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Role of the Scrum Master in Scrum and SAFe 6.0 Is it the same?

Ana Aranda Diaz

Ana Aranda Diaz

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Introduction

The adoption of agile methodologies has led to the emergence of specialized roles to drive and facilitate agility in organizations. The role of the Scrum Master is critical in the successful implementation of Agile practices. However, there are key differences between being a Scrum Master in an individual Agile team and being a Scrum Master of a team within an Agile Release Train (ART) in a SAFe 6.0 framework. To begin with I will tell you that SAFe 6.0 has renamed the role, now the official nomenclature is “Scrum Master/Team Coach”, so I will refer to this Role with the acronym SM/TC.

In this article, we will explore these differences, and how they affect the Scrum Master’s approach and responsibilities in both contexts.

1. Focus on the team:

In an individual Agile team, the Scrum Master focuses on a single team. Their focus is on facilitating and supporting the team in the effective implementation of Agile principles and practices. His primary goal is to ensure that the team follows the selected framework, foster collaboration, and remove obstacles that may affect value delivery.

In contrast, in an Agile Release Train (ART), the SM/TC works in an environment where there is a set of interrelated teams collaborating to achieve the goals of a broader product or solution. The ART is composed of several Scrum teams working together to deliver consistent and coordinated increments of value. The SM/TC in this context takes a more holistic view, focuses on workflow and collaboration between teams, and facilitates coordination and resolution of dependencies between them. The SM/TC helps to “educate” teams on Scrum, Built-in-Quality, Kanban, and SAFe, encouraging them to follow the agreed agile processes.

2. Facilitate the Scrum process:

In an individual Agile team, the Scrum Master facilitates daily meetings, sprint planning, review and retrospective. They ensure that the team follows the Scrum principles and rules and foster clear and effective communication.

In an Agile Release Train, in addition to the day-to-day facilitation in the team, with the ceremonies previously indicated, the SM/TC is involved in additional events:

PI Planning Preparation:

Prior to the event, the SM/TC ensures that Product Managers, Business Owners, and other stakeholders brief the team on upcoming “Features”.

During the PI Planning will assist with the preparation of the draft plan presented at the end of the first day, and the preparation of the final plan presented at the end of the PI PLanning, helping the teams to identify user stories, maintenance activities, defects, technical debt and any other work that the team needs to undertake during the next PI. Help in the creation of the IP objectives and identify risks and ART issues. They ensure that subject matter experts (SME) and ART stakeholders of interest participate in the event, and encourage communication with other teams determining how they will collaborate on the development of Features and how they will resolve dependencies, encouraging cooperation and communication during the event.

scrum master role
Role of the Scrum Master in Scrum and SAFe 6.0 Is it the same? | Illustration by Andy Baraja

Once the iteration has started the SM/TC have an important role in the train level coordination meetings especially in the Coach Sync event that has to be held at least once a week.

During the team level retrospectives the SM/TC may need to present the team with problems or opportunities associated with the train. If the Problem Solving Workshop is held at the team level the SM/TC will be the facilitator of the ceremony and the team will address issues related to the last PI.

SM/TC’s represent the team at the aforementioned Coach Sync, as well as PO and ART Sync events. They attend other teams’ events and demonstrations with relevant team members and participate in the System Demos of the train and Inspect & Adapt events.

3. Coordination and scaling:

The Scrum Master of an individual team focuses on the team and its internal work process. He helps establish and maintain agile practices, organizes ceremonies and facilitates collaboration between team members. In addition, is concerned with the growth and development of the team.

In contrast, the SM/TC in an ART has a broader role and is concerned with coordination and scaling at the program level. This involves working closely with other Scrum Masters, Product Owners and, of course, the RTE (Release Train Engineer, the ART’s “Servant Leader” who facilitates events and processes at the train level, and supports teams in delivering value), with the goal of fostering alignment of ART objectives, facilitating planning and coordination, as well as managing program-level impediments that may affect multiple teams.

4. Focus on the vision and value of the product:

The Scrum Master on an individual team ensures that the team is focused on iteratively and continuously delivering value. They help maintain communication with the Product Owner and facilitate the management of the Product Backlog. Its main objective is to ensure that the team meets the Sprint commitments and delivers value at the end of each iteration.

In an ART, the SM/TC collaborates with the Product Owner and helps coordinate the prioritization of the different Product Backlogs, but also cares about the vision and value of the product, on a broader scale. Working with other SM/TCs, the Release Train Engineer, Product Owners and Product Management to ensure a clear vision and a well-defined product backlog.

5. Dependency management and impediment resolution at the program level.

In an individual Agile team, the Scrum Master works to remove obstacles that may affect the team’s productivity. This involves addressing issues, resolving conflicts, and collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure a conducive work environment.

With multiple teams working together in a SAFe ART, it is common for dependencies to exist between them. The SM/TC in an ART helps to identify and resolve dependencies, ensuring a smooth and seamless delivery. During the PI Planning event the SM/TC is responsible for making dependencies visible on the ART Planning Board, and during synchronization events the SM/TC will use that planning board to track and manage dependencies, ensuring that work is done to remove blockages as they are identified.

scrum master role
Role of the Scrum Master in Scrum and SAFe 6.0 Is it the same? | Illustration by Andy Baraja

Conclusions:

Being a Scrum Master on an Agile team and being a Scrum Master on a team within an Agile Release Train (ART) involve different approaches and responsibilities. The Scrum Master on an Agile team focuses on guiding and facilitating the work of the team, while the Scrum Master/Team Coach on an ART broadens its scope to coordinate and align multiple teams in the context of the program.

Both roles are fundamental to the success of agile adoption and delivering value to customers. Both require leadership, facilitation and change management skills, but it is important to understand the differences and adapt the approach depending on the context in which you are working.

If you want to know more about the role of Scrum Mater in Scrum teams do not hesitate to take a look at this article by my colleague Alonso Alvarez Scrum Fundamentals: the Scrum Master

Good luck Scrum Masters!

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About the Author

Ana Aranda Diaz

Ana Aranda Diaz

Ana Aranda, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, SAFe® SPC, AgilePM® and PRINCE2® Instructor, is a Lead Expert and Operations Manager for Netmind's US office. With more than 25 years' experience in Product Management, Project Management, and business development , she is comfortable helping others overcome challenges and manage cultural diversity. Ana has worked as a business consultant as well as an instructor in various multinational companies across the globe. She is passionate about fostering an organization's Project Management culture and improving their human skills aspect. Ana telecommunication engineer with an executive Master's Degree in Human Resources Management. She has strong business and technical background that allows fast learning and enables immediate value generation. Connect with Ana on LinkedIn.

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