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I am studying the Scrum framework and I am trying to be ready for the Scrum Master certification.

I think that I understand the role of the Scrum Master but there is a question that seems to pop up often and for which I found incompatible answers.

Is Scrum Master a "management" position?

Many people have published on the Internet the results of the Scrum certification test where the correct answer to this question seems to be "Yes" with the following explanation:

The Scrum Master manages the Scrum process. If the Scrum Master is not a management position, he or she may not have the influence to remove impediments. The Scrum Master does not manage the team.

I would have answered "No" because the Scrum Master is a facilitator and not necessarily the person in charge of the changes. I am not saying that the Scrum Master MUST not be a manager because I understand that the only constraint is that he/she is not a line manager for the members of the development team. I only do not understand why it is necessary that he/she is a "manager".

I also found the following article that confirms what I thought: Age-of-Product-38-Scrum-Master-Interview-Questions

I would like to know what is the correct answer and what are we supposed to answer in a certification test.

  • 4
    That article you linked is generally pretty good, but does promote one horrible idea: "an increasing team velocity" as an indicator of success. Velocity is a tool for planning, not a performance indicator. IMO cycle time is a healthier high-level measure of process improvement. – yitznewton Aug 13 '17 at 1:28
  • The Scrum Guide has the correct answers. Though many sites, certification issuers, and organizations fail to utilize it. – Alan Larimer Oct 3 '17 at 18:24
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TL;DR

Is the Scrum Master a "manager" in the traditional business sense of the term? No. However, the Scrum Master does in fact "manage" a number of things within the Scrum Framework.

Once you realize the original question is a definitional one, you are forced to accept that the vagaries of both the English language and the test-development process can heavily influence the "correct" answer to a test. What's considered correct is solely determined by the answer that the test's authors expect you to give. Truth or real-world congruence have nothing at all to do with the correctness (for scoring purposes) of the test.

As you will discover below, while the Scrum Master role is not meant to be managerial, the role is designed to manage certain things. Those in a role that manage are managers. QED.

Analysis

Caveats on Test Design

Test design is largely outside the scope of PMSE, but it's worth noting that most certification tests are normed. Regardless of how they come up with the question, the "correct" answer is the one where an acceptable percentage of test-question beta testers answer the question the way the test writers expect them to.

Trying to parse questions like this for canonically-true answers is largely a fool's errand. However, it is occasionally useful to try and understand what the test writers were fishing for even if the answer isn't "true" in a real-world sense. This means that 100% of the conversation is really about how other test takers likely interpreted the question, rather than what the test designers actually thought. There's no way to really know the latter, so it's purely speculative.

What Other People Think

You say that a lot of test takers believe the following:

The Scrum Master manages the Scrum process. If the Scrum Master is not a management position, he or she may not have the influence to remove impediments. The Scrum Master does not manage the team.

These individual statements are all true, so far as they go. Let's take this a piece at a time in the following sections.

Managing the Scrum Process

The Scrum Master manages the Scrum process.

This is mostly true, once you realize that the primary definition of manage is:

be in charge of (a company, establishment, or undertaking); administer; run.

So yes, the Scrum Master is generally considered by many organizations as in charge of the Scrum process, and therefore (by extension) the project. This is certainly arguable, but it is most definitely common. What is less arguable is that the Scrum Master is a process coach or referee, which means that the Scrum Master administers or runs the process.

Remember the caveats: you can debate the definitions if you want, or hair split to your heart's content, but the normed questions are what constitutes a "correct" answer on most certification exams.

Handling Impediments

If the Scrum Master is not a management position, he or she may not have the influence to remove impediments.

This is also true. Ask any process owner whether they are more successful in removing impediments through influence or direct/delegated authority, and you will almost always be told that the latter is more effective. Scrum is really no different.

The dictionary provides the following secondary definition of manage:

succeed in dealing with or withstanding (something).

In order to effectively clear impediments, a Scrum Master must have sufficient influence or authority within the organization to effect change, obtain resources, or otherwise affect the source of (or solution to) the impediment.

There's an old aphorism that says "Those who can, do. Those who can't, manage." In most organizations, if you're not a doer you are (almost by definition) a manager or executive, and I don't know anyone who thinks of the Scrum Master role as an executive organizational role.

All people are really saying is that a Scrum Master who is perceived by the organization as being invested with delegated authority to "succeed in dealing with" a project's impediments is going to be more successful in clearing those impediments than someone who is perceived as holding a purely advisory role.

