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Can Project managers perform Scrum master Role?

Updated: Mar 11, 2022


Given the time constraints, Organisations often go for a mass on-boarding of the IT Contract Resources in many big IT Transformation Programmes. During this on-boarding process there is a fair chance that many of those who are sold as Scrum Masters were not actually performing Scrum Master Role earlier but were doing some other middle management roles. This happens because of the fact that the role of Scrum master is perceived as a role similar to that of a Civil Engineer.

Since we see Masons who construct concrete house, many a times preparing the house layout thereby eliminating the need to pay an expensive Civil Engineer, we tend to think that Masons are no less than Civil Engineers and they can replace a Civil Engineer. But, actually it is not true always.

Similarly, there is a tendency among the IT professionals that anyone who has worked in IT for a decent period of time and has gone through 2 days of Agile training can perform the role of Scrum masters. It may be true in some instances but is not always the case. It is because the Scrum Master possesses a different mind-set to those that of other middle manager roles.

"Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and start being excited of what could go right." – Tony Robbins

This is the attitude an Agile team is expected to possess but what if those who were sold as Scrums masters perform with the same mind-set as that of Project managers, Account managers, Relationship managers etc.? This paper explores the impact of the same on the Agile projects.

Risk Averse Managers:

Scrum Masters/Scrum team typically take risk. They tend to possess the “fail fast fail often” mind-set. By saying what I mean is that Scrum masters are agile and respond quickly to any failures. On contrary, the Project Managers tend to foresee the potential risk and spend time in mitigating most of the risks. This is because of the fact that issues are often seen as the inability of the project managers to identify the Risks early in the SDLC* project life cycle.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” - Nelson Mandela

There are always challenges on projects; people are human and make mistakes, and everything is not always going to go well. What is most important is how the team members including the scrum masters deal with these situations. So unless there is a change in the mind-set, the so called Scrum master cannot encourage the “fail fast fail often” mind-set in the team.

Sign off mentality:

Project Managers/Account Managers often wait for the Sign off to start the work or even if the project starts they don’t take ownership of any interim shippable deliverable. This happens even if the team wants to aim for an interim delivery by the end the sprint. This is because of the Sign off mentality due to their past experience. On contrary, Scrum team starts the work with whatever available information and aims to complete a shippable product by the end of the sprint. Hence, someone with a Sign off mind-set will not let the team progress.

Hierarchical mind-set:

In a typical SDLC project, there are designated development managers, technical leads etc. Each one has a designated work as defined by the project governance. The problem with this approach is that there is only a defined set of deliverables from each designated team member. This approach does not encourage out of the box thinking. The developers will have to follow the approach the Tech leads define in the project. Expectation is dependent on the work experience. Less the experience less the work output.

But in reality the junior developers have lots of energy, have the out of the box thinking and they may come up with brilliant ideas. But all of this is being killed by the hierarchical approach. This will lead to a situation where in developers will have to get the code reviewed by the tech lead before it is moved to testing, the Business Analysts writing the User stories without discussing with the team, the testers writing the test cases and executing the test scripts in silos etc.

Besides, someone with the Hierarchical mind-set will try to estimate the stories using an estimation template and assign the work to the developers based on the complexity of the stories and experience of the developers thereby breaking the very fabric of the Self Organised Agile team structure.

Cultural change:

In Agile projects the team is supposed to be self-organised and the leads will evolve based on ones contribution to the project and ability to respond quickly to the failures. Unlike the conventional SDLC Project Managers, the Scrum master is part of the team and works with all of them regardless of their designation. This is a cultural change and unless and until one is prepared to change, one cannot perform the Scrum master role and will struggle to work with the team members.

High level plan:

Those who perform the role of the Scrum masters & other scrum roles based on 2 days Agile training tend to think that the Agile projects don’t have a High level dates for the overall project scope. This leads to having no high level dates and no commitment to meet the same. This is dangerous and the Scrum master will want to run the show in an SDLC mode if asked to provide a high-level commitment.

Continuous learning attitude:

"Think about your intelligence, talents and personality. Are they just fixed or can you develop them?" - Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D- Stanford University psychologist

Agile is about learning and adapting. The goal should be to gain as much information possible in order to deliver a quality product. This is not just applicable to the team members but to the Scrum Master as well. A person with an inquisitive mind asks questions to help the team gain a common understanding of user stories. Testing becomes the responsibility of the whole agile team, so everyone needs to be eager to gain knowledge about the product in order to improve quality. A scrum master has to possess the learning attitude not just be working as a planning and tracking manager.

Conclusion:

The purpose of this article is not conclude which one is better? SDLC or Agile. but to bring out the potential impacts of having an agile team and a Scrum master without an agile mind-set. Among all the scrum masters on-boarded in a big IT programme even if one or couple of them don’t have the agile mind-set, it may impact other teams functioning. It is therefore imperative to identify in the early stages of the programme life cycle and correct so that the entire programme is run in an agile manner all throughout the lifecycle.

# Opinions are from a personal experience standpoint and in no way reflect the views of my current or past employers or clients or vendors. Image used was taken from a free source on the Public Internet.

I Hope you enjoyed reading this. Please share your thoughts as comments. Please tag me if you forward this for relevance.

Abbreviations:

*SDCL- Software Development Life Cycle. Waterfall model.

References:

#AgileMindset#ScrumMaster#ITProjectManager#FailfastFailOften#CulturalChange

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