Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When did Scrum start loving project managers?

One of the things I’ve always found paradoxical about Scrum (specifically ScrumTM) is its position on management. On the one hand, Scrum is very management friendly - see my Scrum has Three Advantages over XP post. Basically Scrum has done a very good job of marketing itself to managers.

But Scrum is a little like a Monty Python Spring Surprise - “that's our speciality - covered with darkest creamy chocolate. When you pop it in your mouth steel bolts spring out and plunge straight through-both cheeks.”

Hidden inside the tasty Scrum case is a sometimes evangelical dislike of managers, and in particular project managers. Take these excerpts from the Scrum Primer (Deemer and Benefield, some versions have Larman as a co-author too):
  • “The ScrumMaster is not the manager of the team or a project manager; instead, the ScrumMaster serves the team, protects them from outside interference, and educates and guides the Product Owner and the team in the skilful use of Scrum.”
  • “unlike a project manager, the ScrumMaster does not tell people what to do or assign tasks – they facilitate the process, supporting the team as it organizes and manages itself. If the ScrumMaster was previously in a position managing the team, they will need to significantly change their mindset and style of interaction for the team to be successful with Scrum. In the case that an ex-manager transitions to the role of ScrumMaster, it is best to serve a team other than the one that previously reported to the manager, otherwise the social or power dynamics are in potential conflict.”
  • “Note there is no role of project manager in Scrum. Sometimes an (ex-)project manager can step into the role of ScrumMaster, but this has a mixed record of success – there is a
  • fundamental difference between the two roles, both in day-to-day responsibilities and in the mindset required to be successful. ”
Indeed I once sat in on a course entitled “Agile Project Management” by a well known Scrum trainer. In response to the a question from a project manager “What does a project manager do in Scrum?” the answer was “If you have a project manager in Scrum you aren’t doing Scrum.”

Take another example, Bas Vodde’s Nokia Test, the final question asks “are project managers (or anyone else) disrupting the work of the team?” Every time I show that question to a project manager we have to discuss it, project managers don’t generally believe they disrupt the team unreasonably. It certainly looks like Bas doesn’t like Project Managers.

A few years ago when Jeff Sutherland spoke in London I recall him saying there was little future for project manager. Many needed to revert to programming (which they had done before project management), a few would become Scrum Masters, a few Product Owners and a very few could continue being project managers on the largest projects.

Sutherland’s own Scrum Handbook seems pretty clear: “there is no team manager or project manager in Scrum.” (Actually, if you read what else the handbook says about project manager it looks like the text is taken directly from the Scrum Primer, Sutherland seems to feel the same way as Deemer, Benefield and Larman.)

Given all the anti-manager, specifically anti-project manager project manager noise from some in the Scrum camp I found it surprising a couple of months ago when I noticed that Scrum Master Certificate now come with the implicit endorsement of the Project Management Institute.

For example, take Martine Devos’ London Scrum Master Course, it is worth 14 PMI Professional Development units. Jeff Sutherland’s own Scrum Master course boast 16 PDUs (one assume these are PMI units although he doesn’t state so explicitly.)

So, if the PMI are now crediting Scrum Master Courses, and the Scrum folks are making their courses compliant with PMI rules then one assumes that the two are reconciled. Why would a project manager who is intent on being a Scrum Master, and therefore no longer being a project manager, want credits?

Maybe Turkey’s are voting for Christmas. It looks odd for me.

Actually, to be fair to Scrum, the situation is a little more complex than I’ve laid out here. Looking a little bit further into Scrum history we find the following.

Schwaber and Beedle in Agile Software Development with Scrum say “The Scrum Master is a new management role introduced by Scrum” and a little later “The team leader, project leader or project manager often assume the Scrum Master role.” This final statement describes what I have seen happen most often in practices.

In Agile Project Management withScrum Schwaber says “The Scrum Master fills the position normally occupied by the project manager. I’ve taken the liberty of redefining the role.”

One explanation might be that the view of the Project Manager has changed over time. Initially the Scrum originators saw project managers as candidates for filling the Scrum Master role - or at least not the source of problems. As Schwaber almost says: it is the same role filled in a different way.

Later Project Managers, and maybe all managers, came to be seen as a problem, and, most recently as it becomes clear that Project Managers can be Scrum Masters and can be a force for good on a project the position has returned to the original view.

Alternatively it might be there are multiple opinions on how Scrum and the Scrum Master relates to the traditional Project Manager role. It benefits some people, at some times, to claim the Scrum Master is not a Project Manager. And it benefits some people at other times to reconcile the two roles.

One of the advantages of Scrum, specifically ScrumTM, is that is defines what is it, and is not, much more clearly than “Agile”. However with time this picture is becoming muddied.

Finally, this entry is a bit critical of Scrum, I won’t pretend it isn’t, but really, I’d like to understand what is going on here. If anyone can shed some light on the thinking, whether it changed or not, please add a comment.


  1. I think the answers can be found in Jurgen Appelo's excellent book Management 3.0. He says that project manager is a role, and not an authority. The change in the view about project management, and the leadership at all (the managers become servant leaders) is the reason of this shift in scrum views as well.

  2. Did the thinking of the Scrum people change? I hope not. But hopefully the thinking of the PMI people did change over time. When I read the PMBoK once, I got the impression that project management, as seen by the PMI, is pretty much about processes and tools. That the PMI is now giving points to Scrum Master trainings might be an indication, that they're finally realizing that there is much more to successful project management (i.e. the psychological 'individuals and interaction' thing) and that even a traditionally managed team could benefit from agile values.

    About that comparing Scrum Masters/Project Managerst thing. Both roles have a lot of similar responsibilities and it is therefore only natural to compare them. However, the way these responsibilities are fulfilled should be very different so naming these two roles differently and pointing out that a Scrum Master is not a project manager is a good psychological trick to point out, that you can't just continue your PMI/project manager thig plus standups and iterations to be a Scrum Master, but you have to change your way of thinking. Even if in the long run a lot of things will end up being very similar.

  3. Thanks for the comment Kim, I'm sure the PMI's thinking has changed over time. What would be interest to see is a summary of what it was, how it has changed and where it has not. I for one would find that very interesting.

  4. As a former project manager, release manager, and sometime-scrum master, I've always felt that the anti-project manager sentiment in Scrum was directed at the personality traits common to many who fall into the PMI-style project manager role. That is, many PMP's tend to be technically naive, overly-process-driven control freaks. Scrum aside, this makes them hard to work with -- but it clashes directly with the traits of a good scrum master.

    I hope this interplay signals a wake-up from the PMI, and they can do more to produce project managers who respect the teams they work with and collaborate on solutions.

  5. Most developers can understand issues from more than one perspective (other than their own) if given a chance. However most managers/PMs don't communicate about external issues sufficiently well enough to have a discussion with understanding. They often contribute to dysfunction via short term, knee jerk steps.

  6. Nice information. PMP study corroborated with similar studies on the improved communication between the development of greater leadership quality awareness and stakeholders, with formal training courses helping attendees understand the material discussed in team and stakeholder meetings. Many respondents viewed professional certification & its free resources like as a necessary part of progression in this field by equipping project managers with an in-depth knowledge of a successful project’s attributes.

  7. I agree with pretty much everything you say here. To deliver the greatest amount of value in the shortest amount of time, Scrum promotes prioritization and Time-boxing over fixing the scope, cost and schedule of a project. An important feature of Scrum is self-organization, which allows the individuals who are actually doing the work to estimate and take ownership of tasks.You can learn the agile way of managing project through


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