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Project Managers as Scrum Masters?

Project manager vs Scrum Master

AUTHOR: Malene Marie Bendixen Jacobsen, Agile Coach

Should Project Managers be Scrum Masters? Well, it depends…

I often get met with the view that someone in the team, be it a project manager or a team lead should “just fulfill the Scrum Master role”. For me, it seems like many have not fully understood the role of the Scrum Master, and I can see why.

The pattern I’ve seen emerge more often than not is that someone is selected or volunteered to be the teams, Scrum Master, they have either read up on the topic or they get sent on a course like Certified ScrumMaster®. Is that enough to fulfill the role? The answer is NO!

As the Scrum Guide says: Scrum is: Simple to understand, Difficult to master!

If we go back and look at the fundamental courses such as Certified ScrumMaster®, Professional Scrum Master, Agile Fundamental, or even boot camp… these courses provide an understanding of agile and Scrum. But how do you then move from understanding to mastering? What does mastering actually mean?

As an example, you want to learn another language, let’s take Danish in this instance: you attend a 2-day Danish class and after that, are you able to master the language? No, you will probably have a better understanding of it, yes, but you will not be fluent.

The same happens after attending the Scrum courses, the person remembers and understands most of it, and they go back to their team and set up the scrum session. They still have the same responsibility as before, but added to this is their newly learned Scrum Master skills. They are then placed back to their stressful work lives and fall back into their old routines – but the mindset is: “hey we have implemented the scrum sessions, so we are now agile”. After some time, managers cannot understand why they are not getting the value out of being agile, even though they were promised so much, but still, do not deliver faster to market, the software quality hasn’t increased, and team morale hasn’t gone up.

Implementing Scrum sessions does not make you agile. The Scrum Master needs to master Scrum and understand how to actually get value from it – there needs to be changed in the environment. This is essentially the difference between understanding and mastering.

For a Scrum Master to master Scrum and get the value out of it, they need to grow the following skill-sets:

  • Agile mindset
  • Empathy
  • Facilitation
  • People skills
  • Communication
  • Listening
  • Observing
  • Conflict resolution
  • Coaching
  • Problem-solving
  • Training
  • Adaptability
  • Mentoring
  • Being change agents
  • Practicing servant leadership

Many of these skill-sets are not something you learn overnight – they need to be approached with an agile mindset of constant inspection and improvement. Being a great Scrum Master is a  continuous journey of inspection and adaptation.

So, should your Project Manager be the Scrum Master? Well, as I said in the beginning, it depends… Does your Project Manager have some of the above skill-sets as well as a passion to embark on the journey? Plus, will you allow the person to 100% focused on fulfilling this role? Then yes, your Project Manager can be the Scrum Master. But if your Project Manager loves excel spreadsheets, budgets, details of the project and you want your Project Manager to fulfill both the position of a Scrum Master and Project Manager, then NO – you are setting yourself and your Project Manager up for failure.

Now you may sit with a question of whether your Project Manager should not be the Scrum Master, should you then just fire the person and hire a Scrum Master instead? I could write a whole blog post about this, but the short answer is no, do not fire the person just because the person does not fit into the role of a Scrum Master. There must be a reason why this person is part of your team in the first place. How do they add value? Look at what that person does along with their skill-set. Going agile does not mean that everyone just gets a new title. It does, however, mean that your attitude, as well as the attitude of your people and the organization as a whole, will have to change. so focus on the people’s skill-sets and their strengths, and then move them into roles where they already have some of the required skillsets that can be built on to. Grow the strength of your people and they will shine!

Good luck on your journey.