A Different View on the Role of Managers in Scrum


I popped across a different view on the role of managers in Scrum, and felt it was worth posting.

Full article here:  http://www.infoq.com/interviews/larman-scrum-large-organizations

In the article, a leader in scaling agile, Craig Larman, comments on the role of managers in large scale Scrum.

Here is some of what Craig has to say here: (bold emphasis added)

One of the key Lean ideas is job safety but not role safety so the idea in Lean is that there is no way that we can deeply and dramatically improve the organizational system unless we can deeply change the organizational design which implies that roles may disappear for example like in Scrum we no longer need the overhead role of project managers and program managers.

But all of these good people in project management or lead technical people, out of respect for them and in order to get real improvement we need to have job safety for them. So we need to somehow communicate and have the policies that while you are acting as a teacher to these people you won’t be working yourself out of the job other value adding roles will arise or exist for you but what we value is teaching. It reminds me some years ago when I was in Japan I went there with my co-author Bas Vodde and did some interviews at Toyota in Nagoya and Toyota City. And we interviewed some Toyota people about their HR policies and one of the things that we found is that in Toyota they actually measure people upon the question “How much time are you teaching other people?” and they especially measure managers upon this. So there is this culture in Toyota of manager as teachers.

The saying in Toyota is “My manager can do my job better than me” and a key job of managers is continue to act as teachers both of Lean thinking skills as well as the hands-on work whatever it is. And so the Lean culture is a culture that really values people, senior people managers who are acting as teachers and I would like to encourage that

Craig continues later in the article… (bold text added for emphasis)

They mistakenly believe that you can adopt Scrum and still have all of this overhead management, which of course doesn’t work at all. If you write down a list of all of the project management responsibilities, just make a list, and then identify the three roles of Scrum: Scrum Master, Team, Product Owner, and you take that long list of all of the project management responsibilities, and say which of the three roles they going to. Fact, they will find a natural place into those three roles, most of them will go into product owner and into team. So the point is in Scrum, virtually all project management responsibilities in proper Scrum are allocated to the product owner from business or to the self managing team. Which therefore means that if you still have around the old traditional project or program manager role, it’s going to gum up the works, because what are they going to do?

They are going to interfere with the proper Scrum model and we won’t have self managing teams. And what are they going to do? What do managers do? They have to manage and so it will create various kinds of problems – they’ll be taking on the things that the Scrum team should have been taking on. And this is a delicate political issue, because these are often very bright people, talented, they’ve put in years of hard working time in the companies and it’s not like I’m trying to imply that I don’t value their native intelligence or their contribution, but it’s back to this Lean principle of job safety versus role safety. The role of project management and program management is simply no longer needed in large scale Scrum organizations.

The leadership that’s planning this transition needs to address this and find new work for these people. Which, by the way, is why for large scale adoptions bottom up adoptions don’t work because we are talking about deep changes in the organizational design and that’s going to require the decision making by leadership in changing of roles, new work for people in traditional project management roles and so forth.

That’s a really different take on the role of Managers in Scrum.  It sounds like he’s advocating that managers become teachers/mentors that also do hands on development work, which then further implies to me that these people do not do performance appraisals for employees any more.  Having your performance appraiser on your team is a slippery slope back to command and control management.  It doesn’t have to be, but it remains a risk.

These are some pretty interesting thoughts.  What is your take on Craig’s comments?

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One Response

  1. Craig’s view is very critical and insightful, if you want Scrum to succeed. BTW your article itself is a very good exposition of the role of managers. I’m writing a series of write-ups on how to do Scrum well, mostly tips and explanations of Scrum intent. Pete Deemer has written a fairly comprehensive explication of what to do with the Manager in Scrumming organisations. http://www.goodagile.com/resources/roleofthemanager10.pdf

    Disclosure: I am part of GoodAgile.

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