97 Agile Ideas - Idea Number 17
The origins of Scrum, certainly the inspiration for it, are in Japanese manufacturing. The phenomenal success of Japanese manufacturing in the late 70's and early 80's caused researchers from American business schools to visit Japan and observe the working practices of the teams that were starting to beat the world.
Researchers noticed that problems with the production line in the most successful Japanese factories were given to a multi-skilled team who were encouraged to do what they saw fit to fix the problem. It was the role of one of the members of this team, rather than to help the team solve it's problems, help the team remove the barriers it encountered while trying to solve it's problems.
This role, of facilitator, fixer, enabler is the role that the Scrum master takes on in Agile software development. It isn't the job of the Scrum master to tell the team what to do (the problems that the team are solving are given to them by the product owner). It is the job of the Scrum master to do her best to take out of the way an obstacles or impediments which are preventing the team from doing what they need to do.
The Scrum master also facilitates all the Agile meetings, stand-up, planning, retrospective, show and tell. It often also falls to the Scrum master to act as an Agile coach for the team. Although this isn't ever really described as part of the Scrum master's role, they are often also asked to report and predict progress. And that can be one of the trickiest parts of the role.