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June 20, 2011 / KaTe

Can a manager make a good Scrum Master?

Yesterday I got an e-mail from the fellow coach asking – why should a manager not be a Scrum Master. He claimed that this would be no harm done if he had. Let me challenge this.

I agree that a manager would technically make a nice Scrum Master – understands the team, knows it, there is a dose of respect. There are servant leaders on management positions – but here is what’s a big problem – there is a homeopathic dose of those in the sea of micro-managers, managers-firefighters-around-the-team, police-managers and alike. So far in my career, I was only able to spot (by spotting I mean working with directly, so that I can confirm my own and someone else’s observations) classic micromanagers, good-willed-unable-to-give-up-control, firefighting-always-too-busy and do-whatever-you-want managers. None of them would make a good Scrum Master.

Before I make a point let me introduce my view on a Scrum Master role. Scrum master should be a likeable personality with respect from the team. This can be done multiple ways – first by gender – being the opposite than the majority of the team can work. You can also be a kick-ass specialist in something the majority of the team does – if lots of them play an instrument, a Scrum Master should at least have some knowledge about music, best if he/she played guitar/piano/cello/drums etc. very well – then respect is present by default. Scrum Master should be interested in management and project management – read publications about it, snoop for news etc. He should understand how the world goes round in a corporate/business world. He/she should also be interested in psychology and team dynamics – what people get along well, which do not, how to build a team that would fit together, how to see the earliest signs of something going wrong. I just described a good manager, didn’t I … And in addition he/she should be familiar with corporate processes and procedures, so that he can guide the team through those. So yes, I agree that a manager technically would make a good Scrum Master.

So where is the challenge? The challenge is in power. Power, by Chris Avery is an “ability to do something”.  First we have to understand that power over oneself is given. No one can take power over me – I give it. By for example being employed here, I gave Lisa (and Dave V.) power to manage and mentor me. If I respect someone I give him/her the power over me by valuing his/her opinion and paying attention to his/her actions. Secondly, let’s understand the nature of different types of power (after Katti Vikki citing French and Raven’s five forms of power) :

Rewarding – someone has power to do something good for me

Coercing – someone has power to do some bad things to me

Position (Legitimate) – someone is higher in the hierarchy in society

Expert – someone that you trust that knows better

Reference (Charisma) – I respect that someone

A manager exhibits first three forms of power – Rewarding & Coercing, by having the power over my earnings, my contract etc. and position – it’s socially a higher position than a programmer, or a manager of a lower level. Even if you were the best pal out of your employees, you’re still the boss. With this kind of power you can get compliance, but not commitment.

Expert and reference power is the power that can give you commitment. This is why crowds follow certain people and something big is being born. They gain their commitment. And this is why I don’t recommend having team’s manager as their Scrum Master.

But there is a “but” … A good Scrum Master would make a really good manager – he is able to lead a group of people without a formal power. So there are two ways of using that potential. One of those I have tested on myself and it worked perfectly : Being a manager in one team and a Scrum Master in the other. This is an excellent exercise for managers – if they would be able to lead people, guard the process without rewarding, coercing or legitimate power. If they pass this test you know you have the right man in the right spot. One more application is to have people as Scrum Masters and select managers among them. It would be visible very well who has that “thing” – because he would simply be a good Scrum Master, liked and respected by the team



Leave a Comment
  1. Marcin / Jun 21 2011 6:53 pm

    Hi, good post. A bit long 🙂

    Having read it I am not sure whether you emphasized one more thing. If a manager is a Scrum Master in the same team, he’s actually in trouble, unless he/she has a dual personality with fine control over both sides of the coin. A manager would certainly make the team fill the sprint backlogs properly, have the daily standups on time, etc. However when management pressure comes from the top to him/her he/she would be extremely tempted to steer the team’s work in the direction he/she desires and micromanage the team – thus breaking all the goodies of Scrum by “hey Joe, I need you to spend 4 hours today for a report to the VP…”. That’s the trouble. To be a manager, or to be a Scrum Master (who would oppose to that and reroute the issue via the Product Owner). Bummer.

    • KaTe / Jun 21 2011 8:28 pm

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, this is one more thing that comes out of manager being a Scrum Master. Slipping requirements under the hood “just because I can”. Same can happen when a Product Owner is shared with a Team Member. If someone can somehow combine these roles, he can not be human 😀

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