Teams are Self-Managing

The Scrum Master does not manage the team.

In this case, the sentence is likely using the term "manage" in the more formal sense of authority. The Scrum Master has no formal authority over team members, and so does not manage them in the traditional organizational sense of the term.

The role of the Scrum Master is clearly spelled out in the Scrum Guide. The Scrum Team is self-organizing, but the Scrum Master is responsible for (e.g. manages) the Scrum process and enforcing adherence to Scrum's theory, practice, and rules.

The quote about not being in charge of the team is a restatement of an implicit statement about the role of a "servant-leader" within Scrum. The Scrum Master is not in charge of the people on the team, but is responsible for adherence to the Scrum framework.

This is why I generally say that the Scrum Master is a process referee. In football, the referee doesn't manage the teams; the referee enforces the rules of the game. It's the same with Scrum, although Scrum Masters are usually asked to coach and evangelize too, rather than simply blowing the whistle or calling fouls.

Summary

The Scrum Master role is not managerial, but it is arguably a "manager" role. So, the accepted answer may be technically (or at least arguably) correct, but it is still wrong in a broader sense if Scrum is being implemented properly.

It's a poor-quality question. Some exams allow you to dispute such questions, or to defend alternative answers. Assuming this isn't one of those exams, just accept it as a poor-quality question and move on with your life.

The real-world answer is that the Scrum Master should be a:

  • servant-leader,
  • process referee, and
  • framework coach

but is often a traditional project manager or other middle-management resource who is simply flying the agile flag. When that happens, the question of whether the Scrum Master is a manager has more to do with the implementation than the framework.

When one assumes the only two choices are "task performer" or "manager," the Scrum Master's role is likely to be misattributed. The whole point of agile frameworks like Scrum is to help people think outside that very small box...if they can 👉manage it.

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Part of the problem is that "management" is vague. Does it imply formal authority? A reporting relationship? Someone who is responsible for the development of others? Responsible for the success of an organization, of projects? Responsible for processes?

I would say that the work of a Scrum Master is one of "meta-work," i.e. someone who does work that makes the primary work of the team better. It is also a role on a team, and doesn't necessarily translate into a job title. Managers and non-managers equally could fill the role, although the Scrum Master role itself does not involve formal authority.

I've taken CSM and PSM II, and while I can't swear to it, I don't think the question of whether a Scrum Master is a manager ever comes up in those curricula.

  • I agree and ill add that if you break down a traditional project manager's responsibilities, Scrum Master actually ends up taking on less than the PO or even the dev team. SM does do a range of new things though. I will stick with that it's NOT a management position. – Muhammad Aug 13 '17 at 5:17
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In many schools of thought and even textbooks, the term Manager is synonymous with responsibility in a professional setting.

Responsibility can be abstracted to something as macro as an individual tasked with providing some output with their skills and influence.

A scrum master is broadly responsible for using their skill and influence to bring out the best out in their team, hence they are a manager.

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If formal definitions are contradictory then I'd fall back on the Duck Test.

So does a Scrum Master discipline or sack someone if they break company rules? Do they make recruitment decisions? Do they have a budget that needs to be negotiated with the directors or finance people? Do people completely refer to the Scrum Master for all their daily work requirements?

In short do they completely manage people or budgets? If they don't then they don't quack like a manager.

EDIT If you want to use traditional management terminology, a Scrum Master is a supervisor rather than a manager.

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The Scrum Master has no authority over the team and the individuals in the team, just like one team member has no authority over another team member. The Scrum Master faces management as part of the team and is therefore at the same level as everyone in the team.

The word 'manage' does not appear in the Scrum guide along with the Scrum Master and it is therefore incorrect to describe the Scrum Master as a manager of people or processes. The only managing that happens, is the team self-managing.

As per the Scrum guide:

The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting and supporting Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters do this by helping everyone understand Scrum theory, practices, rules, and values. The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team.

The Scrum Master serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.
  • As much as I fully agree with this answer, you'll still lose points on your SM assessment if you answer this. – Erik Dec 10 '18 at 14:20
  • @Erik is this a Scrum.org course? – user32613 Dec 10 '18 at 14:29
  • It's one of the questions in the PSM I certification. – Erik Dec 10 '18 at 14:39
  • @erik what is the question and what is the accepted answer? – user32613 Dec 10 '18 at 14:44

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