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Brett Maytom 1 article
Residence: AU Melbourne, Australia
Business Owner | Product Owner | Professional Scrum Trainer | Consultant | Coach | Mentor | Speaker
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Brett is a director for an agile consultancy offering coaching, training and strategy agile solutions. He is also a Professional Scrum Trainer and provides training and certification for several scrum.org courses.

He has been involved in software product development for the past 35 year and consulted on many large projects. Brett manages the Scrum Practitioners group on LinkedIn, blogs and speaks at conferences and at community meetups.


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True or False: The Scrum Master is a manager

The Scrum Master is a manager of Scrum process, but not of people.

The topic and debate of "Is the Scrum Master a manager" surfaces regularly and a cause of some heated debates. I know some readers are already show signs of higher blood pressure just because of the title.

Before sharing my thoughts on the topic, lets get some fact and look at a few dictionary definitions of the word "manager"

Dictionary meanings of "manager"

From dictionary.com:

From merriam-webseter.com

From dictionary.cambridge.org:

English often has multiple meanings to a single word and the context of the word is also important.

The Scrum Master does not manage people, but ...

This objection is often raised and actually correct. The Scrum Master does not manage people and should never either.

However, as you can see from the three dictionary definitions, a manager could manage people, but a manager could also manage resources or processes. Look at these examples

  • I am a farmer and manage the crops on my farm
  • The recruiter will manage the logistics of hiring our new developer
  • I am your account manager
  • The development team manage the delivery of the product
  • My son runs his own business (https://thesaffa.shop/), he manages every aspect of the business but does not manage people as he is a one-man business. (Shameless plug from a proud dad)

In the above five examples, the farmer, recruiter, account manager, my son or developers are not managing people. Instead its about the managing their work and processes to do that work. They take accountability and responsiblity for that work.

The Scrum Master manages Scrum

Its important to stress that Scrum Masters DO NOT manage the development team as many people get this wrong; but instead they manage Scrum.

What exactly do they manage

  1. They manage establishing Scrum in the Development Team, Product Owner, Stakeholders and the organisation
  2. They manage the adoption of Scrum in consultation with others
  3. They manage continuous improvement in multiple areas; process, flow, product quality awareness, culture.
  4. They manage and driving the culture of the organisation to support the Scrum values
  5. They manage awareness of empirical process control and help others understand it
  6. They manage impediments that slow down flow of delivery
  7. They manage events using facilitation skills
  8. The manage by being a servant-leader

None of these are about managing people. Sure people are involved but that does not mean you manage them. Instead you lead them to success by managing the process.

What is behind the argument of “A Scrum is not a manger”

It is personal biases of the past that are blinding the true meaning of the word “manage”. It is just bringing in bad experiences where people assume that it means managing people. Just look at the dictionary definitions to the word and see that "manage people" is only one of a few meanings to the word. I beg to then ask whether or not its been twisted and skewed with a bias.

FACT: Scrum Masters DO NOT manage people. I will say that again as it is important … Scrum Masters manage Scrum … not people!!!!

These bias originate as the majority of people have at some point worked for a complete idiot of a manager. Those bad managers were controlling, demotivating and not pleasant to work with. They exhibited behaviors of command-and-control, blame seeking, threatening, belittling and fear. Sadly this is common as these “managers”.

These numpties are in management positions but have zero to no leadership skills. Because they were bad managers, do we as a community tarnish all managers with the same brush? Do we fight "a Scrum Master is a manager" because our past bad experiences and biases? Or do we correct the wrongs?

Leaders and the act of management

Being in a management position does not mean one one has to adopt bad habits. One can easily adopt a management role and adopt a servant-leadership style of managing. Being a leader, it does not mean that you don't manage. Of course leaders manage as they have things to oversee things, have responsibilities and accountability. The may even have people reporting to them, but instead of managing them they lead them to success. Sure at times, there are hard conversations to be had; but that does not have anything to do with "managing versus leading".

I am being a bit harsh now, but build a bridge and get over the fact that managers do not have to manage people and they can mange resources or processes. (sorry ... hard conversation)

The fact is that leaders do manage. They just have a different approach and style to it. Scrum Masters should be mangers and servant-leaders; but with one difference ... the teams do not report to them. With good leadership skills, a scrum master engages people and should not ever use a command-and-control approach that we all resist.

