am unclear about how to help a Scrum project, You should keep “the art of the possible” in mind. Focus on what can be done rather than be frustrated by what can’t be done. This thought helps guide your actions at work on projects and in everyday life.