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The Scrum Master was created to confront traditional management processes which lead to waste; of time, of effort, of people’s lives. Designed originally as a servant leader, the Scrum Master was supposed to protect and support the framework of Scrum and inspire collaboration, creativity and engagement, and given the wondrous task of and infusing the organisation with values like courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness. A role truly different to any traditional management role, aimed to challenge the individual and the organisation itself.

Over time, traditional corporate culture has undermined, crippled and even enslaved the Scrum Master role, force fitting it into the old management paradigm. Scrum Masters are now thought of as junior project managers or delivery managers responsible for little more than setting up meetings, collecting meaningless metrics and filing status reports.

So the question is ... How do you stand up to the pressures of old school hierarchical management organisations? Or should we just work for startups and small companies?

  • @sarov ... Dude, did you just correct my spelling & punctuation? As a European organization is spelt organisation, and hence correcting it to a “Z” could be considered rude. Also I get to choose a comma or a semi colon as I see fit. The comma was perfectly appropriate as used. Please don’t do this again … I know how to press F7 to invoke spelling and grammar checking. Fuming – Andy L Sep 21 '17 at 7:32
  • OK ... I'll give you the Semi Colon. – Andy L Sep 21 '17 at 7:40
  • Sorry, I was unaware of the European spelling. Or that "different to" is used in Europe. The more you know. – Sarov Sep 21 '17 at 14:37
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The question talks about 2 distinct ideas:

Leadership: "Designed originally as a servant leader, the Scrum Master was supposed to protect and support the framework of Scrum and inspire collaboration, creativity and engagement, and given the wondrous task of and infusing the organisation with the value like courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness."

and

Management: "...different to any traditional management role..."

Your organisation will require you to perform management tasks - they will be prescribed from above and where they don't interfere with day-today delivery it's your job to shield your team from them.

If they are imposing management activity that slows down and upsets the team then you have 3 roles:

  • Leader (facing your team) - Minimise bitching, improve morale and team spirit (biscuits help) and keep everyone focused on delivery.
  • Manager - Perform the unwanted tasks, it's what you're paid for.
  • Leader (facing upwards) - Commit to continuous improvement by feeding back (without whining) what is working and what is hindering the team. You'll find that those trying enforce 'traditional' styles of management either:
  • Don't realise the impact they're having on the delivery teams
  • Don't know any other way of working
  • Don't care

In the first 2 cases, your feedback might help to change things. In the 3rd case you might want to consider moving on.

You can still be an effective leader, even if the management part of the role is a turn-off.


"How to be a Scrum Master in..." I am a certified (and experienced) Scrum Master BUT I also have a few years of DSDM experience, lots of PRINCE2 flavoured waterfall experience and some completely unstructured "do-your-own-thing" work in the past.
My point? Regardless of the role title (Scrum Master, IT PM, Agile PM, Change Manager etc), the actual role will be different wherever you go based on the influence of senior leaders, type of industry (Finance vs Gaming vs Military etc), company culture, the other PMs in the wider team and , crucially, which 'consultants' have been allowed in to preach their personal version of the truth.

So names aside we are essentially the person coordinating and facilitating the delivery of something.

  • Be flexible to the needs of the organisation.
  • Work out what will allow the team to deliver most efficiently.
    • Where these things are within your control - change them.
    • Where these things are NOT within your control - try to influence others to change them [with facts and logic, not "But SCRUM says..."].
  • Don't be a fundamentalist. "That's not Agile", "We don't do that in SCRUM" just make people sound like their knowledge ends with their CSM training.

It really comes down to what culture suits you.

If you enjoy the fast paced hard drinking culture of start-ups/tech companies, look for jobs there. If you prefer the politics and breadth of career possibilities at a corporate, look for jobs there and accept that these companies will generally be more resistant to change, slower to react and more risk averse (governance red-tape three times a day).

The key with corporates is understanding your own limits.

If being held up by more complex governance, slower decision making and having less flexibility in how you deliver is going to drive you insane - walk away now. If you can cope with these things and present back fact based arguments about why they should change you stand a chance.

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In order for Scrum to work in a larger organizational context, there either needs to be hands-off management from outside, or (preferably) middle and upper management that actively wants to support Scrum adoption. That probably requires those managers to understand the problems Scrum is designed to solve, and how those problems manifest in their organization.

Without a knowledgable management sponsor, Scrum or any other initiative will (at best) quietly fail, or (more likely) add yet another layer of political and process dysfunction.

So in summation: agile adoption requires agile management. Here is more on agile management from the LeSS people.

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