Who are the “managers” in a Scrum/Agile team?

Posted on October 11th, 2008 in Agile by siddharta || 1 Comment

This is a common question that keeps coming up in mailing lists. Teams that are transitioning to Scrum or any other agile process want to know which role is the equivalent of the traditional Project Manager role. Is it the ScrumMaster? Product Owner? Coach?

My answer is that it is none of the above!

A regular problem when implementing an agile process is the assumption that every role in the old process has an equivalent role in the agile process. This is not true.

A project manager has a superior-subordinate relationship with the team members and the authority that comes with such a role. The project manager truly manages the team in the sense that he decides the estimates, makes the plan and assigns resources (I hate that word) without any input from the team. The team’s job is to only execute the plan.

In agile processes there is no single role that has this type of authority. The team is supposed to be self organising and self managing. The team decides the estimates for themselves. The team decides on the best approach to building and delivering the software.

The ScrumMaster is simply a person who removes obstacles, interfaces with external stakeholders and guides the process so that the team can concentrate on building good quality software. The Product Owner is the navigator, choosing features and providing feedback so that the right product might be built. However, neither of these roles have authority over the team in telling them how the software should be built.

A common mistake made by many teams is to put the old Project Manager in the ScrumMaster role without explaining the difference between the roles. As a result, the new ScrumMaster behaves exactly like the old Project Manager, making a plan, fixing estimates and assigning tasks. It’s the same old role with a fancy new title.

So who is the manager then? My answer is the team. The team is self managing. It’s not the ScrumMaster. It’s not the Product Owner. One of the reasons for giving a fancy new name like ScrumMaster was to enable teams to break free from the notion that the role is the same as a Project Manager. This is a discomforting answer for many companies, but it’s at the heart of agile software development, and the kind of cultural change and mindset change that is required to succeed with agile.

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One Response to “Who are the “managers” in a Scrum/Agile team?”

  1. Oriel Says:

    Great post, hope this cultural change will become more and more common.

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