Who manages an Agile Team

Should the Scrum Master also pick up Project Management responsibilities? Or does this lead to Scrum Master burnout and turnover? Are old fashioned Project Managers well placed to act as Scrum Master? Or are they too long in the tooth and “un-Agile”? Read on to find out more…

Preamble

I don’t understand the modern Scrum Master role.

Recently when I worked in a full time Scrum Master role, I was been left wondering what do I do with the rest of my time. I mean, is it really a full time role for a single team?

Maybe it’s because I worked as a developer for 10 years before Agile became in vogue for “management types” – those who have never written a line of code in their lives but can throw around the term ‘API’ with the best of them (apologies, rant over).

In the development team, we usually had one of the team members act as a lightweight Scrum Master, and that role often rotated anyhow so as to not breed dependence and over-reliance on one person.

Scrum Master as Project Manager (not recommended)

It’s problematic and usually to do with being “seen to be Agile” rather than anything else, to hire a full time Scrum Master who then assumes that role and also picks up all other project management duties

Having the Scrum Master assume all project delivery responsibility (aka “removing impediments”) is like throwing away the whole PMO without acknowledging the need for basic project skills to be present in/or around the Scrum team in order for them to perform.

Like risk and dependency management, critical path analysis, budget control, talent management, legal and compliance issues etc. Someone needs to handle these matters so the Scrum team can get on and deliver their component / system unimpeded within the wider eco-system.

Here is a really great example of a “Project Manager – Programme Manager – Scrum Master” for multiple teams being combined into a single role, and not paying very much either.

Should all this responsibility really fall to one person, often the Scrum Master? This is a very big ask of anyone. Who often is not adequately trained, skilled or supported in performing this expanded role.

Project Manager as Scrum Master (acceptable)

In my mind, a good IT PM will already be embracing the aspects of Agile before they have even heard the term “Scrum”.

There is nothing new in delivering work in small packages, reviewing and re-planning based on user feedback and business priority, empowering the team doing the work, facilitating and coaching rather than command and control.

My personal view is clear, that for projects beyond trivial complexity, someone needs to pick up the project management responsibilities. And to date, I haven’t yet observed the Product Owner or Scrum Master being well placed to do this like an experienced and dedicated PM would do.


Frank Ray

Ask any project manager about the key to their success, and they will say that delivering a project is often more like a "dark art" or by chance, than a predictable science.

They may also say that a project going 'off the rails' was one of the most stressful things they have professionally experienced. And unfortunately, it’s all too common.

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