Scrum Master as People Manager

At the beginning of my career as a Scrum Master I transitioned, as many others, from a Project Manager position.  This is the kind of role where you “own” a team.

You are not part of the team, you “manage” the team: performance reviews, career development, vacations, salary adjustments, all this kind of things.

From one day to another, you have an agile team. Roles are supposed to be functional; titles don’t matter here, right?

Well, I can’t complain about that transition. In my case it worked very smoothly. Remember, we are not dealing with “teams” but with “people”. And the people in that team, they really knew how things should work. They just rocked the stage there.

I didn’t know I was committing a sin.

After some time (and some books) I realised that a lot of authors defend their ideas of not mixing a people manager with any other role in an agile team. Being a position where you have more “power” than the other team members is bad. It’s not the way this works. Creates problems. That’s what I got from those books.

So be it. I won’t do that any more.

I guess you know how we, Scrum Masters, react to this kind of things, even more when you are a Scrum Master apprentice. Let’s protect the team; I won’t be people manager in my team anymore. You believe that this is the right way and you fight tooth and nail to hold on your new idea.

Now let’s add a few more years of experience and some more companies. Sometimes in teams being people manager (Oh, yes, I did it again) and sometimes not having directs at all.

Once again, all comes back to the same point. Work on your values. People matters. You are the only one that knows how to manage your responsibilities. If you are in a company where bureaucracy leads you to be the Scrum Master AND the people manager for your team, deal with it. Apply your knowledge as a servant leader and don’t let yourself fall back into the “bossy” attitude. Be fair and apply judgement.

I’m sure there is a hundred things where you can help your team improve without spending your valuable time fighting against this specific topic. Learn how to use it in your advantage. These are the main ones I can identify:

  • Part of your duties as a Scrum Master (and people manager) is to help individuals to grow inside the team, for the sake of the team. As a people manager you are in the right place to make it happen.
  • Dealing with one on ones and individual coaching is another place where this duality can be used in your advantage. You coach your team members and guide them to succeed. Being also their people manager can improve the situation, as you are closer to the place where decisions are made.

The moral of this story is:

  • I don’t recommend having a Scrum Master as people manager. As any source of power, in the wrong hands can create wrong behaviours.
  • If there is no other option, embrace it and use it in your advantage. Not because of the power that comes with the title but because removing some kind of impediments can be easier.

What’s your take on this topic? Any other advantages/drawbacks?

Related articles

  • Posts
Management People Scrum

Trust as a requirement

  • Posts
Management People Scrum

A very energetic summer

  • Posts
Management People Scrum

Working environment for developers