Nov 22nd, 2021

Role & Responsibilities of a SAFe® Scrum Master? [Updated]

Satyajit Gantayat
Satyajit Gantayat

Satyajit has broad and deep experience in Agile coaching at the strategic senior executive level wh... Read more

In SAFe®, the Scrum Master is not just a Scrum Master. SAFe® defines the role of the Scrum Master as a servant-leader for the agile team who helps educate the team on various frameworks and methods, including Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, and SAFe®, ensuring that the agreed-upon agile process is duly followed. So, by default, it implies that Scrum Master in SAFe® needs to have more tools in the toolkit beyond just Scrum.

And since SAFe® is a framework to scale the team's agile practices up to the enterprise level there are other layers at higher levels like Essential SAFe®, Large Solution SAFe®, and Full SAFe®. These different configurations can be used as per the need of the organization.

The model is made in such a way so that it can cater to all sizes and complex environments. So, the SAFe® Scrum Masters also plays a vital role to serve in the different layers of the organization. They will need to work with the extended Scrum Master community, including Release Train Engineers and Solution Train Engineers, to increase the effectiveness of SAFe® across the enterprise Embraces SAFe® Lean-Agile Principles.

SAFe® embraces Lean and Agile principles making them very explicit. As a result, a SAFe® Scrum Master also must embrace the principles while working in the SAFe® environment.

The SAFe® Scrum Master is supposed to enable the agile team in its SAFe® adoption, and they also learn a variety of Lean techniques/tools to improve the flow of value in their agile teams.


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Top 15

  • 1Supports SAFe® adoption - The Scrum Master supports the overall adoption of SAFe® across the enterprise by coaching stakeholders and other non-agile teams on effective interactions with agile teams, participating in the Scrum Master Community of Practice, and supporting the organization’s SPCs.
  • 2Promotes SAFe® quality practices- SAFe®’s core value is “Built-In Quality.” As Dean Leffingwell says, you cannot scale crappy code. SAFe® guides on the quality of code via many forums such as CoPs, support from System Architects/Engineers, and even an architectural runway. A SAFe® Scrum Master must foster technical excellence and enable teams to have continuous attention to quality. Scrum Master may guide the team to continuously reinforce the definition of done for the team to improve the quality of the increment. The Scrum Master helps foster the culture of technical discipline and craftsmanship that is the hallmark of effective Agile teams.
  • 3Supports the Agile Team rules - The rules of an Agile Team are lightweight, but they are rules nonetheless, and the Scrum Master is responsible for reinforcing them. These may include the rules of Scrum, best engineering practices Extreme Programming (XP), Work in Process (WIP) limits from Kanban, and any other process rules the team has agreed.
  • 4Facilitates the team’s progress toward team goals- The Scrum Master is trained as a team facilitator and is continuously engaged in challenging the old norms of development to improve performance in the areas of quality, predictability, flow, and velocity. They help the team focus on creating increments of value each iteration and achieving daily and Iteration Goals in the context of the current Program Increment (PI) Objectives.
  • 5Leads team efforts in relentless improvement- Helps the team improve and take responsibility for their actions; facilitates the team retrospective for continuously improving processes, communication, people relationship, etc. Teaches problem-solving techniques and helps the team become better problem-solvers for themselves.
  • 6Facilitates team events - Facilitates team events, including (where applicable) the Daily Stand-up, Iteration Planning, Iteration Review, and Iteration Retrospective. Ensures each of these events is productive and kept within the timebox.
  • 7Supports the Product Owner- The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner in their efforts to manage the backlog and guide the team while facilitating a healthy team dynamic concerning priorities and scope. Ensures the requirements are well communicated by the Product Owner to the team.
  • 8Facilitates the removal of impediments- Many blocking issues will be beyond the team’s authority or may require support from other teams. The Scrum Master supports the team in addressing and eliminating these issues to improve the likelihood of achieving the objectives of the Iteration.
  • 9Builds a high-performing team- Focuses on ever-improving team dynamics and performance and coaches the team in self-management. Helps the team resolve interpersonal conflicts and challenges and identify growth opportunities. Escalates people problems to management where necessary, but only after internal team processes have failed to resolve the issue; helps individuals.
  • 10Coordinates with other teams of the train- The Scrum Master helps coordinate inter-team cooperation and helps the team operate well on the train. The Scrum Master supports the team’s efforts to continuously improve communications and relationships with other teams. They frequently represent the team in the Scrum of Scrums (SoS), helping the team remain aware of opportunities to engage and improve program effectiveness (see Program Increment for more details). They also often help the team build effective relationships> with the System Team, User Experience, Architecture, and Shared Services. It is important to note, however, that the responsibility for inter-team coordination cannot be delegated entirely to the Scrum Master; every team member shares responsibility in that regard.
  • 11Enables organizational effectiveness- The Scrum Master works with other Scrum Masters and stakeholders to help the team contribute towards improving the overall development Value Stream.
  • 12Facilitates preparation and readiness for ART events- Assists the team in preparation for ART activities, including PI Planning, System Demos, and the Inspect and Adapt.
  • 13Supports the team estimation process- Guides the team in establishing normalized estimates and helps the team understand how to estimate Features and Capabilities. Ensure the entire team participates in unbiased estimation and commits as a team.
  • 14Assists the team before and during the PI Planning- Since PI Planning is the heart of SAFe®, it has a special mention in this article. Scrum Masters play a critical role in the success of the Program Increment planning meeting. They are the facilitators and the coaches of their Scrum Team throughout the entire workshop. The primary role is facilitation and helping the team during the team breakouts which is where the real planning happens. Depending on the maturity of the team, this may be as heavy-handed as providing templates for the draft plan review and being hands-on during task breakdown.

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Guide the Scrum Team to include in the planning for the Program Increment sprints: product support, maintenance work, preparation work for the next program increment, planned holidays, enablers.

Guide: Understanding of the level of details in the plan: first two sprints — the Scrum Team will fill them with the user stories of the top priority features.

The user stories should meet the definition of ready (if at all the team has one) with the acceptance criteria defined, and the team estimates them.

Sprints 3–4 — fill in the program increment iterations with the user stories or features.

The last iteration is the innovation and planning sprint. Identify with the Scrum Team Dependencies — everything we need from anyone, including PO/ Architect, anyone else, including files, specifications (except the standard User stories workflow), data, etc. Identify with the Scrum Team the PI objectives and the business value.

Try to set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timetable. Define how you measure the objectives.

Uncommitted objectives have planned user stories and a link to the dependencies that would make them committed.

ALL uncommitted goals have at least one dependency. Guide the team on how to use the tools for preparing the draft plan.

Guide the team on how to use the various boards (team boards, program board, risk board, and retrospective board). Help the team in coordinating with other Agile Teams.

Finishing the PI: The Scrum Team is self-organized. When it comes to wrapping up the PI Planning, the Scrum Master’s role is to facilitate, to ensure that the Scrum Team does the following: 

Take a lot of pictures of the planning so that you can read the post-its after. Load into your project management tool (Jira or Team Foundation Server) all the information and planning your Scrum Team did during the two days of the PI planning.

It includes allocation of the user stories per sprint, details of each user story, dependencies, actions. Schedule the meetings, and all the activities agreed upon during the PI planning, especially to treat the dependent actions with other teams.

Satyajit Gantayat

Satyajit has broad and deep experience in Agile coaching at the strategic senior executive level while also coaching and uplifting the capability of teams and individuals. An Agile Coach and SAFe® Practice Consultant with more than 24 years of experience.

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