Agile Development Teams Need Managers Too!

Agile Development Teams Need Managers Too!Mike Cottmeyer recently wrote an interesting article about whether or not managers can lead agile teams?

Organisations do need managers, for a wide variety of reasons. And let’s face it, the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master are management roles.

They may not be management roles in the traditional sense, but management roles they are.

The Product Owner is there to manage stakeholders, manage incoming requests and prioritise work for the team. This is management.

The Scrum Master is there to deal with any issues that are impeding the team’s progress, facilitate communication, orchestrate the process, etc. This is also management.

What Scrum has effectively done is to split the traditional management role into two, one with a focus on aligning the team’s activities with the goals of the business; the other with a focus on the internal organisation of the team.

The aspects of management these roles don’t explicitly address are duties relating to line management, for example:

  • Reporting up the line
  • Setting budgets and managing finances
  • Managing the performance of individuals in the team
  • Developing people’s careers
  • Ensuring compliance with important company policies or regulations
  • Setting out a clear vision and strategy for the future
  • Understanding the wider organisational context and identifying opportunities and constraints
  • ‘Selling’ the team’s achievements and goals within the wider organisation
  • Raising funds for projects
  • Signing off and managing holidays, sickness, expenses, invoices, etc – i.e. the administrative side of management
  • Deciding on the most appropriate organisational structure
  • Hiring and firing

And I’m sure there are many others!

So I guess one possibility is that the traditional management role was always too big for some people. To fulfil all of these responsibilities, and those of the Scrum Master, and those of the Product Owner, and by the way to be the assigned leader. Management, done right, is a big deal and it’s why anyone who has tried it knows it’s not easy.

Scrum alleviates this challenge by splitting the management role, spreading the responsibilities and making the challenge of management more achievable.

The Product Owner can worry about what we should be doing. The Scrum Master can worry about the internal process and making sure issues are being addressed. And line managers can worry about all the other stuff!

Having said that, a key principle of agile methods is that agile teams must be empowered.

Agile methods advocate the idea of self-organising teams. In a way that’s quite funny, because the responsibilities of the Scrum Master and Product Owner mean that in many ways Scrum teams are far from self-organising!

Nevertheless, the idea is that whilst the process may be somewhat prescribed by Scrum and managed by the Scrum Master, the team will make most decisions about how things should be done for themselves, and will pick their tasks rather than having them allocated by a manager. In any case, self-organisation is not boundaryless!

Regardless of all this, like any other teams, agile teams still need leadership. Leadership sometimes comes from one of these management roles, as managers often end up as managers because they have some level of leadership skills. Sadly, sometimes they don’t! Other times leadership comes from within the team, which is equally good and in my opinion should be encouraged.

Leaders can be appointed (e.g. line managers, Scrum Master, Product Owner), or they can be emergent leaders that emerge naturally because of their skills, expertise or personality, rather than because they’ve been formally assigned a leadership role.

Wherever it comes from, leadership is probably the difference between good teams and great teams! Inspirational leadership can transform a team’s energy, and therefore their ability to overcome obstacles, strive for bigger goals, and bond as a team. Here are 20 qualities of an inspirational leader that ideally ought to be present in every team…


Photo by Scarleth White

4 Responses to “Agile Development Teams Need Managers Too!”

  1. Robert Dempsey says:

    Great post Kelly. Both the Scrum Master and Product Owner roles are indeed management roles. I believe that the Product Owner could take over a number of other duties that you mention in your bullets, or work with another line manager to achieve them.

    One bone I will pick though is when you say this, "Managing the performance of individuals in the team." Measuring individual performance for me is contrary to Agile, and the focus on teams. If you align incentives with the individuals, they will act as individuals. However, if you incentivise the team, they will work as a team. Misaligned incentives I have found can cause a negative effect. We want everyone to work together.

  2. Kelly Waters says:

    Hi Robert.

    Thanks as always for your constructive feedback…

    I would definitely agree with your point about incentives. If there are incentives, they should ideally be for the team rather than for individuals.

    About the Product Owner or Scrum Master absorbing line management duties, I agree. But these line management responsibilities are not explicitly addressed in the definition of these roles in Scrum, and it may not be appropriate for these roles to be combined in all cases.

    If a line manager is also fulfilling the role of PO or SM, that's fine, you don't necessarily need an extra person, but the line manager is still needed even if they do assume the role of PO or SM as well.

    Re my comment about the performance management of individuals, I should clariy what I mean. As humans, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Even I do :-) I see it as a line managers responsibility to try to improve every individual's performance. Hopefully with feedback, guidance, maybe training and coaching, a manager can make good people great. Naturally not all managers are good coaches, but this is certainly a responsibility of a line manager in my opinion.

    It's also true that sometimes you have poor performers, with or without incentives. Some people just don't have the right skills, are slow or produce poor quality, or maybe don't have the right attitude. Someone (in my view the line manager) has to take responsibility for trying to turn this situation around, for the benefit of the team. And I don't think this can be put down as an impediment and dealt with by the Scrum Master unless they also do happen to have line management responsibility.

    If all else fails, someone has to take responsibility for managing this person's exit. In the UK there are specific employment laws about how this should be handled, to make sure that people are treated fairly. A line manager needs to take this responsibility and this is not something a team can do with self-organisation.


  3. John Sutcliffe says:

    Wonderful post. Management and Scrum is ongoing discussion we're having at my employer (IBM). Managers get uncomfortable when Scrum is introduced because they view it as their team no longer needing them!

    Here is something I wrote several months ago on this issue, I'd be very curious about your thoughts. I very much like your list breaking out those 'other' management duties (out side of Scrum). Balancing that with being a full time Scrum Master is a huge struggle.

    I'm going to toss in a track back from my post to this one.

  4. Doug says:

    Performance review systems is a very difficult thing to discuss. There is NO simple answer. You will not find a system that only measures the team or individual.

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