As advocated by the Scrum Guide, the role of management is to “support the Product Owner with insights and information into high value product and system capabilities. Support the Scrum Master to cause organizational change that fosters empiricism, self­organization, bottom­up intelligence, and intelligent release of software.

When organizations make the switch from traditional development methods such as Waterfall to Agile, managers oftentimes find themselves left behind while struggling to find their role in this new structure. One of the main reasons is the switch from individual and centralized decision-making power to a team-based and decentralized approach. Fortunately for all of you managers out there, work does not suddenly stop.

This article covers how traditional managers can continue to take a productive part in the organizational execution of Scrum while showing pitfalls to avoid.

Managers in Scrum – The Do’s

While the Scrum methodology does not take business functions into account, their value should not be underestimated. First and foremost, they themselves can take a supportive role in helping the organization transition to Agile by being a frequent advocate and exemplifying the Scrum principles. On a tactical and operational level, executives can provide additional support as well.

Strategic advocate: Managers can act as outside influences supporting the Scrum team in its execution. They help the team understand the strategic direction of the company. Furthermore, they can support the Product Owner in refining the product strategy and vision, and give feedback on the content and prioritization of the Product Backlog.

Domain expertise: Well-seasoned executives have most likely spent a majority of their career within the organization’s industry. Therefore, they can assist the development team in clarifying technical and user-related questions. Furthermore, they can provide advice on career progressions and help the team with training and skills development. Lastly, they are up-to-date with current industry news and can thus inform the team about relevant developments.

Operational support: Managers can support the Scrum team in hiring new members. Additionally, they can anticipate future staffing requirements and thus manage the budgeting of the team. If asked, they can assist in performance reviews.

Managers in Scrum – The Don’ts

It is important to remember that Scrum is not a business modelling framework, but intended to allow for the maximization of product value. It therefore deliberately leaves out the role of managers. Consequently, Scrum team members do not need to follow instructions from business executives. As such, it is crucial to make managers understand the shift in decision-making power. Prominent examples include:

  • Ad-hoc requests during a Sprint: Management wants the team to stop working on current set of tasks
  • A manager’s intuition: Executives get inspired by competitors (or other sources) and want team to work on developing similar products.
  • Increase development speed: Business deems it necessary to launch a feature or product ASAP and pushes Scrum team to compromise on quality.
  • Blowing out of proportion: Managers make unrealistic commitments to C-Level about how much the Scrum team is able to achieve.
  • Team espionage: Executives track activities of the team and micromanage them.

Now whether or not you have experienced similar situations, it is important to make business executives understand its implications within the Scrum framework. This responsibility lies on the shoulders of Scrum Masters and Product Owners respectively. We can achieve this by fostering close relationships with business executives and leading in a positive manner. Only if both sides strive towards helping each other, can we create a productive environment where Scrum teams and management peacefully co-exists.

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Hi folks, my name is Viktor! During the day, I lead a tech team of 10 folks for an e-commerce startup. At night, I work on expressing my weird thoughts through this blog. And if there's time, I cuddle my cat..