Tips for Coaching Managers who are Playing a Scrum Role


I often come across Organizational Constraints that involve a Manager playing a Scrum role. Strictly speaking, this a violation of Scrum because no one, not even the Scrum Master, can tell the Development Team how to accomplish their work, and there are no titles on Development teams. Like all organizational constraints, it’s important to mitigate the negative effects by using “the art of the possible.” The tips below are my attempt at doing that.

How I define a Manager for the purposes of this article:

  • Someone who has a large amount of input in determining the company advancement (performance reviews, raises, promotions, etc) of any individual on the Scrum Team, OR
  • Someone a Scrum Team member “reports to,” OR
  • Someone who is seen by the organization as having major authority over one or more members of a Scrum Team (Supervisors, Team Leaders, etc).

Tip – (my definition) a practice that is definitely worth consideration, but might only be good in a few or very specific contexts or team situations.

Tips

  • Tip#1:  If the role the Manager is playing is the Product Owner or Scrum Master role, and there is someone else who I think could play the role well, I try to convince the Manager to let someone else play the role. If that doesn’t work, I move on to the next tips.
  • Tip#2:  Try to convince the Manager to align their management values with those of Scrum values (roles, servant leadership, etc per the Scrum Guide), or at least try to convey to them what that means. I usually have private one-on-one meetings to begin this process, but continue to coach as necessary. My biggest goal is to get them to think and essentially convey — “I will tell this person I manage that my one overriding success factor for that person is how well that person fulfills their Scrum role AND how well that person serves the other Scrum Team members in the Scrum Team’s efforts.”
  • Tip#3:  Whenever there might be confusion on whether the person is speaking as their Scrum role vs. their Manager role, I strongly encourage them to start the sentence with “As a <Scrum Role>, my view is <blah blah blah>.” and/or “As a <Manager role>, my view is <blah blah blah>.” As a coach, I will often ask them to clarify in this way if I see any possible confusion. They can also use the “hat” metaphor. “With my <Scrum Role> hat on, my view is….”, and/or “Now if I put my <Manager role> hat on, this is my opinion.” In some cases, they may need to say, after stating their view with both hats, “I think, with my <Manager role> hat on, I’m going to have to make an executive decision to…” I encourage them to use that last strategy as rarely as possible. I also encourage Scrum Team members to ask for clarification from the Manager whenever they are unclear which hat the Manager is wearing.
  • Tip#4:  I encourage the Manager to disappear for a large part of each Retrospective. More on that here:
  • Tip#5:  I encourage the Manager to always wear their <Scrum Role> hat during the Daily Scrum, and to make sure that team members don’t “report to” their manager in that meeting. One tip I give them for this is for the manager to stand just outside the circle/semi-circle, but to still participate as their Scrum role.

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