What is wrong with saying a Scrum Master is not a manager

Many Scrum Masters are appointed to help introduce and implement Scrum. Hopefully we all have read the Scrum guide and see what a Scrum Master should do. But, when they do they struggle to bring about change and the same impediments cycle around. Change does not happen and Scrum masters suffer getting any form of traction.

challenged with bringing about any form of change. They bump heads with other management with all sorts of impediments; and these are often pushed back.  Traditional managers still demand fixed schedule, fixed time and fixed budget and expect the Scrum Masters to comply. When Scrum Masters try stand up to this, they get shot down very quickly as they are just an employee and not a manager. 

These conversations will go totally differently if the Scrum Master was seen to be a peer manager and not as an employee. There will be more respect for the role and the change.

Dis-empowered Scrum Masers

Far too often organisations want to adopt Scrum and task a Scrum Master to do it. The general consensus is that a Scrum Master is not a manager and is also the belief of the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master is put into the "Worker" bucket. The Scrum Maser has totally dis-empowered him/herself from bringing about change and getting support for change.

This has closed the doors to other managers in the organisation as they do not see the Scrum Master as a peer, but as an employee they can command-and-control.

Being a Scrum Master, they are aware of the impediment and the negative impact it has on flow of delivery. Scrum Masters constantly will face resistance to any change or impediment; it goes with the job and will not be avoided. The way the conversation happen go totally when the Scrum Master role is respected and seen as a manager versus the Scrum Master seen as a “resource” or worker. Its seen either as “There is an impediment we have to fix as the Scrum Master is raising it” or it seen as “The Scrum Master is just complaining again”

Observe

Go out and observe, and you don't have to take my views on this topic. In training, consulting and communities I see a common problem. That problem is of dis-empowered Scrum Masters.

When I look at successful teams, the Scrum Masters are active and people seek the Scrum Masters guidance. In challenged situations, the Scrum Master does not have the respect and struggles bringing about change.

Scrum is about continuous improvement through empirical process control. If a Scrum Master is not supported to do this, it will fail.

When people say "the scrum master is not manager", its basically dis-empowering any Scrum Master. Just observe the number of failing scrum teams. I am of the strong opinion that the industry has done this to themselves.

My story and lessons learnt as a Scrum Master

The below cartoon is my experience as a Scrum Master with and without management

I have lost count of how many Scrum Master gigs I have done in my career. In my early novice days I did Scrum Master work (without doing a course) and really struggled. I struggled to make changes. I could see impediments clearly with the cause and effects of it; but I could also see easy solutions to them. But my biggest frustration was that I could not mobilise other managers to change. There would always be some objection. When I tried debate the objection, it fell on deaf ears. The team and I were often allowed to make trivial changes, but the real impediments never got resolved. I don't have fond memories of those gigs.

At times when I said "NO", 99% of the time I was overridden and the dysfunction persisted. I even had bad performance reviews "for not conforming to their standards", great when you a Scrum Master trying to bring about change. Highly frustrating for everyone.

As my experience grew, I moved into more senior roles with more responsiblity and authority; but still as a Scrum Master. When taking on the role, I ensured that I could make changes (within reason) and with authority of a manager. Me being the person I am, I bluntly asked that the role was a management role if it was not clear to me. Being a Scrum Master, there was no command-and-control, but there to serve the team.

What I did was pretty much the same thing. But it was easier, other mangers listened and acted. Sure we had disagreements, but that is part of the job and finding the best solution - the difference is they listened and engaged.

Scrum.org

The Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) community do see the Scrum Master as a manager; that is a manager of Scrum but NOT of people. A Scrum Master needs to be responsible for implementing Scrum and does need the authority to be able to bring about change. He/she does not do this is a traditional command-and-control way. It is done through empirical process control and working with stakeholders and development teams and being transparent about topics, inspecting them and collaboratively helping them to adapt. The Scrum Master should not be an idiot, instead a Professional Scrum Master with servant-leadership and managing the implementation of Scrum.  

The assessments ask this.

To my experienced agile friends

Remember you go in with a wealth of experience and have earned the respect purely on your experience and history. You have mastered the skill to navigate hard situations and get the control you need. To you it does not matter if you are a manager or not, because you can handle it. Also, it would be unlikely you would work for someone that is going to treat you as a worker as you recognize it.

When you say they should not be in management positions, it actually going to the total opposite extreme where they have zero ability to influence. Sadly, they don't have the experience to navigate themselves out the corner.

Instead, I ask you to support saying "A Scrum Master is a manager, but not of people. They manage Scrum". It just helps us and the current the agile community is battling with.

 


Published at pmmagazine.net with the consent of Brett Maytom
Source of the article: {Linkedin} on [2019-02-13]