ScrumMaster Versus Functional Manager

Dave Nicolette posted a relevant question to my short post on Deconstructing Manager One on Ones.

Ed, IMO PM and Scrum Master are really two roles and team members relate to the individuals in those roles differently. Even so, most companies today do not explicitly staff a Scrum Master position at all. Instead, the PM is expected to play that role in addition to the usual PM duties. There seems to be a natural tension between relating to a team member as his/her manager and relating to him/her as a process facilitator / agile mentor. What have you found most challenging in trying to function in both roles simultaneously for the same teams?

Dave Nicolette

ScrumMaster is probably an actual position only at a handful of small companies and startups. My experience has been the ScrumMaster is often a repurposed project manager. That can work really well. Real project management involves closing the gaps for a team to give them the best chance of success. Unfortunately for PMs steeped in PMI, Scrum may be a difficult transition. Currently of our four semi-official ScrumMasters three of them are PMs and one of them is a functional manager.

None of our PMs are 100% dedicated ScrumMasters, but two of the former PMs are about 80% dedicated to their projects which is almost as good as 100% dedicated. I’m the ScrumMaster on one project and I’m about 20% dedicated which really isn’t enough to be fully effective. Still you have to adjust to circumstances.

So on my current Scrum project where I serve as ScrumMaster we’re tasked with putting together a content heavy Intranet portal. At the start of the project there were eight developers on the project and all but two of them reported to me. Currently there are five developers on the project and only one of them report to me.

As the functional manager I have a lot more control of resource allocation. This has resulted in rolling off the seven developers onto other projects. The developers were able to explain to me that they were frustrated by the lack of actual development tasks. As new projects appeared I took the opportunity to roll them off. Had I been a normal PM repurposed as a ScrumMaster that frustration would have likely continued as I would have been less likely to spin them off.

My biggest challenge is devoting enough time to the project. I’m certain the project suffers to some extent from my lack of attention. I take too long to remove impediments, because I spend 80% of my time on other things like one-on-ones, meetings on future projects, and fire fighting on production issues. Today I finally scheduled the Sprint Review meeting with about one week left in the Sprint.

Another challenge is that I can never be sure my team members are completely honest with me. If I’m failing as a ScrumMaster to remove impediments quickly, I think it’s really hard to tell your manager the brutal truth.

Sub-optomizing is par for the course, but I hope to eventually work through the issue by training up a few more dedicated ScrumMasters from QA, development, or even the remaining PMs.