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A colleague of mine is a working manager on a software development team. The scrum master has uninvited him permanently from the retrospectives. (So far for 3 sprints running.)

From my Scrum experience and training, this appears to be bad practice. All team members are supposed to be invited to the retrospectives.

Perhaps, occasionally the managers could be left out to allow employees who are "afraid" to talk... But that should be only every once in while? But what if team members are "afraid" to talk in front of the scrum master? This quickly degenerates...

In regards to this particular team, I know of no prior dysfunction to warrant the manager never being invited. The team has practiced scrum for years.

The scrum master is fairly new so perhaps that had something to do with it?

Rather confused and concerned about this as this goes counter to my training and experience with scrum that I've practiced for years.

Really need your collective advice!

Update: this manager is a working manager who actually codes and completes tickets in the team's sprint. I'd guess at least 50% of his time is doing that.

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    Does the manager code and complete tickets as part of the development team in the sprint, or does he do that work outside the team? – combinatorics Apr 23 at 14:29
  • He codes and completes tickets as part of the team. It's customary in our corporate culture to have working managers. This way they walk in the boots of the soldiers as well... – Chris Apr 23 at 15:36
  • Does the manager participate in other ceremonies like planning, daily scrum, and sprint review? – Jason Goemaat Apr 24 at 1:49
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    Does the manager actually make a commitment to the team and to the scrum processes? I have been around "they walk in the boots of the soldiers as well" before & often what it actually does is force the soldiers to divert effort to give the general a nice time at playing soldier, while making sure they do not say anything to land them all in the doo doo. It seems that there is some major trust & communication problems and the manager is not noticing them. Is the manager sure everything is fine? Did anything chance once he was out? Did they ask the SM to explain? – TafT Apr 24 at 12:58
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    The underlying concern I have is that the scrum master has that level of power. They should be a facilitator, not a dictator. If a scrum master tried to pull that on me as a manager, I'd plainly state that he could request that with good reason, but not enforce it of his own accord. I'd then sit down with him, find out what that reason was, and make my own mind up as to whether I excluded myself from those meetings. If I did, it would almost certainly be on a temporary basis only. – Michael Berry Apr 25 at 18:38
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This is a tough situation.

Since the manager does work with the team on the delivery of product Increments, the manager is a member of the Development Team. Because of this, the manager should be a participant in all of the Scrum Events, including the Sprint Retrospective. Because of this, the Scrum Master should not uninvite the manager from any Sprint Retrospective.

According to Scrum, the Development Team is self-organizing and recognizes no titles for Development Team members. The fact that the individual plays the role of a manager in the broader organization and holds the responsibilities of that role doesn't mean that they can't also satisfy the role of Development Team member.

I would encourage the Scrum Master to watch for anti-patterns. Is the presence of a manager on a Development Team presenting any problems with self-organization and continuous improvement? If so, then that may be a discussion on how to establish the organization to support agile methods and Scrum. Part of the Scrum Master role is to coach the whole organization on agile and Scrum.

For now, my recommendation would be to ensure that the whole Development Team, including the manager, is present at all of the necessary Scrum Events. If someone on the Scrum Team feels that there is a problem and that the manager being on the team or in the retros is preventing self-organization or free and open communication, then that team member should raise it (possibly in private) and the Scrum Master should take on the responsibility of removing that impediment and coaching the organization.

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    "Development Team is self-organizing and recognizes no titles for Development Team members" - yes. That is what it says, but it unfortunately is false statement. – paulj Apr 24 at 19:26
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    @paulj What do you mean by "it unfortunately is false statement"? It's not a false statement, if your organization is truly embracing the ideals of Scrum. Agile methods, and Scrum in particular, often require changing how organizations are structured in order to be effective. Changing the names of your roles and meetings without fundamental, structural change often doesn't lead to improvement. – Thomas Owens Apr 24 at 19:29
  • How about removing the manage from the Development Team and giving his responsibilities (role) in that regard to someone else? – Mast Apr 26 at 9:50
  • @Mast That is what I propose in the third paragraph. I don't think you would necessarily want to give his managerial responsibilities to someone else, but you could either do with one less person (he's only giving ~50% of his capacity as a Development Team member, so not a huge loss) or replace him with someone dedicated to the Development Team member role. – Thomas Owens Apr 26 at 10:13
  • "ensure that the whole Development Team, including the manager, is present at all of the necessary Scrum Events" Omg this - uninviting people is a great way to put up exactly the kinds of silos Scrum should be breaking down. It's one thing to throw out the baby with the bathwater, it's another for a nurse in a maternity ward to do it. – corsiKa Apr 26 at 19:01
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There are two things to comment on here:

  • Can the Scrum Master exclude somebody from a Scrum ceremony?
  • Should the Scrum Master exclude somebody from a Scrum ceremony?

On the first question, a Scrum Master cannot choose of their own accord to exclude a team member (even if they are part time) from any ceremony. However, they could ask for somebody to be excluded if the team has instructed them to do so.

