Don’t Make Your Scrum Master a Manager

Listen, I get it. At surface level, it’s easy to see similarities between a Scrum Master and a traditional manager. Both are there to bring out the best in developers. Both accountabilities keep an eye on the big picture and help the team succeed. It’s a common mistake for upper management to make, especially when looking at the budget and trying to cut costs wherever you can. If you’re looking for a team of un-motivated developers who will do work at a snail’s pace, have narrow visions for the products they are working on and are secretly looking for other jobs that will better fulfill them, then sure – make their manager do the Scrum Mastering. But if you want a team of dedicated, talented developers who will go the extra mile to make the product the best that it can be, you better keep those roles separate.

At a basic level, the manager is responsible for the growth and development of the individual developers on the team. This involves ensuring that each developer has the necessary skills and training to perform their job at a high level. The developer manager is responsible for setting goals and expectations for the individual developers and providing regular feedback on their performance. They are also responsible for ensuring that each developer has access to the resources they need to perform their job effectively. While this role is not specifically called out in the Scrum guide, it’s common to have them in the organization. When handled correctly, there’s no problem having a manager in a Scrum environment.

On the side of the coin, the Scrum Master is responsible for the growth and development of the Scrum team as a whole. This involves guiding the team through the Scrum process and helping them to continuously improve their practices. The Scrum Master facilitates meetings, resolves conflicts, and helps to remove any obstacles that may be hindering the team’s progress. They’re there to reinforce good teamwork and help them come to the right conclusions on their own.

While both roles can be essential to a well-run organization, I need you to understand that the Developer Manager and the Scrum Master serve different purposes. There’s nuance there, and it’s important to understand the difference. I’ll say it again: the developer manager is focused on the individual developers, while the Scrum Master is focused on the team as a whole.

Unfortunately, many companies make a major anti-pattern mistake by combining the roles of the Scrum Master and the manager. This creates a conflict of interest that can, and often does, cause issues within the team. The Scrum Master is responsible for guiding the team to think for themselves and be autonomous, while the manager is responsible for evaluating their individual performance and helps them get the training and tools they need to do the work.

When the Scrum Master is also the manager, the team members tend to feel less autonomous and more micromanaged. This can cause them to lose trust in the Scrum Master and the Scrum process as a whole. Also, the team members may feel that the Scrum Master is not providing unbiased feedback, but rather is providing feedback that benefits their position as a manager. All

Top Agile coaches have written extensively on this topic, emphasizing the importance of separating the roles of the Scrum Master and the Developer Manager. In her book “Coaching Agile Teams,” Lyssa Adkins explains that the Scrum Master should be “a servant leader who helps the team discover and commit to their own way of working,” while the manager should be “a coach who supports the professional growth and development of each team member.”

Similarly, in his book “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time,” Scrum co-creator Jeff Sutherland emphasizes the importance of having a separate Scrum Master role, stating that “the Scrum Master should be a coach, not a manager. The Scrum Master should be responsible for coaching the team, not evaluating them.”

The anti-pattern of combining the roles of the Scrum Master and the developer manager can be devastating to the success of the Scrum team. It’s crucial for companies to understand that these roles serve very different purposes and have different accountabilities. Companies that make the mistake of combining these roles may experience issues with team trust, team autonomy, and may even struggle to achieve their goals.

The Scrum Master must be able to focus on the growth and development of the team as a whole without any conflict of interest. The Scrum Master must be a neutral party that provides unbiased feedback and guidance to the team. By making the Scrum Master a manager, companies risk losing this essential impartiality and may struggle to maintain the trust of the team.

If you’re a developer who is a part of a Scrum team where your manager is also a Scrum Master and you hate it, I promise that this is not the industry standard. Maybe it’s time to evaluate who you are working for, and you should seek out a company who understands and values the difference between the two.

Leave a Reply