Skip to main content

Should Managers Attend Retrospectives? — Making Your Scrum Work #19

August 23, 2021

TL; DR: Should Managers Attend Retrospectives?

There are plenty of failure possibilities with Scrum. Given that Scrum is a framework with a reasonable yet short “manual,” this effect should not surprise anyone. A classic discussion is whether it is appropriate that (line) managers attend the Retrospectives of the Scrum team. Probably, making their attendance a regular habit—or even a requirement—is not a good idea. However, what about managers that occasionally attend a Retrospective? Moreover, what if the (line) manager is also a team member?

Join me and delve into the how and when of managers attending Retrospectives in less than two minutes.

Should Managers Attend Retrospectives? — Making Your Scrum Work #19

🗳 UpdateJoin the poll and its lively discussion on whether managers should attend Retrospectives.

🗞 Shall I notify you about articles like this one? Awesome! You can sign up here for the ‘Food for Agile Thought’ newsletter and join 32,000-plus subscribers.

🎓 Join Stefan in one of his upcoming Professional Scrum training classes!

Hands-on Agile #34: Core Protocols for Psychological Safety—Richard Kasperowski

📅 Join us on September 7, 2021Hands-on Agile #34: Core Protocols for Psychological Safety with Richard Kasperowski.

Sprint Retrospectives According to the Scrum Guide

There are plenty of references to Retrospectives, the role of the (line) management, and self-management in the Scrum Guide 2020.:

  • Page 6: The Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness.
  • Page 6: [Scrum Masters] do this by enabling the Scrum Team to improve its practices, within the Scrum framework.
  • Page 10: The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.
  • Page 10: The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done.
  • Page 10: [During the Sprint Retrospective,] assumptions that led [inspected elements] astray are identified and their origins explored.
  • Page 10: The Scrum Team identifies the most helpful changes to improve its effectiveness..
  • Page 10: The most impactful improvements are addressed as soon as possible. They may even be added to the Sprint Backlog for the next Sprint.

The Scrum Guide 2020 on general management practices in organizations utilizing Scrum:

  • Page 3: Scrum makes visible the relative efficacy of current management, environment, and work techniques, so that improvements can be made.
  • Page 4: Adaptation becomes more difficult when the people involved are not empowered or self-managing.
  • Page 4: The decisions that are made, the steps taken, and the way Scrum is used should reinforce these values, not diminish or undermine them.

The Scrum Guide 2020 on the self-management of Scrum teams:

  • Page 5: Within a Scrum Team, there are no sub-teams or hierarchies.
  • Page 5: They are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how.
  • Page 5: They are structured and empowered by the organization to manage their own work.
  • Page 6: The Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team in several ways, including coaching the team members in self-management and cross-functionality.
  • Page 8: [Sprint Planning: How will the chosen work get done?] How this is done is at the sole discretion of the Developers. No one else tells them how to turn Product Backlog items into Increments of value.
  • Page 9: The Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work. This creates focus and improves self-management.

The Scrum Guide 2020 on Scrum Values:

  • Page 4: Successful use of Scrum depends on people becoming more proficient in living five values: Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage.
  • Page 4: The Scrum Team and its stakeholders are open about the work and the challenges.
  • Page 4: When these values are embodied by the Scrum Team and the people they work with, the empirical Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life building trust.

SourceScrum Guide 2020. (The aggregation is taken from the Scrum Guide 2020 Reordered.)

Summary: The Scrum Guide 2020 emphasizes self-management and Scrum Values as critical components of successfully applying Scrum in any organization. Also, it points to the importance of the Sprint Retrospective as a means to continuously improve as a Scrum team.

Download the ’Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide’ for Free

Consequences of Managers Attending Team Retrospectives

In my experience, three typical Scrum anti-patterns arise regarding the participation of managers in Retrospectives:

  1. Line managers insist on participation to do their job: Typically, the argument is that otherwise, they won’t be able to support and guide the Scrum team. While there is some nugget of truth to it, insisting on participation reflects baldly on the leadership capabilities of a manager. Probably, the behavior results from fear of losing control or becoming obsolete once a Scrum team learns how to self-management. (Manager fears of obsolescence are widely unfunded. Despite being self-managing, a manager regularly is still responsible for the professional development of individual team members, for example. Gathering information for those tasks can also be achieved by attending other Scrum events, or having 1-on-1 meetings with the respective team member.)
  2. Line managers demand access to minutes of Retrospectives: While the manager accepts the possible negative results from their participation in the Sprint Retrospective, they want to study the minutes of the Retrospective. (In my experience, this is similarly damaging as participating directly: openness will suffer, the Scrum team may start “talking off the record” during Retrospectives, thus messing with its documentation. By the way, the most important outcome from the Retrospective is public anyway: the planned improvements of the Scrum team.)
  3. Line managers serve on the Scrum team members: A team member of the Scrum team is also the superior of another team member and participates in the Retrospectives. (This is a tricky situation; unfortunately, it is not uncommon, particularly in large organizations at the beginning of an agile transformation when the people managers are not yet familiar with the details of supporting agile teams. In my experience, there is no solution to this problem other than looking for a new Scrum team for either of the two. Otherwise, the level of openness in Retrospectives inevitably will suffer, thus impeding the Scrum team’s ability to improve.)

There are plenty of opportunities to satisfy the information needs of (line) managers: Run separate Retrospectives with the managers in regular intervals, invite them to other Scrum events, namely the Sprint Review, have 1-on-1s. Additionally, there is plenty of room for conversations at water coolers, over coffee, or during lunchtime—provided we make it back to a shared workspace in the future. To gather information as a line manager, attending the Scrum team’s Retrospective is not necessary.

Managers Attending Retrospectives — Conclusion

The Scrum Guide 2020 emphasizes self-management and Scrum Values as critical components of successfully applying Scrum in any organization. Also, it points to the importance of the Sprint Retrospective as a means to continuously improve as a Scrum team. However, it does not rule out that managers participate in Retrospectives from time to time, join other Scrum events, or have 1-on-1s. Hence, take this challenge to the Scrum team!

Have you met a Scrum team that invites managers to its Retrospectives? How is that working out? Please share your learnings with us in the comments.

Download the Scrum Guide 2020 Reordered for Free

✋ Do Not Miss Out: Join the 10,000-plus Strong ‘Hands-on Agile’ Slack Team

I invite you to join the “Hands-on Agile” Slack team and enjoy the benefits of a fast-growing, vibrant community of agile practitioners from around the world.

Membership Application for the Hands-on Agile Slack Community

If you like to join now all you have to do now is provide your credentials via this Google form, and I will sign you up. By the way, it’s free.

📖 Should Managers Attend Retrospectives — Related Posts

Skipping Retrospectives? — Making Your Scrum Work #17

The Meta-Retrospective — How To Get Customers and Stakeholders Onboard

The Blame Game Retrospective — Making Your Scrum Work #6

Three Essential Agile Failure Patterns in 7:31 Minutes—Making Your Scrum Work #12

21 Sprint Retrospective Anti-Patterns Impeding Scrum Teams

Data-Informed Retrospectives

Download the Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide for free.

Download the Remote Agile Guide for Free


What did you think about this post?