The Scrum Master is a servant leader for the team. They advise the team and offer facilitation, they do not make decisions on behalf of the team.

On the second question, any decision about changes to working practices are best discussed by the whole team. In this situation that would include the manager.

I can imagine two ways that conversation might proceed:

"Mr Manager, the team has some issues which may be as a result of your participation in retrospectives. We would like to take this opportunity to discuss them and come up with a working solution that is acceptable for everyone."

Or it may be something like this:

"Mr Manager, the team has reached a consensus that the retrospective would be more effective if you were not present. We understand that as our boss you can overrule that decision, but we would like you to understand our decision and why we think it would be better for everyone."

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  • The most important element here being that "conversation occurs." These two people badly need to talk – probably, in private. And, both parties also need to listen. – Mike Robinson Apr 27 at 13:44
  • I agree the conversation is the most important element, but I don't think it should be in private. I think conversations like this are better had with the whole team present. – Barnaby Golden Apr 27 at 16:56
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If this manager is part of the team and codes and completes tickets in the team's sprint, then he needs to be at the retrospective meetings. Your Scrum Master screwed this one up by uninviting him.

As per the Scrum Guide, the purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to:

  • Inspect how the last Sprint went with regards to people, relationships, process, and tools;
  • Identify and order the major items that went well and potential improvements; and,
  • Create a plan for implementing improvements to the way the Scrum Team does its work.

This manager is part of your team (even at 50% contribution) so by being excluded, he is being deprived of contributing to those three points above. He's fine for doing tasks in the sprint, but somehow there is a problem if he provides his input at the retrospective? That's strange. This is what you should be addressing with your Scrum Master first.

The core of the problem I see here is communication. Your Scrum Master decided to do this and apparently they didn't mention a reason since you are asking this question on the Internet. This manager has been uninvited from the last 3 sprint retrospectives and they said nothing about it? They didn't complain? They didn't ask why? The rest of the team is fine with them missing for 3 retrospectives? This is your main problem. Communication. And communication is related to one of the pillars of Scrum which is transparency. There is a lack of it here.

So before anything else, open up a discussion about this and find out what happened. If you are practicing Scrum for years, as you mention, you should be able to put this issue on the table and discuss it. If you are worried about something, then follow Thomas Owens' suggestion and raise the issue privately, but still, you need to find out the reasons and you can only do so if you open up a conversation.

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With no provided explanation on why this was done it strikes me as strange. Especially when we are considering that the manager is working in an active development role. He needs to be involved in the development planning process because of this.

I can see the benefits of having meetings without a team manager, as some are uncomfortable bringing up subjects or asking for information with their manager present. Sometimes it's good for the engineers to just BS and commiserate about things. Sometimes beneficial ideas are discussed which might have otherwise been dismissed as off topic by a manager trying to keep an agenda. There are a lot of reasons.

Can I suggest a compromise? Perhaps the manager could join for a period of the meeting and then leave. Unless the Scrum Master is incompetent and rash, there is a reason he's not including the manager.

As an anecdote, I really like my manager. He seems to be very aware of this issue and will sometimes leave our meetings early saying something like (jokingly) "Well I have to [whatever reason], so now's your opportunity to say all that nasty stuff about me." We never do obviously but I've always taken this as him being aware that sometimes you need to just let the engineers be engineers, without managers present.

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There are a few related points here:

1) There isn't a manager role within Scrum, and definitely not as a role within the Scrum team. (Obviously there may be managers elsewhere in the organisation.)

2) The retrospective is an opportunity for the Scrum team to reflect and plan improvements. Having people from outside the team at the retrospective is likely to impinge on people's willingness to have those discussions, particularly if they are more senior than the team members.

3) It's not clear if the Scrum Master acted unilaterally here or on behalf of the team. Accepting that your organisation isn't fully doing Scrum and has this manager role, it should be a team level decision if the manager is invited to the retrospective or not.

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Managers are responsible for what happens on their teams.

My intuition in this case says the Manager might have been doing things in meetings that the Scrum Master thought was their responsibility.

Sometimes as Managers, we need to let go and focus on results. A lot of good can come from managing results. From my perspective, this smooths the way if styles and approaches are completely different.

As a Manager, you can gain a lot of goodwill by listening to your subordinates and backing off on the details and spending time on developing and working on a common goal. In our knowledge based business, many times we all identify with our ideas and approaches. If you take a step back from the technical and support the person and work on results, there is a space there that is a neutral ground so to speak.

Your subordinate gets to focus how to implement and you help them by agreeing on results and goals and then have a conversation, off line, about it. Also, it's also a good idea when you can, when attending a meeting as a manager and asked a question about something that is in someone else's wheelhouse, to defer to that person and let them answer.

Just some thoughts. Hope this helps.

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0

Something is wrong somewhere.

Either the SM feels that the Manager is being disruptive to the process or the SM is trying to slip something past the manager. Whoever is at fault needs to be spoken to privately.

Beware: if the actions are intentionally derisive, be prepared for a confrontation. If the actions are unintentional it may be a matter of bringing best practices to mind.

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