Two years ago, Todd and I published an episode of Your Daily Scrum on our YouTube channel titled - “Can a Manager Be the Scrum Master?” Our advice was to avoid this “anti-pattern” due to the challenges of maintaining openness, focus, and effective self-management within the Scrum Team. We were wrong. Organizations should stop hiring Scrum Masters and empower delivery managers and directors to take on the Scrum Master accountabilities.
For years, I’ve expressed the standard advice that a Scrum Master should seek to lead by example to compensate for not having positional authority over a Scrum Team. By being a role model for a team, we, as a Scrum Master, could demonstrate the behavior, attitudes, and values we wanted to see our teams follow. The theory is that if we are humble, coachable, and leadable, we can encourage others to take on these qualities.
Digging deeper into the theoretical discussion, you’ll find distinctions made between using positional authority (often referred to as “command and control” or “micro-managing”) and true leadership that inspires and motivates through the behaviors, attitudes, and values mentioned above.
Establishing credibility as a Scrum Master can be tricky. While the often touted skills of active listening, empathy, asking power questions, and protecting the team can help build credibility in some circles, nothing is more critical in modern organizations than delivering product and value as soon as responsibly possible.
The theory sounds lovely, but it isn’t practical or helpful.
The bottom line is that the point of Scrum is getting to DONE. The Delivery Manager is best suited to help a team deliver or get to Done. Instead of setting up the delivery manager or director as, at worst, the enemy and, at best, a person who doesn’t understand what it means to “be agile” and must change is a strategy that is not working. We must empower the delivery manager to take on the Scrum Master accountabilities to increase the Scrum Team's effectiveness and help them improve their skills and practices.
Who better to accomplish these goals than the manager of the team?
Many argue that such a role conflict will negatively impact a Scrum Team’s empowerment, self-management, and continuous improvement. The manager could make decisions traditionally made by Scrum Teams, and they might not be well-versed in Scrum practices. It could be difficult for managers to serve the Scrum Team and fulfill their organizational responsibilities. For example, delivery pressures coming from the organization could trump team dynamics in a Sprint Retrospective, leading to disharmony.
In reality, role conflicts will happen if a manager or director takes on the Scrum Master accountabilities. Unfortunately, we see many of these issues in Scrum Master’s today. The benefits a manager or direction brings to a Scrum Team outweigh the risks discussed above.
A manager who fulfills the Scrum Master accountabilities will have a strong understanding of alignment with the organization's strategic goal and can help the teams stay aligned. Their decision-making power means that Scrum Teams benefit from quick decisions around team members, budget, and organizational impediments, expediting their progress toward their goals.
The influence that a manager or director title brings makes these decisions and the organizational changes needed for a Scrum Team to flourish much more straightforward to execute. Thanks to a manager's influence and authority in an organization, teams do not have to wait for decisions or impediments to be removed.
The evolution of Agile and Scrum practices in modern organizations demands adaptability in our approaches. While traditional Scrum Masters can offer value, integrating the Scrum Master accountabilities with those in management positions provides a promising pathway to enhancing team dynamics, accelerating delivery, and aligning closely with organizational goals.
Yes, challenges exist in merging these roles. It requires careful consideration, training, and perhaps a mindset shift for managers and directors to embrace the servant-leadership model intrinsic to fulfilling the Scrum Master accountability. However, the potential for increased efficiency, more substantial alignment with strategic goals, and faster decision-making is significant.
The future of Agile and Scrum in the business world is not static; it is ever-evolving. As we embrace this change, let’s consider the potential benefits of redefining roles and breaking down traditional barriers. By empowering managers and directors to adopt Scrum Master accountabilities, we might open the door to a more integrated, effective, and delivery-focused way of working. Let's be bold in our experimentation, learn from our experiences, and continuously adapt our strategies for the betterment of our teams, organizations, and customers.
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📖 "Fixing Your Scrum: Practical Solutions to Common Scrum Problems" on Amazon -- https://amzn.to/46dAQTC