The Agile Mindset Blog

How to Choose the Right ScrumMaster Pt.2

How to Choose the Right ScrumMaster Pt.2

Part Two: Manager or Team Lead to ScrumMaster

In Part One of this blog series, we looked at the potential pitfalls of moving our project managers into the ScrumMaster role.  Now, let’s look at what might happen if we move someone from a leadership position—a team lead or manager—into the ScrumMaster role.

It can seem a natural fit to designate a team lead as ScrumMaster.  This is often a person the Team is used to looking to for advice and guidance. By moving that person into the ScrumMaster role, you can capitalize on the existing trust and relationship.

Unfortunately, this transition can easily go amiss.Technical leads are often senior technical people and, as such, work on some of the thornier technical problems in a project.  The very nature of untangling complex technical issues is a “heads down” activity, often requiring a person’s full, dedicated concentration. However, being a ScrumMaster is a “heads up” endeavor.  A ScrumMaster is constantly scanning the environment, making inferences, and taking action. It is nearly impossible to be heads down and heads up at the same time.  The activities simply require two different skill sets and, really, two different mindsets.

It complicates matters even more if the Team lead/ScrumMaster favors one type of work over the other.  For example, as technical lead, he/she may prefer the heads-down work more.  In such cases, that person may minimize the ScrumMaster job into a largely administrative role.  They set up meetings, maybe facilitate here and there… and that’s it.  Such a ScrumMaster will never lead an organization to agile transformation because they only scratch the surface of how the organization must change to become truly agile.

When a manager becomes a ScrumMaster, it is even more likely to go awry.  A team member must know he can talk to his ScrumMaster about anything.  However, there can be a distinct hesitance to do that when the ScrumMaster is also your manager.  The thought can be: “This person is my boss.  She controls whether or not I get a raise or a promotion.  I am not going to say anything that could be used against me when my annual review comes around.”  In such cases, I find these teams do not raise the thornier impediments.  They do not talk about tough issues, because they do not want to be seen as “rocking the boat.”

Occasionally, I do find a ScrumMaster/manager who is able to maintain a healthy relationship with their team.  This often has a lot to do with the personalities involved.  A manager with an inclusive, facilitating style and a confident, outspoken team can sometimes make this work.  However, it is the rare exception to the rule.  More often, putting a manager in the ScrumMaster role is nothing more than pasting a Scrum label on business as usual.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about the value of choosing a “natural” ScrumMaster.

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