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Executive Summary

In this article, I discuss the role of Managers in Scrum. I look to the Scrum Guide first, and then discuss some other ideas not specifically from the Scrum Guide. In short, the role of Managers in Scrum is to:
  • help pick, empower, and even be, Product Owners
  • help decide when to cancel a Sprint
  • collaborate with the Scrum Team on Release Planning
  • collaborate with the Scrum Team in Sprint Reviews
  • influence, but not contradict, the work priorities as decided by the Product Owner
  • receive teaching and coaching on Scrum from the ScrumMasters
  • not interfere with the Scrum implementation
  • assist the Scrum Team in removing organizational impediments
I also speak to the role of those outside of the Scrum Team in general, which includes managers of course.

Introduction

A common question when trying to implement Scrum is, "What is the role of management, or a manager, in Scrum?" By managers here, we're talking about someone who plays a management role, As such, in certain contexts, we might be talking about someone with one of the following titles:
  • Manager
  • Functional Manager
  • Team Lead
  • Project Lead(er)
  • Project Manager
  • Senior Manager
  • Director of Software Development
  • Product Manager
  • Business Manager
  • Or, any other similar title that describes similar management responsibilities.

What the Scrum Guide says about Managers

  • In an optional "Tip" : "The ScrumMaster works with the customers and management to identify and instantiate a Product Owner...Product
    Owners are expected to know how to manage to optimize value using Scrum. If they don’t, we hold the ScrumMaster accountable."
  • In an optional "Tip" : "For commercial development, the Product Owner may be the product manager. For in-house development efforts, the Product Owner could be the manager of the business function that is being automated."
  • "Management may need to cancel a Sprint if the Sprint Goal becomes obsolete."
  • "When rules are not stated, the users of Scrum are expected to figure out what to do. Don’t try to figure out a perfect solution, because the problem usually changes quickly. Instead, try something and
    see how it works. The inspect-and-adapt mechanisms of Scrum’s empirical nature will guide you."
    • Hard to know what the Scrum Guide means by "users of Scrum," here, but I'm going to assume that it means the Scrum Team.

Summary of what the Scrum Guide says about Managers

  • A Product Owner can be the manager of the business function that's being automated.
  • Managers can:
    • help pick and empower a Product Owner.
    • cancel a Sprint if the Sprint Goal becomes obsolete.
      • The guide is a bit ambiguous here because it also says that only the Product Owner can cancel a sprint.
  • The Scrum Guide also speaks about those outside of the Scrum Team in general, which includes managers of course.

Some other thoughts on the role of Managers

Since the Scrum Guide tells us to figure out what to do for anything not explicitly stated in the Scrum Guide, here are my thoughts on that topic:
  • The Best Managers will work as a servant leader for the Scrum Team.
    • Examples include, but are not limited to, acquiring/providing company resources for
      • team celebrations
      • training
      • software tools
      • office supplies
      • highly effective team workspaces
  • The Best Managers are excellent resources for assisting in removing organizational impediments.
    • One of these organizational impediments might be that the Scrum Team itself is struggling with Scrum. Managers of those on Scrum Teams can help remove this impediment by obtaining resources such as: training, other internal ScrumMasters to consult with, or an outside Scrum Coach.
  • Managers can and probably should encourage the team to improve its technical qualities and capabilities, though they should not dictate how this should be accomplished.
  • Managers can assist with prioritizing technical debt items, though final decisions on priorities should remain with the Scrum Team.
  • Managers generally assist with staffing issues.
    • The Scrum Guide specifically says the Scrum Team should retrospect on team composition, but it doesn't get any more specific on that topic(like who makes staffing decisions, etc)
  • Managers generally provide assistance with human resource duties such as:
    • Creating the method for performance appraisals
      • Managers, in my opinion, should give strong weight to the Scrum Team member's ability contribute as a Scrum "Team Player"
    • Executing the performance appraisals
      • Managers should almost never play a role on a Scrum team where that manager conducts performance appraisals for anyone on that Scrum Team. Doing so is a huge risk to the roles of Scrum, as well as the self organizational nature of Scrum Teams.
  • Other ways Managers can possibly add value
    • Have a (non Scrum) meeting once or twice a week with the PO and SM for each team.
    • Have a once weekly or bi-weekly staff meeting with the entire team.
    • Do weekly one on ones with all team members to resolve personal obstacles and provide career development.
    • Management by walking around.
    • See the links below for other ways manages in Scrum can add value.
    • In all of these other ways above, the key for the manager is to be a servant leader to the Scrum team and its members, and to not interfere with the Scrum implementation.


Other resources for the role of managers in Scrum


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