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How does acting both as Scrum Master and Project Manager at the same time affect you psychologically?

Last post 04:02 am October 16, 2015 by Anke Maerz
5 replies
10:00 am October 13, 2015

I know that some people can not resist letting go their Project Manager role because this role is often seen as more prestigious than Scrum Master role. In some culture, the Project Manager role is more respected than Scrum Master role that is often seen as a weak and less valuable role because the Scrum Master doesn't have any power and control over people and does not know how to create pretty reports with pretty numbers. That is why some people until today still prefer to call themselves as Agile Project Manager rather than Agile Coach or even Scrum Master. In some organisations the Scrum Master even still have to report to Project Manager because the role is seen as a butler or maid. I understand that in some organisation, having a full time Scrum Master is seen as something that ridiculous and often seen as something that is a big waste. So I understand that organisation challenge why this instance still exists until today.

My question for today is really targeted to those who are acting both as Project Manager and Scrum Master / Agile Coach at the same time until today. What I would like to learn today is more on the psychological effect of acting two conflicting roles like PM and SM at the same time. I am not interested on the organisational challenges behind it as that kind of debate can run endlessly.

In your experience acting both as PM & SM in one project at the same time, how effective is it knowing that these two roles are conflicting roles? How does having these two conflicting roles affect you psychologically? If it doesn't really affect you psychologically, what tips can you share with us to handle it effectively?

03:32 am October 14, 2015

Hi Joshua,

I'm not exactly in the position you describe, but maybe my thoughts help you nonetheless.

Before our agile transition I was project manager (with another person) and requirements engineer (with several others). Now I am Scrum Master and the other project manager is Product Owner - but I was asked to continue the project management with her.
The effect is, that I take part in the project management. But the more I shifted into my Scrum Master role (generally), the more I unintentionally became something like a "method consultant" to my PO rather than a fellow-project-manager. And I can't really undo this change because my whole thinking is different now - and I wouldn't want to change it back.

I guess, that's what has to happen: If you have two conflicting roles, you have two conflicting focuses.
I wasn't able to shift this focus because this Scrum-Master-thinking (why are we doing this, what consequences does it have, does everyone see these consequences) can't be just switched off (for me).

09:08 am October 14, 2015

I've found this dual-role to be infuriating when it is weaponized by management. In contractual terms you may be hired as an "Agile PM" or some similar confection, while you are informally considered to be a Scrum Master.

Since you are not officially an SM, this gives management the option to veto any optimizations or agile behaviors that would challenge their vested interests. Meanwhile the allocation of the Scrum Master role can be a box-ticking bluff to assure certain stakeholders that the agile journey is being taken seriously. It's a toxic and degrading combination, and it is symptomatic of the various Scrum-but outfits I've encountered.

11:03 am October 15, 2015

Hi all,

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to join in on this conversation. I do both roles and on some days it gets interesting, however.....

Combining the two roles seems to be easier for me than the conflict of the two roles the industry denotes, but it took (and is still taking) time. After much investigation, learning about, and experience with Agile and agile, my thinking and approach have changed. Like Anke states "my whole thinking is different now - and I wouldn't want to change it back.". It's all about the agile mindset. That's my driver now. Whether I'm doing project management type tasks or being the scrum master, I use and rely on the Agile Manifesto and the 12 principles to decide how I'm going to go about doing the tasks or how I'll fill the role. I now rely on coaching and facilitation techniques offered by Lyssa Adkins and others versus relying on the regimental project management methodologies I started out with.

For the PM tasks that are still required and fall outside Scrum, for example status reporting and stakeholder analyses, I'll find the way to approach the tasks/work that maximizes the amount of work not done to keep it simple and utilize them as tools to improve what is being delivered. Any project I undertake will use an iterative approach, will include as much collaboration and face to face meetings as possible, will include efforts to build and bolster self-organized teams, and will include ways to work towards sustainability (indefinitely). I could go on for each principle. Any of this can be incorporated into any project and in any role.

I will confess, I do revert back to the traditional 'PM being' at times. But now, I catch myself doing it (hopefully) and coach myself to try not to do that again.

12:09 am October 16, 2015

Interesting stuff Mary.

Let's think from the management perspective. The very basic thing they ask is if something goes wrong with the project delivery to whom they should talk - should it be the whole team or the Scrum Master? They can not go to each team member for understanding the problem but would prefer to have discussion with SM/PM as a single source of truth.


04:02 am October 16, 2015

@ Mary, Joshua and Sanjay
"The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team."

In my opinion that makes the Product Owner the most sensible person for
- status reporting
- stakeholder analysis
- discussions with management.

The Scrum Master should keep management and stakeholders away from the Development Team (at least during the Sprint and so far that the Development Team can work) and should coach them which interactions (with any of the Scrum Team members) are useful and which are not.

But it's NOT his job to deal with management and stakeholders content-related.
He CAN, however, SUPPORT his Product Owner in these tasks.

With this mindset, there is few conflict with taking over some project management tasks - but a lot if the Product Owner doesn't see it as his responsibility.
How do you as SM/PM get along with your PO? How can your PO prioritize the Product Backlog?

Even with an assigned Scrum Master, management just takes the option to veto any optimizations or agile behaviors that would challenge their vested interests... But probably the tendency is enhanced by softening and not formally assigning the Scrum Master role.

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