The Role of Managers in Scrum

Executive Summary

In this article, I discuss the role of Managers in Scrum. I look to the Scrum Guide first, and then discuss some other ideas not specifically from the Scrum Guide. In short, the role of Managers in Scrum is to:

  • help pick, empower, and even be, Product Owners
  • help decide when to cancel a Sprint
  • collaborate with the Scrum Team on Release Planning
  • collaborate with the Scrum Team in Sprint Reviews
  • influence, but not contradict, the work priorities as decided by the Product Owner
  • receive teaching and coaching on Scrum from the ScrumMasters
  • not interfere with the Scrum implementation
  • assist the Scrum Team in removing organizational impediments

I also speak to the more general role of those outside of the Scrum Team in general, which includes managers of course.


A common question when trying to implement Scrum is, “What is the role of management, or a manager, in Scrum?” By managers here, we’re talking about someone who plays a management role, As such, in certain contexts, we might be talking about someone with one of the following titles:

  • Manager
  • Functional Manager
  • Team Lead
  • Project Lead(er)
  • Project Manager
  • Senior Manager
  • Director of Software Development
  • Product Manager
  • Business Manager
  • Or, any other similar title that describes similar management responsibilities.

What the Scrum Guide says about Managers

  • In an optional “Tip” : “The ScrumMaster works with the customers and management to identify and instantiate a Product Owner…Product
    Owners are expected to know how to manage to optimize value using Scrum. If they don’t, we hold the ScrumMaster accountable.”
  • In an optional “Tip” : “For commercial development, the Product Owner may be the product manager. For in-house development efforts, the Product Owner could be the manager of the business function that is being automated.”
  • “Management may need to cancel a Sprint if the Sprint Goal becomes obsolete.”
  • “When rules are not stated, the users of Scrum are expected to figure out what to do. Don’t try to figure out a perfect solution, because the problem usually changes quickly. Instead, try something and
    see how it works. The inspect-and-adapt mechanisms of Scrum’s empirical nature will guide you.”

    • Hard to know what the Scrum Guide means by “users of Scrum,” here, but I’m going to assume that it means the Scrum Team.

Summary of what the Scrum Guide says about Managers

  • A Product Owner can be the manager of the business function that’s being automated.
  • Managers can:
    • help pick and empower a Product Owner.
    • cancel a Sprint if the Sprint Goal becomes obsolete.
      • The guide is a bit ambiguous here because it also says that only the Product Owner can cancel a sprint.
  • The Scrum Guide also speaks about those outside of the Scrum Team in general, which includes managers of course.

Some other thoughts on the role of Managers

Since the Scrum Guide tells us to figure out what to do for anything not explicitly stated in the Scrum Guide, here are my thoughts on that topic:

  • The Best Managers will work as a servant leader for the Scrum Team.
    • Examples include, but are not limited to, acquiring/providing company resources for
      • team celebrations
      • training
      • software tools
      • office supplies
      • highly effective team workspaces
  • The Best Managers are excellent resources for assisting in removing organizational impediments.
    • One of these organizational impediments might be that the Scrum Team itself is struggling with Scrum. Managers of those on Scrum Teams can help remove this impediment by obtaining resources such as: training, other internal ScrumMasters to consult with, or an outside Scrum Coach.
  • Managers can and probably should encourage the team to improve its technical qualities and capabilities, though they should not dictate how this should be accomplished.
  • Managers can assist with prioritizing technical debt items, though final decisions on priorities should remain with the Scrum Team.
  • Managers generally assist with staffing issues.
    • The Scrum Guide specifically says the Scrum Team should retrospect on team composition, but it doesn’t get any more specific on that topic(like who makes staffing decisions, etc)
  • Managers generally provide assistance with human resource duties such as:
    • Creating the method for performance appraisals
      • Managers, in my opinion, should give strong weight to the Scrum Team member’s ability contribute as a Scrum “Team Player”
    • Executing the performance appraisals
      • Managers should almost never play a role on a Scrum team where that manager conducts performance appraisals for anyone on that Scrum Team. Doing so is a huge risk to the roles of Scrum, as well as the self organizational nature of Scrum Teams.

