Essential Scrum
Essential Scrum

Managers in Scrum: Chapter 13

Managers in Scrum: An Overview

Even though the Scrum framework doesn’t specifically mention the manager role, managers still play an important part in an agile organization. In this chapter I discuss the responsibilities of functional-area managers (also called resource managers), such as development managers, QA managers, and art directors, within a Scrum organization. I conclude by discussing the project manager role within a Scrum organization.

Managers Fashion Scrum Teams

In Scrum organizations, managers fashion teams.

  • Managers define boundaries. In Scrum, managers define the products or projects teams will pursue.
  • Managers provide a clear elevating goal. Managers set goals that give purpose and direction to Scrum teams.
  • Managers form teams. Managers typically select the members of each cross-functional agile team.
  • Managers change team composition. Managers also have the obligation to change a team's composition if they believe that doing so will improve the overall health and performance of the team and the organization as a whole.
  • Managers empower teams. Managers authorizes teams to self organize, trusts them to do the work delegated to them, and helps team members learn to trust each other.

Managers Define Boundaries for Scrum Teams

Managers Nurture Scrum Teams

Once Scrum teams have been fashioned, managers must then nurture them. They do this by energizing people, focusing on competence development, providing functional-area leadership, and maintaining team integrity.

  • Managers energize people. Managers should constantly seek ways to motivate people on Scrum teams to intrinsically want to do good work.
  • Managers develop competence. Within Scrum organizations, managers take an active role in coaching and assisting their direct reports with their career goals by providing frequent, actionable feedback on performance.
  • Managers provide functional-area leadership. Managers provide thought leadership within their areas by being a consistent, coherent coach to direct reports across multiple Scrum teams. They establish area-relevant standards and encourage initiatives specific to their functional area.
  • Maintain Team Integrity. Managers should work to proactively keep teams together as long as the economics justify doing so.

For more on the potential pitfalls if Scrum teams aren't nurtured in a way that aligns with agile principles, read Stacked Ranking: A Great Way to Kill Collaboration on Agile Teams

Managers Align and Adapt the Environment Surrounding Scrum Teams

Getting a single team to use Scrum is a good start. However, to realize the extraordinary benefits of Scrum, the entire value chain from suppliers to customers needs to embrace agile. Managers align and adapt the environment (the value chain) by promoting agile values, removing organizational impediments, aligning internal groups, and aligning partners. See the blog post "Agile Misalignment Through the Enterprise Value Chain."

  • Managers promote agile values. To be successful with Scrum, managers must embrace agile values and principles and promote them through their day-to-day behavior.
  • Managers remove organizational impediments. Managers work hand-in-hand with ScrumMasters to remove obstacles that impede the progress of Scrum teams.
  • Managers align internal groups. Organizations cannot realize the full, long-term benefits of Scrum without good internal alignement among the various groups, such as governance, finance, sales, marketing, deployment and support.
  • Managers align partners.

Make Better Decisions with Economically Sensible Scrum is a great read on the importance of the manager's role in aligning and adapting the environment surrounding agile teams.

Managers Ensure Value-Creation Flow in Scrum Organizations

Overall, managers in a Scrum environment set strategic direction and ensure that organizational resources are being marshaled in an economically sensible way to achieve strategic goals. They do this by taking a systems perspective, managing economics, and monitor measuring and reporting.

  • Managers take a systems perspective. To effectively manage the flow of value creation, managers must take a see-the-whole perspective rather than focus solely on their own areas or fiefdoms.
  • Managers consider economics. They are trusted stewards of the financial resources available to them.
  • Managers monitor measures and reports. They ensure that only those measures that add to the value-creation flow are captured and reported.

Several Scrum principles from Chapter 3 guide how managers approach measuring and reporting. They should focus on idle work, not idle workers. They should measure progress by the working, validated assets they deliver. And managers should organize flow for fast feedback. (See the blog posts, Output versus Outcome Measuring Business Success with Agile and Team Performance Measures)

This last measure is at the heart of innovation accounting, which uses actionable metrics to evaluate how fast we are learning as a critical measure of our progress toward converging on a business-valuable result.

Project Managers in Scrum

You might be wondering about the project manager role and whether it still exists in Scrum. A common misperception is that the Scrum Master is really just the agile project manager or a project manager with a different title. Though there are some similarities between a ScrumMaster and a project manger, being a servant leader significantly differentiates this role from a more command-and-control-focused project manager.

Scrum teams divide the traditional work of project managers among the different roles: ScrumMaster, product owner, and development team. As a result, many project managers choose to serve as product owners or ScrumMasters, depending on where their passions lie (with the customer or with the technical work). Some project managers even choose to become members of the development team.

But not all. Companies that have large and complex development efforts sometimes decide to retain a separate project manager when logistics and coordination tasks are so overwhelming that the teams cannot be expected to keep up with them. I would caution against this, as a general rule. I much prefer to have teams find ways to communicate with other teams without a project manager pulling the strings. However, at a sufficiently large scale, I do recognize that having a person or people to focus full time on overseeing logistics and coordination can provide a level of perceived comfort that the work won't get dropped.

For more on this topic, I encourage you to read my blog post "What Happens to the Project Manager When Doing Agile Development with Scrum."

Managers in Scrum: Wrap-up

This chapter focused on the role of functional managers and project managers in Scrum organizations. The next chapter will describe important Scrum planning activities.

If you are struggling with your role in an organization that is adopting scrum and agile, consider bringing Ken Rubin onsite for a course called Working on a Scrum Team