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The Scrum Master as a Manager

July 23, 2015


The role of a Scrum Master is one of many stances and diversity. A great Scrum Master is aware of them and knows when and how to apply them, depending on situation and context. Everything with the purpose of helping people understand and apply the Scrum framework better.

In a series of blog posts I will share the different stances I consider to be relevant for the Scrum Master. This blog post is about the Scrum Master as a manager. I'll describe the different between management and the manager, horizontal and vertical management, and the responsibilities of the Scrum Master as a manager.

What is a manager?

The most straightforward definition I've found is:

"A manager is an individual who is in charge of a certain group of tasks, or a certain subset of a company."

Some nice quotes about the manager are:

  • "In managers, look for people who can get things done through other people. The most important thing for a good manager is that the people on his team feel like he or she has integrity." - Sam Wyly

  • "A manager is an assistant to his men." - Thoman J. Watson

  • "No matter whether there are managers or not, everyone should feel responsible for management." - Jurgen Appelo


Management versus Manager

There's a difference between "Management" and "Manager". Management is an activity; the manager is a role. Management as an activity will always be present within organisations. Otherwise organisations will always have managers executing these activities. The difference with traditional organisations is the way management is done. Within agile organisations management as an activity is done 'horizontal', instead of the 'vertical' approach traditional organisations use with specific management positions.

Organisations that apply 'vertical' management have individuals compete for promotion. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Communication is top-down. The purpose is making money for the shareholders. 'Horizontal' management has delighting customers as its purpose. Making money is the result, not the goal of its activities. It supports enabling over control, stimulates innovation and focuses on horizontal communication[1].

Agile Embraces Horizontal Management

Organisations that embrace agile apply horizontal management. Within these organisations the teams manage themselves. They make their own decisions about their work and manage the execution. Team members have a strong willingness to cooperate and know that unless all succeed in their part, none succeed in the whole. The team shares a common purpose through release-, sprint- and team goals. Keywords are trust, transparency, open communication, collaboration, ownership, learning and collective commitment[2].

When you compare horizontal management to a Scrum team, they clearly can be seen as the team full of managers. The Development Team manages their work. The Product Owner manages the product vision, roadmap and return-on-investment. The Scrum Master manages the process and impediments that exceeds the team's ability of self-organisation.

The Scrum Master as a Manager

So yes, within the agile context also the Scrum Master is a manager. As a manager, the Scrum Master is responsible for:

  • Managing impediments, eliminating waste. Removing impediments that limit the efficiency and progress of a Development Team in areas that are beyond the reach of self-organisation of a Development Team.

  • Managing the process. Support the team in optimising their process. Facilitating teams. Keep the Scrum events to purposeful and effective. Ensure that people, teams, and the organisation realise the highest benefits from using Scrum.

  • Managing the team's health. Create a trusting environment with quality interactions between the team members and support the team in achieving their (personal) objectives.

  • Managing the boundaries for self-organisation. A Scrum Master manages the boundaries that Scrum provides to augment self-organisation; time boxing to limit risk, focused efforts, cross-functional collaboration, releasable results, validated learning[3].

  • Managing the culture. Making room for failure. Managing the cultural change necessary to give the teams the opportunity to flourish.


Management as an activity remains important for organisations, and the role of the manager is still valid and valuable. However, a crucial indicator of management in agile organisations is the fact it's done 'horizontal', instead of the vertical management execution in traditional organisations. In horizontal organisations teams manage themselves. In this environment, the Scrum Master can be seen as the wise leader that engages people through organisational purpose and vision. By identifying wasteful activities, eliminating waste, removing impediments, and managing the maximisation of Scrum, he optimises the value of management to the organisation.

And as Jurgen Appelo puts it: "management is too important to leave to the managers, management is everyone's job.[4]"

PS: Gunther Verheyen did a great job describing the Scrum Master as a Manager. For sure this offered me some inspiration for my own blog post.

[2] Being Agile - Mario Moreira
[4] #Workout - Jurgen Appelo


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