Team Leads or Project Managers as Scrum Masters

In organization after organization, transitioning to Scrum, you see one common pattern. The pattern has existed for at least 03 years now. The pattern is seen in all organizations [at least in India] – established big names as well as upcoming talked about/ blogged about startups. There is a team and there is a Product Owner [or Manager]. So far so good. There is also a Scrum Master – who is also the Project Manager/ Development Manager/ QA Manager/ Program Manager/ Project Lead/ Team Lead/ Developer/ Tester. This raises some questions.

Why is this happening?

I haven’t quite figured out [as yet] why if you are transitioning to Scrum, would you want this to happen – especially when Scrum Master is defined as a full time role in Scrum. The feedback I get is mostly around these lines:

  • There are not enough Scrum Masters available. We can’t just keep waiting for them to turn up. Hence, we identify people internally who can play this role. And, no one wants to do this role full time or take on this title officially. So, there we go. Do your 2 plus 2 is 4.
  • There does not seem to be any value in this role being a full-time – it is something you can do part-time. How much time can removing obstacles for the team actually take?
  • Serving the team, Protecting the team, Helping the team, Guiding the teams use of Scrum is something, which everyone should do and different people are already responsible for these things.

It is easy to dismiss or scoff at these [especially the latter], but these arguments actually seem to be true. I know for a fact that there are not enough Scrum Masters available [possible topic for another blog post]. I also know, that in an organization internally, not enough people are kicked enough to play this role. And, no matter what argument you give, the management is never convinced that this can be a full-time role especially when they see others doing this role.

Is this a good practice?

My views on “doing something just because ABC or some book or some user group discussion says so” are well known. Don’t do it. It is also said, that having no Scrum Master is better than having no Scrum Master. Before we address the question – Is it a good practice for Team Leads/ Project Managers/ Developers to be also Scrum Master, we must see what is it that a Scrum Master does. Like most things, lets start with Wikipedia, “Scrum is facilitated by a ScrumMaster, also written as Scrum Master, whose primary job is to remove impediments to the ability of the team to deliver the sprint goal/deliverable. The Scrum Master is not the leader of the team (as the team is self-organizing) but acts as a buffer between the team and any distracting influences. The Scrum Master ensures that the Scrum process is used as intended. The Scrum Master is the enforcer of rules. A key part of the Scrum Master’s role is to protect the team and keep them focused on the tasks in hand.” Scrum Masters use soft power, servant leadership and trust to help the team become better. Scrum Masters also surrender complete control to Product Owner and the Team.   Some of the qualities we look for in a Scrum Master are humility, staying in the background, integrity and gain trust. We obviously see the clashing red flags here – the Scrum Master is not a leader. However, typically, the Leads/ Managers are that. The team is reporting to them. However, nothing that we talked about in Scrum Master’s role says that you can not have that with the team reporting to you or you working part-time as a developer/ tester. In fact, some people could argue otherwise. If you are a developer and you are convincing everyone to test, you can lead by example. So, let me stick my neck out and say – “I don’t think it is a bad idea.” It is always better to get the right person play a Scrum Master – like role half time than getting no Scrum Master or lousy full time Scrum Master. However, I won’t probably call them Scrum Master. I’ll call them Scrum Evangelist or Process Owner or Scrum Owner or something like that. Why a different name? Because, the team does not report to Scrum Master [yes, just because of that]. And, anyways, it wont be the name, but the intent and the action of the person that will play out louder in the transition scheme of things. Also, you should get these people [and the rest of the team and Product Owners] good coaching.

Some of these people [Process Owner or Scrum Owner] will make Scrum a bad word in the organization. But, so could many Scrum Masters and Product Owners [and even the teams for that matter]. The hope is that organization will pick the right people for this role. Like the rest of the organization, these people [whatever you have called them] will also transition.

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5 Responses to “Team Leads or Project Managers as Scrum Masters”

  1. Long ago I had put this deck together.

    http://www.slideshare.net/vibhu_s/tenets-of-a-scrum-master

    The Scrum master as you say is really important if organizations are serious about why they are doing Agile in first place. I find management is not informed enough often and want quick returns when they form Agile teams.

    I also agree with Hiren that how much time a SM is required is really dependent on how matured the team is.

    It is better to not tweak Scrum early, fail and then say it was because of Scrum we failed.

  2. I can see two reasons why people may not want to take this role

    a) It is tough to find good scrum master. Project managers generally are not great at it, but i dont want to generalize.

    b) The other good people may not see how thier becoming scrum master is valued by their organization. In many Scrum based companies this role is clearly defined and has a good definition around it. They are told that they are the change agents etc. But when people view this role as not valuable or a threat to their identity, they may not want to take it.

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