What is a Scrum Manager? 5 ways a Scrum Master and a manager are similar

What is a Scrum Manager?

A traditional people manager and a Scrum Master may have different titles and responsibilities including direct reporting relationships, but they share many other similarities when it comes to successfully leading and guiding a team. The ability to influence without authority is an important part of being a people manager, but it’s also an important skill a Scrum Master needs to be successful since no one reports to you according to the Scrum Guide. Moreover, both roles are focused on growing the team’s maturity, improving self-management, improving the team’s effectiveness, and removing impediments. In this post we’ll talk more in depth about the specifics of how.

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Influence without authority

2 women working together

A good Scrum Master and a good manager can use influence without authority to help a team be more effective. But what does influence mean? It basically means the ability or power to affect or shape the thoughts, opinions, behaviors, or actions of others. It is the capacity to have an impact or sway on the attitudes and actions of people. This can be a good or bad thing, but let’s focus on the good. 

Ways in which a person may influence include:

  • Building strong relationships with team members, understanding their needs and concerns, and effectively communicating the goals and objectives of the organization.
  • Using their own knowledge and expertise to facilitate discussions and decision-making
  • Leading by example and setting a positive tone for the team while promoting an environment of psychological safety.
  • Using data and metrics to demonstrate the value of their ideas and strategies to the team and stakeholders and making transparent changes over time.

Ultimately, the key to influencing without authority is to build trust and credibility with the team and to ensure the value of the work being done is communicated effectively. 

Growing the team’s maturity

Both a good manager and Scrum Master can help improve team maturity by fostering a culture of transparency, collaboration, and continuous improvement. They also do this by supporting the Scrum values of focus, openness, courage, commitment and respect. 

The ways in which they do this include:

  • Facilitating effective communication and decision-making within the team.
  • Ensuring business goals, context and vision are well understood, so the team can effectively self-manage within the constraints of the business
  • Helping the team to feel comfortable taking ownership of their work and holding themselves accountable for their frequent, high-quality and valuable deliverables.
  • Supporting the team in identifying and removing obstacles that may be impeding their progress.
  • Helping the team establish clear goals, measures, and metrics for success, while regularly reviewing and adjusting them as needed.
  • Providing opportunities for the team to learn and grow through formal training, inter-team cross-training, book clubs, mentorship, and other development opportunities.

Improving self-management

Both a manager and a Scrum Master are responsible for helping the team to become more self-sufficient and self-managing. This includes providing the team with the autonomy to make decisions, encouraging collaboration and teamwork, and creating an environment where individuals are able to take ownership of their work. By doing so, the team can become more efficient, effective, and adaptable.

Ways to help a team become better at self-management include:

  • Encouraging team members to take ownership of their work and make decisions independently. To do so, however, they need the skills, tools and context to make effective decisions.
  • Facilitating kaizen events to allow the team to reflect on their processes and identify areas for improvement. Scrum Masters specifically may facilitate team retrospective meetings for this purpose.
  • Providing people skills training and similar resources to help team members develop the necessary interpersonal skills required for better self-management.
  • Establishing and growing an environment that promotes open communication, trust, and collaboration. Self-management works best when everyone has the facts necessary to make good decisions.
  • Supporting the team in setting and achieving important goals and objectives.
  • Empowering the team to identify and solve problems on their own, and encouraging them to take initiative. Stepping away from the situation to allow for leadership to emerge within the team
  • Helping the team to establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for each team member. If using Scrum. This clarity is built right into the accountabilities of the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Developers.
  • Providing them with the skills, tools, techniques, and practices that support self-management. Introducing and supporting the Scrum Framework is a great way to create context and boundaries for self-management to thrive. 

Improving team effectiveness

Both a typical manager and a Scrum Master are responsible for improving the team’s effectiveness. They can both help a team become more effective at delivering higher quality and more valuable features over time by:

  • Encouraging the team to adopt and follow quality practices. In software development where Scrum is commonly used, practices such as test-driven development, code reviews, and automated testing are used to ensure that the features they deliver meet the highest standards of quality and maintainability.
  • Ensuring regular customer communication and feedback sessions happen to make certain the team is building the right features at the right time that meet the needs and expectations of the stakeholders.
  • Encouraging the team to rapidly experiment with new technologies, tools, and best practices to continuously improve the quality and value of the features they deliver.
  • Helping the team establish clear standards and guidelines for quality assurance, including acceptance criteria, testing, and code review processes. In Scrum this would be documented with the Definition of Done.
  • Supporting good Empirical process control by using the Scrum framework as intended. Doing so encourages the team to regularly inspect and adapt their processes, practices, and tools to continuously improve their delivery capabilities.

Overall, A good manager and Scrum Master can help the team to continuously improve by fostering a culture of continuous learning, experimentation, and improvement, and adopting best quality practices, customer communication, rapid experimentation, and empirical process control.

Removing impediments 

Both a manager and a Scrum Master are responsible for removing any obstacles or impediments that are preventing the team from achieving its goals. This includes but is not limited to identifying and addressing issues such as communication breakdowns, lack of resources, or conflicting priorities. By doing so, the team can focus on delivering high-quality work without interruption and have throughput greatly improve over time.

More specifically a good manager and Scrum Master can help developers through the removal of impediments by:

  • Actively listening to the team’s concerns and working with them to identify any obstacles that are preventing them from making progress. High speed value delivery is an important factor of business agility. 
  • Ensuring regular Scrum events, such as Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective are used as intended by the Scrum Framework, to allow the team to identify and address any impediments that may be preventing them from delivering valuable and high-quality features quickly.
  • Helping the team prioritize the most pressing impediments and work with the relevant stakeholders to remove them as quickly as possible.
  • Providing the team with the necessary resources and support to overcome any obstacles that may be impeding their progress. 
  • Communicating regularly with stakeholders and other teams to ensure that they are aware of any issues that may be impacting the team’s ability to deliver valuable and high-quality solutions quickly.
  • Helping the team to establish clear flow-based metrics for measuring throughput to expose impediments and continuously monitoring and tracking the impact of impediment removal.

In conclusion

The specific roles and responsibilities of a manager and a Scrum Master may differ in some key ways, but the core skills, responsibilities and accountabilities required for both roles are quite similar. Both roles are focused on growing the team’s maturity, improving self-management, improving the team’s effectiveness, and removing impediments to ensure the success of delivery efforts. Whether you are a manager or a Scrum Master, having the skills and mindset to excel in these areas is essential for leading and guiding a team towards success. If you manage a newly formed Scrum or Agile delivery team, consider attending one of our Professional Agile Leadership Essentials courses to enhance your skills and move towards empirical management instead of predictive management.

Robert Pieper

Robert Pieper has been a licensed Scrum.org Professional Scrum Trainer since 2014 and National Public Speaker since 2013. Robb holds an MBA from Marquette University and an Electrical Engineering Degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering. Robb has 15 years of professional software development experience with a passion for making Scrum work delivering real products and services