In the modern world of work, teams use different methodologies for project management. A common project management strategy is the Agile methodology, which is based on breaking a large project into smaller tasks and delivering them in phases.
In Agile software development, there is constant collaboration with various stakeholders, continual planning of processes, and an iterative development process consisting of learning and improvement. One such type of agile methodology is the Scrum methodology.
What is Scrum?
As a subset of the Agile process, the Scrum methodology uses an iterative and incremental process to deliver new software or product features and ship them to the end-users. The entire project is divided into small iterations delivered one by one.
According to the 15th Annual State of Agile Report, 66% of companies use Scrum, making it the most popular Agile approach. An additional 15% use derivations of the Scrum methodology like ScrumBan or Scrum/XP. The evidence is clear: Scrum is gaining traction, and the Scrum roles will be significantly in demand over the next few years.
What are the three Scrum Roles, and who is the Scrum Master?
Within a Scrum team, there are three important pillars.
One is the Product Owner. The Product Owner steers the ship of the project. This person is responsible for streamlining the delivery of the features or components. Product Owners or Managers ensure adherence to timelines, maintenance of the conceptual and technical integrity of the product, as well as coordination with various stakeholders to refine the product backlog.
Two, the Scrum Master. This person is the leader of the Scrum operation. Often referred to as the “servant leader,” the Scrum Master ensures that the entire Scrum team is on track to fulfil their iteration goals and deliver/ship the product or features. They do so by catering to the needs of the team members and providing them with everything they need. Simultaneously, they also facilitate meetings, communication, and coordination activities.
Three, the Development team members. These are all the people responsible for the successful development of the product, but they are not limited to coders or engineers. Designers, writers, marketers, analysts, and other excerpts who play any role in shipping out the product to the customers are part of this team.
The Scrum Master is a facilitator for the entire Scrum effort: they lead and support the team members. They have a problem-solving mentality, so they constantly remove any current or potential hurdles in the path to team goals. They are also actively coordinating the efforts of the team and external stakeholders.
This role, thus, involves a significant component of people management. Does that make the Scrum master a people manager? Let’s find out.
Who is a People Manager?
Traditionally, a manager is a hierarchical position in an organisation; the person is in power to command the team members through a work assignment, guidance, and planning. To accomplish this, the manager supervises and motivates employees in their work. Managers make sure that the collective efforts of all the employees contribute to the overall progress of the organisational goals.
A people manager, as such, is more focused on the personal experience of employees. This role provides employees constructive feedback to encourage employees to succeed in their roles and jobs.
Within a Scrum team, the role of the motivator, mentor, and organiser is played by the Scrum Master. So it is easy to see why people management might be considered synonymous with their job function.
Spotlight: Scrum Master as a Manager
A Scrum role does not conflate with an organisational function. What does that mean? When we think of a manager in an organisation, that person is also in charge of employees’ promotions, salaries, incentives, careers, etc. Scrum roles are limited to the Scrum team, so it is important to be clear on the coverage of a Scrum Master’s managerial abilities.
In many instances of Agile management, horizontal management is also rampant. Here the teams manage themselves. So, the development team members will monitor their progress. The product owner will manage the product vision and roadmap. The role of the Scrum master, then, starts where the members’ self-management abilities end. The Scrum master puts all these efforts into a cohesive structure that can help deliver on the product vision.
Role of the Scrum Master as a mini manager
Drawing from the above, it is right to say that a Scrum master manages the scrum team, and that’s the extent to which they can be called people managers. Here are the responsibilities of the Scrum master that make the person a mini-manager for the Scrum Team.
1. Guidance for team members
As a good manager, the Scrum Master is a guiding presence for the team members: this person helps them perform their job functions, makes sure they are well-trained, and mentors them through any challenges they might be facing.
The Scrum master infuses a sense of ownership for the project among the the team members.
2. Host and coordinate meetings
Under Scrum, each sprint features a different set of meetings: the daily scrum or the stand-up meetings work as check-in and update on the progress of the work done, the plan for the day, and any issues. The sprint planning meeting, the sprint review meeting, the sprint retrospective meeting, and the product backlog refinement meeting.
The Scrum master plays a supervisory and facilitatory role in these meetings like any manager.
3. Assist the product owner with the product backlog
A good manager always makes sure that the teams are well-equipped with all the resources they need to achieve their goals. In a Scrum operation, the product owner is in charge of the product backlog, a list of pending tasks for the team. The Scrum Master can make this easier for the product owner by helping them prioritise tasks based on the feedback and information from their meetings and interactions.
The Scrum master is constantly collecting and collating user stories and other information, all of which can be used to refine the product backlog.
4. Remove roadblocks
The Scrum Master is there to make sure things go smoothly for everyone else on the team. This means they are actively looking for issues, roadblocks, and hurdles that might be preventing the team members from doing their best work.
For example, suppose designers on the team are being pulled into other meetings, preventing them from doing deep work on the product's user experience. The Scrum Master can work with the meeting organisers to reschedule or shift the designer’s inputs to an asynchronous mode. Scrum masters can redistribute or rejig how the processes work.
This also helps boost the efficiency of the team members and eliminates wastage of resources.
5. Team and work management functions
The Scrum Master performs an array of functions that involve team management. They manage, first of all, the process. Facilitating meetings and organising team efforts makes them find the most optimal way of working and adapt the current processes to the most optimal options. One of the most important ongoing efforts of the Scrum Master is the optimisation of the workflows. This encompasses all the other functions like removing roadblocks and assisting product owners.
This optimisation can also involve reallocating resources. For example, if a Scrum master observes that an engineer’s skills can be better utilised in a different product feature, they will refocus their role.
Scrum Masters are also responsible for managing the culture and well-being of the team. The Scrum team is like a microcosm of the entire organisation, and Scrum masters are just like managers. Good managers — and Scrum masters — leave some room for learning from mistakes, cross-functional collaboration, and change management.
Effectively, Scrum masters hold it all together. There are so many working parts in any project. We need someone to take care of the juggernaut while letting all team members retain their autonomy in making creative decisions.
A Scrum Master is a manager in a miniature form. This is not a traditional management job role because Scrum masters are barely managing budgets or work tasks. Scrum masters still fulfil several managerial functions like collaboration, leading meetings, team protection, and people engagement.
Therefore, it can be said that a Scrum Master is a manager of the Scrum team and the scrum project who pushes for performance, innovation, and creativity.