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I am about to become a Scrum Master in one of two teams in a small software company. This is completely new for us.

What bothers me is that our current manager will become the Product Owner and although I try I can't extract from him how his current responsibilities will translate to his new role. Although he is all behind this change, I gather that he is going to continue being "in charge".

First off, he convinced the execs to purchase Jira and expects complete and immediate sync with the Scrum board. I pointed out to him that we will probably have enough on our plates at least at the start, but he seems innegotiable. There are other points as well, e.g. he insists we use "planning poker" over anything else, etc.

So to put it in a more general question: How does one deal with this sort of situation? WHO gets to deal with it? Where did "escalation" go? Is it still there, do I simply escalate to someone else? Do I argue with the guy, who is still my boss?

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Although he is all behind this change, I gather that he is going to continue being "in charge".

Well, the Product Owner is technically "in charge", but only when it comes to decide what needs to be done, not how. The PO is the ultimate responsible for the delivery of the product, the "single throat to choke", but that doesn't equate to them making all decisions, especially when it comes to process.

As @Dominik correctly pointed out earlier, your role as Scrum Master includes making sure all team members (including the PO) stay within their role boundaries. The problem, of course, is that he's your boss.

So, how's your relation with him? How much "trust reservoir" have you accumulated so far, so that you can use it to (gently) push back?

Managers in that situation may feel they will loose control of the team, and with that the ability to deliver. You could have a conversation to reassure him that he's not loosing control, but just exercising it from a different angle: rather that making decisions on how the team will do their tasks, he's still in control of what pieces of work get done and in which order.

He also may be making those decisions simply because he is just used to make them in the past. Maybe the solution is as simply as having a conversation showing that the team (with your help as SM) is willing to take care of those aspects of management.

But in more general terms, and going back to your question of "How does one deal with this sort of situation?", the answer is that you're moving into the territory of "crucial conversations" and "principled negotiation", and there's no simple solution for this. However, if you decide to move to the Scrum Master career path, you'll have to get familiar with that sort of "soft skill" topics.

This involves watching for the safety of the conversation ("he's my boss, can I say this?"), moving the conversation from position ("we need to use Jira") to principle ("we need to track our work"), seeking common ground and understanding of problems, etc.

At the end of the day, the Scrum Master and the Product Owner need to work as peers, and that's the problem you're facing, so the solution is not about a technique, special procedure or escalation mechanism, but about building that relationship.

  • Thank you for this answer, I will try and improve my negotiation skills. – Karol Trojanowski May 19 '14 at 10:59
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I see that he does not fully understand the scrum. If it’s possible send manager to product owner training. Or, you can try work with new product owner from business (not IT manager) and transform your current manager to line manager.

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My recommendation is to refer to the Scrum Guide any time there's a disagreement. If you read it carefully, it clearly explains all the details of Scrum.

Regarding your questions:

  1. Product Owner's responsibilities are clearly defined in Scrum Guide. Remember, your role as a Scrum Master is to make him aware of his responsibilities and at some points tell him to back off and let the team self-organize
  2. Jira Agile works well with Scrum. Why not make a task to configure Jira, estimate it and assign to the first sprint? Usually the first sprint provides very small business value, as there're lots of configuration and setup tasks.
  3. The Guide says:

    The Development Team is responsible for all estimates.

    So in my opinion the Team chooses a way of estimating tasks. PO just needs to know the estimates.

  4. Escalation - the power of Scrum lies in its simplicity. It's easy to find arguments on the web to support various Scrum concepts. So first try to prepare and talk with your manager. If that doesn't work, you may try to escalate, provided that someone on a higher level supports Scrum ;)

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