Other resources for the role of managers in Scrum

What are your thoughts on the role of Managers in Scrum?  Click the “Comment” link below and fire away!

May the Sprint be with you!  🙂


12 Responses

  1. Great article Charles. Nothing to add.

    • Thanks for the comment and compliment, Sean.

  2. Well, I like this post for a few reasons.

    1) Clearly there is still a role for management

    2) You have more innovative and value add content

    So, you say “Managers should almost never play a role on a Scrum team where that manager conducts performance appraisals for anyone on that Scrum Team”.

    Who then would you suggest does the performance appraisals and how?


  3. Thanks for the comment, Jordan.

    I’d probably suggest that Managers still do the appraisals, but I’m just suggesting that Managers do not play one of the Scrum Roles on a team where they also do appraisals for that team. In short, avoid having a manager play the role of “Product Owner”, “ScrumMaster”, or Dev Team Member.

    • OK I get that but if the manager is not really connected to the team, how would he know who to reward during the appriasal? By asking the SM or PO? That just makes the SM or PO doing appraisals by proxy….

      Normally managers doing appraisals do work directly with their direct reports so curious …

  4. I didn’t say the manager is not connected to the team, just that they don’t play one of the Scrum roles on the team.

    1. A manager might have a (non Scrum) meeting once or twice a week with the PO and SM for each team.

    2. A manager might have a once weekly or bi-weekly staff meeting with the entire team.

    3. A manager might do weekly one on ones with all team members.

    4. Management by walking around.

    In all of these, the key for the manager is to be a servant leader to the Scrum team and its members, and to not interfere with the Scrum implementation.

    • Also, see all of the links at the bottom of the blog post — all of them have examples of ways Managers can add great value to an agile organization.

    • OK and now you are saying, in addition to the scrum meetings now we have to have “standard” meetings too.

      As I mentioned, Scrum has a huge amount of overhead (~20%). So now you are saying add even MORE overhead to that. And what about Unit Testing etc? Once you add in all the real overhead how much time is left?

      I would offer if you gave the team 1 day off/week (=20%), they would be just as productive if not more so than a scrum approach.

      The overhead matters because there is the opportunity cost that you could do something else with the time.


      • Jordan, what are you referring to when you say “we have to have standard meetings” ?

        Wrt overhead, as I’ve told you in the past, I reject your premise about the term overhead because, IMO, you are not using the term correctly. In short, overhead refers to costs that do not provide business value. The Scrum meetings provide a vast amount of business value in terms of work definition, work optimization,and work improvement, all aimed at increasing business value.

      • Charles

        Let’s move on past the issue of whether or not it is called “overhead.” I think it’s an appropriate term but if you don’t that’s fine.

        It still costs time.

        The Scrum time cost is ~20% time cost of the entire team. Equivalent to one full workday.

        As I said before, there are other ways to spend that time, that may or may not have as much or more effect (positively) overall than the Scrum process.

        That is my point.

        Especially, if one could return the same value that Scrum provides, using only 10% of the time instead of 20%, I think we would both agree that would be a benefit correct?

        Wrt the management stuff I replied to the wrong thread instance but essentially you were saying that managers shouldn’t do appraisals but should find out by doing weekly meetings etc.

        I’m pointing out that adds yet more time cost to the whole thing. Now with traditional management + scrum + unit testing + whatever the time cost in the process increases beyond 20%.

        You are sort of “handwaving” that it provides benefits (the scrum process) and is therefore justified without seeming to explore alternatives or provide concrete metrics into what value is actually returned for that investment in time and whether or not other alternatives provide a similar or higher ROI per time spent.


  5. Jordan,

    I’m not overly concerned with the numbers you speak of because you don’t have any concrete numbers and neither do I.

    The reason you see me hand waving a lot in my comments to you is probably because you are not in my target audience for this blog.

    My blog is not meant to convince people to use Scrum. It is meant to convince people who are already using Scrum to do it well.

    • Hi Jordan, 7 years ago when we had this discussion, we didn’t have good data on the business value and effectiveness of Scrum practices, but now we do… See this article:

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