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Scrum Master – A Manager

Manager – Traditionally

Traditionally an individual is declared a ‘manager’ when having hierarchical control over other individuals. A traditional manager exerts power. A traditional manager commands people through the assignment of to-be-done work; expressed as tasks or work packages, given on a daily base or via to-be-followed plans. Subsequently a traditional manager follows up on the execution of the assigned work. The traditional manager does not wait for the results of the work but wants to see how the work is being carried out, who is doing it, when the tasks are being performed and how much time it is taking. The time it takes is in general compared to the time that was instructed the task should take.

This and other performance information is recorded and stored, mostly in reports and other forms of documents. The traditional manager (in)frequently uses the stored information to evaluate a subordinate in order to steer that person’s career; via carrots like education, promotion, incentives, bonuses, salary. The traditional manager acts as the one who knows it all, and is supposed to act in the best interest of the company and its shareholders, even if that interest is obscured from the people assigned with the actual productive work.

Not limited to, but certainly in a context of agile, there is not only no need for a ‘manager’ behaving according to this authoritarian pattern and traditional expectation, it is even highly counterproductive and extremely discouraging. Dan Pink - DriveIt undermines enthusiasm, disregards intrinsic motivation by focusing solely on extrinsic motivators, kills job satisfaction, is an open door for politics and bribery and is therefore catastrophic for an organization depending on people. It is without doubt disrespectful and inhumane.

Is the notion of ‘manager’ therefore forever corrupted? Evil by default? A lost case?

Management – Actually

Scrum, like all things agile, has a very different viewpoint on working with people and on the aspect of management, but it does not the disregard that the activity of managing is required.

Let’s explore this different perspective upon the statement that “Scrum Master is a ‘management’ position”.


  1. A Scrum Master is a manager. Contrary to the traditional idea of a ‘manager’, a Scrum Master has no formal power over the people in the Development Team, not deciding over their careers, incentives, etc. A Scrum Master does not manage the people or their tasks. But a Scrum Master does manage (via) the Scrum process. Within an organization a Scrum Master is accountable for the maximization of Scrum, for ensuring that people, teams, departments and the organization realize the highest benefits possible from using Scrum. A Scrum Master is accountable for the way Scrum is understood and enacted. This requires management skills, traits and insights.
  2. A manager is a Scrum Master is a manager. A Scrum Master is explicitly responsible for removing Impediments. Impediments are elements that limit the efficiency and progress of a Development Team in areas that are beyond the reach of self-organization of a Development Team. Impediments are most often found in the wider organization, in company processes, procedures, and structures. Removal of Impediments works better if the Scrum Master is a manager turned Scrum Master, thereby adopting facilitation as the primary management tool and seeing the workfloor as the primary habitat.

A Scrum Master indeed is a manager, albeit not in the traditional sense. It is clear that a Scrum Master does not manage budget, people, work and tasks. Product Owners manage investments. Teams manage themselves. However, self-organization as promoted through Scrum does require goals and boundaries. A Scrum Master manages the boundaries that Scrum provides to augment self-organization; time-boxing to limit risk, focused efforts, cross-functional collaboration, releasable results, validated learning.

The Scrum process does no more than framing the creativity of people in their joint creation of valuable software. The process of Scrum lays out a foundation for rhythm and discovery. A Scrum Master manages the Scrum process through the provision of specific services like removing Impediments, facilitating teams, educating the organization, coaching people and keeping the road open to perform, to work, to innovate, to be creative. The services that the Scrum Master provides, needs to provide or is allowed to provide become a mirror to the state of Scrum in an organization.

Scrum Master can be seen as a management position because the Scrum Master role holds what is expected from a manager in an agile context, not because it reflects what traditionally is expected from a manager. A managing Scrum Master is a wise leader that engages people through organizational purpose and vision.

Manager – A Scrum Master

A manager who acts like a Scrum Master optimizes the value of management to the organization. The optimization lies not in commanding and controlling tasks and detailed work items. The value a manager brings lies in identifying wasteful activities, eliminating waste, removing impediments, embracing complexity by assuring Scrum is understood and enacted, from its principles and roots in empiricism, building on the core Scrum Stance, propelling on opportunistic experimentation, setting goals, and maintaining purpose.

The Scrum Master-manager is strongly affiliated to the Lean idea of “Go See“. A manager turning Scrum Master is a person that does not hide in a far-away office. Not hiding is much more than merely creating an open door policy. An open door is a fake measure, as it still lays the burden with the people wanting to see and talk to the manager. The workfloor buzz does not enter through that door. The flow needs to be reversed. The Scrum Master-manager walks around, is part of the workplace with the teams, the place where the real value is created. In Lean this place is referred to as Gemba.

It can even be taken some steps further with the idea of Empirical Management.

Management – Definitely

Even in an agile context, the act of managing remains a valuable activity. The act of managing is performed by managers.

Teams manage themselves. They organize their work autonomously. They are managers too. Product Owners manage the product’s vision and the investments in the product. Others manage boundaries, company objectives and identity, technical environments, the Scrum framework. ‘Management’ is the collection of all such activities. Management done properly thrives on servant-leadership. ‘Management’ is not a collection of people executing hierarchical powers. It is an emergent, networked structure of co-managers, people with complementary skills, focus and accountability, mutually exchanged services. All seek direction. Collaboratively. Continually. Skills and meaningful conversation prevail over title, hierarchy and position.

“What you say has priority over how you look.”

Is a manager who turned Scrum Master still a manager then?

