Is Having a Functional or Team Manager as a Scrum Master Good or Bad?

There are three main roles in Scrum – Product Owner, Developer(s), and ScrumMaster. Product Owners ensure that the team is delivering the things that maximize the business value of the product. The Developer(s) consisting of designers, writers, programmers, etc. They are the people that do the work and determine the best way to do it. The ScrumMaster’s job is to facilitate/coach/mentor/teach the team how to do it best using agile values and principles. The other members of the organization is to support them with their work or perhaps act as a stakeholder to the team providing guidance in prioritization and feedback on the work.

Out of the main three roles, casting the correct person as the ScrumMaster is crucial. In Scrum, the concept of a manager is missing. Therefore most organizations try to cast a functional manager or a team lead as the ScrumMaster. However, this raises the question of whether it is a good idea.

What is a ScrumMaster?

As mentioned earlier, the role of a ScrumMaster is to use agile values and principles to champion a project, teams, and team members. The job will vary depending on the work, maturity of the team and organization. For example, they may play the role of a facilitator, coach, or project manager. However, their duties may often include the following.

  • Facilitating daily stand-up meetings, reviews, demos, and other project-related meetings.
  • Supporting team members with their tasks.
  • Proactively identify and resolve issues.
  • Facilitating open discussion and conflict resolution
  • Educating the team on Scrum principles and best practices.
  • Updating the progress and other activities in a project management tracking tool.

At a glance, all these tasks may seem like tasks that a manager would do. Still, is it a good idea to make a manager the ScrumMaster of your team?

Pros of having a manager as a ScrumMaster

Save on headcount

One of the major reasons organizations choose managers to become ScrumMasters is to save the headcount. Why waste time and money hiring another person when you can kill two birds with one stone.

Already a leader

Both a ScrumMaster and a manager are leaders. Therefore, the only additional requirement for a manager to become a ScrumMaster is to become the Agile and Scrum expert on the team and have the time and ability to facilitate events.

Easier to remove obstacles

Since managers already have an authoritative figure, it is much easier for them to facilitate the removal of obstacles and resolve other issues as opposed to non-manager ScrumMasters.

Easier to empower the team

Managers can use their authority to grant more freedom to their team, allowing them to empower their team and take on more responsibility to achieve self-organization.

Cons of having a manager as a ScrumMaster

An authoritative figure should not be part of the team

A manager, unlike a ScrumMaster, is an authoritative figure in an organization. Therefore should never be a part of the team itself. Our goal is to create psychological safety in the team.

Unwillingness to take risks

Team members do not want to fail in front of their managers. Especially if the manager is responsible for the hiring and firing of team members as well as their performance evaluation. In such situations, the team may not be willing to take risks.

Less ownership from the team

The team may want to skip taking ownership of the work if the manager is present all the time. However, this may result in the team never evolving into a high-powered self-organizing team.

Creates an unsafe environment

People may not want to be honest during Retrospectives and may check out for fear of retaliation.

Strategic vs. Tactical

The tasks of a manager are strategic. It involves managing the project portfolio, looking at the makeup of the teams, checking whether they need more people. On the other hand, a ScrumMaster’s work is tactical. It involves the day-to-day work of the project team.

Too busy with other work

Managers are more involved with the overall agenda of the company. A single manager might even have multiple projects under them. On the other hand, a ScrumMaster can focus on their particular team and the sphere of influence in the organization around the team.

Is it impossible?

As you can see, there are more cons than pros for having a manager as a ScrumMaster. First, it seems to go against the whole concept of Scrum. With so many core differences between the functional or team manager role and the ScrumMaster role, one might think this is an impossible task. But if you manage to find the right individual, they can find success in both roles.

The individual should be able to let the team know clearly when they are wearing the hat of a manager and when they are wearing the hat of a ScrumMaster, as well as when they are switching one hat for another. This would help the team to adjust their behavior to match the situation and interpret the ScrumMaster/Manager’s advice accordingly.

In addition, the individual should be very well aware of the responsibilities of each role and compartmentalize them to avoid any conflicts. For example, the individual should be able to understand the conflicts that could arise between the day-to-day tasks of a project, which belongs to the ScrumMaster’s domain, and the team’s overall growth, which belongs to the functional or team manager’s domain.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, there are more cons than pros for having a manager as a ScrumMaster. It can do more harm than good to a team, especially since there will be many situations where there are conflicts of interest between each role. This might impact badly on the project outcome. Even though the right individual can pull it off, asking a functional or team manager to play the role of the ScrumMaster is a huge risk. Finding the right individual will also not be an easy job.

Lance Dacy is a Certified Scrum Trainer® who’s passionate about applying Scrum beyond technology to all areas of business and life. If you’d like more education or certifications related to this topic, check out the upcoming class schedule.


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