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Are there really no managers in Scrum?

Teaching classes over the past few weeks the question of what role managers have in Scrum has come up several times.  In answering these questions I mentioned that Scrum describes three primary roles – ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and Team.  However, Scrum is silent on the role of the manager.  I think this last point – the silence of Scrum on other roles – has led to much confusion, and maybe a few mis-steps by companies.


I can recall one company that was a client of a prior company where I started an Agile practice.  This US based company in the financial services sector laid-off (fired) all of their project managers in one fell swoop when they made the transition to Agile.  Now, I did not work directly with this company, and definitely would not recommend taking this approach to Agile Transformation.  I didn’t keep track of what the outcome was of this mass lay off of project managers, but I can’t imagine that it was good for morale in the company.


Scrum does not prescribe firing all of your project (or other managers) in order to transition to Scrum / Agile.  The origins of Scrum and Agile at the Team level in organisations has potentially led some people to think that there is no role for managers.  But to the contrary someone still has to deal with contracts, budgets, legal requirements, multi-team coordination, establishing communities of practice, and the like.  The likelihood is that a manager will be needed in some capacity to handle this in all but the smallest of projects / companies.  The other option would be for the team to stop their work on producing value during the sprint and instead to deal with all of these management tasks.  The second option is not conducive to a productive team that even comes close to burning down stories and tasks in “ideal time” or even close.


Another aspect to consider is that just getting rid of all of the managers in an organisation sows seeds of doubt in everyones mind (even if unspoken) about the value of people to the organisation.  Agile and Scrum do not support treating people as replaceable “resources” or cogs in the machine.  Indeed, Agile and Scrum support treating people as valuable individuals that contribute to the success of the organisation because they are empowered.  What does it say to people in the organisation when the leadership just fires everyone in the name of Agile Transformation.


I would propose that a better approach is to work with each person.  People who were business analysts or project managers or other roles not described in Scrum should be given the opportunity to identify career options in their organisation.  Maybe they can be ScrumMasters, or Product Owners.  Maybe they can be Agile Managers, taking care of the things that the team does not have time (and potentially skills) to handle.  The point for an Agile Manager is to be a servant leader empowering the team, and not getting in the way of the team doing work.  Business Analysts may be able to support Product owners in elaborating on User Stories, Assumption, and Acceptance Criteria.


I believe that the most respectful, and true to Agile / Scrum approach is to work with each team member and to help them to see where they fit in the organisation as the transition to Agile takes place.  This is best for teams, managers, and people, and Scrum / Agile always looks to empower and provide the best environment for people.


Until next time, keep being Agile!



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