20 thoughts on “Scrum Master – A Manager

  1. […] Gunther Verheyen: Scrum Master – A Manager […]

  2. […] Чтобы понять, как менеджерам следует давать обратную связь, Ким Скотт (Kim Scott) разработала простую модель под названием радикальная откровенность. Надеюсь вы не забыли, что Скрам-мастер — менеджерская позиция? […]

  3. […] Scrum Master – A Manager […]

  4. […] Scrum Master – A Manager […]

  5. […] on the professional drive of people to create excellent products. Scrum Master, as a modern manager, is accountable for fostering such an environment of Scrum. A safe environment where people can […]

  6. While the scrum master does not have formal power over the people in the Development Team, not deciding over their careers…How does the process of on/off-boarding of team members work? Who makes the final call?

    1. The team? Involving the Product Owner given his/her accountability over the budet?

      1. Hi Gunther! Thanks for your quick response! So this is not up to the scrum master?! Good to know!

        1. The Scrum Master is there to help the team make its own decisions, and facilitate the relationship with the Product Owner.

  7. This article ignores the actual and historical definition of ‘Manager’. Not helpful to the general discourse about Scrum.

    1. I politely disagree.
      When someone reads “The Scrum Master-manager is strongly affiliated to the Lean idea of “Go See“” clearly should realize that the entire article moves the attention from the “concept” of Manager to the “practice” of Management… highlighting the self-management skills required to the Development Team members up to the point of deciding who shall and shall not stay in the team.

      I therefore warmly suggest a deeper reading and more open minded approach.
      Luckily Scrum is a Framework and the rigidity of the role of the traditional Manager are not applicable, since it’s not a Methodology.;)
      Happy scrumming!

      1. Hello Michael,

        Thank you for prompting me to comment again here. I admit my earlier comment was terse — even flippant, sorry. I may have been pressed for time, I don’t remember.

        I have more time now so I took your suggestion and gave the article a deeper reading with an open mind. And my conclusion hasn’t changed. I stand by my earlier comment.

        I’ll elaborate…

        First, I appreciate Mr. Verheyen’s writing and I fully understand the argument he’s making. I can even agree (if you were to argue it) that conventional managers *need* an article like this to understand how the role of Scrum Master is different than their preconceived notions.

        In fact, I can even agree with everything written in this article … but to do so I must first:

        – ignore the inertia of hundreds of years of command-and-control management practices;
        – and I must ignore the very definitions of ‘management’ and ‘manager’ and all their possible etymologies.

        If I do that, if I set aside the nearly 110 years of curriculum at Harvard University and its peers (largely based on F.W. Taylor’s and Carl Barth’s work) then I can fully agree to the position Gunther describes in this article.

        Ultimately though, I still feel that this article suggests that its readers ignore the actual definition of ‘manager’ and ‘management’. (And I don’t feel doing so is positive step for the world.) Until very recently (perhaps a couple of decades), those words unambiguously described the practice of centralized/authoritative decision-making AND the notion that some people in a company *can* and *ought to* exert their decisions upon others in the same company (In a phrase, that IS the practice and concept of management.) Gunther’s first two paragraphs sum it up wonderfully.

        Even to this day, those words mean essentially as they always have — but in the English-speaking West we are seeing the Venning of those words with concepts like ‘coaching’ and ‘facilitating’ and even ‘serving’. We are seeing a deliberate attempt to soften the practice of management, to shed its essential meanings. But, it’s important to take off the rose-coloured glasses — I’d encourage you to visit and see for yourself that EVERY other language in the world understands that the primary denotations of the word ‘manage’ include: command, control, force, use, surveil, and handle. You’ll also find slightly-softer connotations like ‘administer’ and ‘direct’ and ‘oversee’. But nowhere in those translations will you see SERVE!

        (And why are translations important? Well, because if you’re trying to communicate across languages, you’re going to stick to the universally-understood connotations of words. So, studying translations help us to narrow a word to its essential meanings. And it turns out the universally understood meaning of ‘manage’ is, in a word, ‘control’.)

        Even the etymology of the word ‘manage’ tells a centuries-old story about the control and handling of draft animals. (Not the ‘caring for’ and ‘serving’ of animals… that’s what the word ‘husbandry’ means. Let’s not Venn husbandry with management.)

        So, (this is getting long in the tooth, sorry) I’d much prefer that we speak plainly about the role of Scrum Master — what if we said: Scrum Master is a role completely unlike conventional managers; management as we all know it is toxic in environments where people are composed into self-organizing, cross-functional teams; if you want Scrum teams to thrive in your workplace you must adamantly reject command-and-control behaviours, no matter their source. What if that were the message? Would we be further ahead? Or are we going to rest our hopes with “Management 5.0” (what version are we on anyway?)

  8. Well described article! I will use it onu next project to help management to understand to change the management style

  9. […] Gunther Verheyen did a great job describing the Scrum Master as a Manager. For sure this offered me some inspiration for my own blog […]

  10. […] Gunther Verheyen did a great job describing the Scrum Master as a Manager. For sure this offered me some inspiration for my own blog […]

  11. […] Gunther Verheyen did a great job describing the Scrum Master as a Manager. For sure this offered me some inspiration for my own blog […]

  12. […] the work floor as the primary habitat. And yes, this part is copied from Gunther Verheyen’s blog post, I couldn’t find better/other words to describe […]

  13. […] the work floor as the primary habitat. And yes, this part is copied from Gunther Verheyen’s blog post, I couldn’t find better/other words to describe […]

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