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Updated for the 2011 Scrum Guide

One of Scrum's main tenants is about self organization. Self organization is difficult enough to achieve on its own, especially with a new Scrum team or a team who has members who are new to each other on it.

How I define a Manager for the purposes of this article:
  • Someone who has a large amount of input in determining the company advancement (performance reviews, raises, promotions, etc) of any individual on the Scrum Team, OR
  • Someone a Scrum Team member "reports to," OR
  • Someone who is seen by the organization as having major authority over one or more members of a Scrum Team (Supervisors, Team Leaders, etc).

Sometimes a Manager plays a Scrum role like Product Owner or Scrum Master. I'm *especially* talking about those managers. Those managers should not attend the retro, or at the very worst case, should attend only a minor part of the retro(See "Strategies" below).

It should be obvious to Managers (though often it is not), that honest genuine feedback about how to work better as a team is very hard to get with a Manager in the room. Every time a person opens their mouth, they are taking a political risk if their manager is there, and that is not a safe environment for true collaboration and innovation.

Calling All Managers!

Managers, if you don't believe me, try the strategies below for 3 sprints, and judge the results for yourself. You, as a manager, have every right to ask the team, one day after the retrospective is over, for their plan of action on improvements. I say one day after because I'd strongly prefer that you not come into the room where the retrospective is being held once it is over. Often times there are things on whiteboards that you may or may not understand, and again, that becomes unsafe.
You also have a right to follow up with the team to make sure they're attempting improvements. There are many other very valuable things you can do to help your Scrum Team, so see my article on The role of Managers in Scrum.

Strategies

  • Ask the Manager not to participate
    • If a Manager plays no Scrum role on the team, it is incumbent on the Scrum Master to explain to the Manager why it's not a good idea for them to be there. Explaining self organization and The role of Managers in Scrum is essential here.
  • The Manager as an Occasional Observer
    • If a Manager plays no Scrum role on the team, and the Manager would like to occasionally (say, once every 5 or more Sprints) observe a Retrospective, I think this is ok. Just be sure to be upfront with the Scrum Team about this, and try to ask that the Manager never drop into a Retrospective unannounced. Encourage the Manager to be as silent as possible, but certainly feel free to speak up if the team specifically asks the Manager for guidance.
  • Appoint a Facilitator
    • If a Manager or team lead fulfills the Scrum role of "Dev Team member," AND the Scrum Master(who typically facilitates Retrospective, though this is not a specific Scrum requirement) is "managed" by the Manager, then the team should appoint a facilitator, preferably one totally independent of the team. Good candidates for this are members of other teams with good facilitation skills and/or Scrum Masters from other teams.
  • Part-Time Retrospecter
    • In the case where a Manager(or team lead) plays one of the Scrum roles (PO, SM, or developer), have the team, as part of their retro without the Manager, decide which topics will be discussed with the Manager. Any topic that is not chosen for discussion is not discussed with the Manager. In particular, any feedback the team has for the Manager in their Scrum role, have the team present that as a unified team rather than individuals. Also allow the Manager to raise their own independent topics, of course. If the Manager strays into one of the previously discussed topics that the team has specifically chosen not to discuss with the Manager, then inform the Manager that the topic was discussed, but the team prefers not to discuss that topic at this time.

Excluding the Manager from the Retrospective is not an attempt to usurp the Manager's authority or anything like that. It is to create the safety and experimentation that is required for great innovations to occur. The Manager still has a very important role to play -- see The role of Managers in Scrum .

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