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scrum master

noun [countable]

in a product development team, a person whose responsibility it is to make a project go smoothly by helping the team to communicate effectively, agree goals, and deal with anything which prevents progress

'The Daily Stand-up also provides the opportunity every day to communicate impediments to getting work done. One of the primary functions of the Scrum Master is to remove obstacles so the team can focus on delivering software …'

Dr. Dobb's 15th July 2014

To the uninitiated, the term scrum master might conjure up images of the person in charge among a huddle of athletic men crowding over an oval ball. In reality, however, this expression has nothing to do with rugby, or indeed sport at all. Swapping the pitch for the office floor, the scrum master is a person whose job it is to oil the wheels of product development.

the scrum master is … a kind of 'middle man', someone who acts as a buffer between the development teams and a person known as the product owner

In the domain of software development, scrum is a term sometimes used to refer to a project management model in which a number of teams work intensively and interdependently towards a common goal. A crucial principle in the scrum approach is to recognize that, even during the course of a project, a customer may change their mind about what they want or need, so there needs to be some flexibility about responding to emerging requirements during the development process. To this end, the scrum master is the person responsible for helping the team to evaluate what progress they've made, agree on what can be achieved within a given timeframe, and stay focused on the task at hand. In particular, it's also the scrum master's job to identify and eradicate any stumbling blocks or distractions which could impede the progress of the project.

The scrum master is therefore essentially a kind of 'middle man', someone who acts as a buffer between the development teams and a person known as the product owner, the individual who represents the voice of the customer and is accountable for ensuring that the team delivers the goods. Because of this dual perspective, responding to the needs of both the development team and the product owner, the scrum master is also sometimes known as a servant leader.

The sports metaphor is carried over into other aspects of the scrum approach too, such as, for instance, the sprint – a set period of time within which specific work has to be completed. Other novel uses of established words include the stand-up – a development team's daily progress meeting, and pigs and chickens – team members who have direct responsibility for a task (pigs) and ones with more minor involvement (chickens).

Background – scrum master

The analogy and description of product development strategy as a scrum was first proposed in the mid-eighties by Japanese business academics Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. In rugby, opposing teams huddle together during a scrum to restart the game if some event has caused play to stop. By this analogy, development team members gather together each morning to review progress and essentially restart the project in the light of any problems or new requirements. Though the idea was originally applied to manufacturing, it's nowadays used mainly in the domain of IT and specifically associated with what's known as agile software development (or ASD for short), a methodology which anticipates the need for flexibility during the development process (if someone has an agile mind, then they're able to think of new ideas quickly and solve problems).

The term scrum dates back to the late 19th century and is an abbreviation of the earlier word scrummage (or scrimmage), used from the 1850s to refer to a confused struggle between players in rugby or American football.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 7th October 2014.

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