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Scrum Masters & Project Managers…

…are they the same role?

…should we expect the same success criteria?

Many job descriptions have the following ‘requirements’ for Scrum Masters:

  • PMP (Project Management Professional)
  • CSM (Certified Scrum Master)
  • PSM (Professional Scrum Master)
  • Understanding budgets
  • Managing timelines
  • Mitigating risk
  • Working with sponsors

Sometimes companies marry the two terms in the job title:

  • Scrum Master — Project Manager
  • Scrum Coach — Project Manager
  • Technical Project Manager — Scrum Lead
  • Agile Project Manager

The Scrum Master is one of the most misunderstood, and under appreciated roles.  The actual law of the land (Scrum Guide) indicates the Scrum Master has 3 jobs:

Scrum Master Service to the Product Owner

The Scrum Master serves the Product Owner in several ways, including:

  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Clearly communicating vision, goals, and Product Backlog items to the Development Team;
  • Teaching the Development Team to create clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding long-term product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.

Scrum Master Service to the Development Team

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

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Teaching and leading 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.

Scrum Master Service to the Organization

The Scrum Master serves the organization in several ways, including:

  • Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product
  • development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum
  • in the organization.

Interesting, this job is actually about coaching, teaching, understanding, leading, working with… , communicating vision.  There are also Project Management tasks of facilitating and planning but the primary focus is NOT on being a person of Project Management.  Why then did it become automatic for the industry to convert Project Managers to the Scrum Master role?

If you go to the two day certification training class, you learn really only one of the jobs, service to the development team with a light ‘salting’ of the other roles.  At this level, you are working with your ‘resources’.   You may know their salaries and you understand the ‘process’.  So from a Project Manager side of Time/Scope/Budget, you can manage the time with the planning, you help with the budget understanding resources and you might happen to know the scope of stories…so perfect right?  Um…no.

Clearly the actual intended use of this person wasn’t to manage but to coach, to teach, to make someone as a human being, better tomorrow then they are today.  This job should have a roadmap of where you want the team to advance to in 6 months  not just some checklist of done/not done project deliverables.

A Scrum Master shouldn’t just be a Scrum Master but an Agile Master.  Where do you want the agile culture to be months from now, outside of the Scrum framework?  If you are only looking at the team from your CSM class, you lose sight of this quickly.  If you are just a Project Manager, you might not have sight of it at all.  Project Managers are great at risk management!  What better way to stop risk then NOT to encourage change?

An Agile Master wants the team to change, to fail, to break, to LEARN.  An Agile Master goes beyond the team.  They understand that large User Stories and lack of product vision can destroy a team if not communicated clearly.  The Agile Master is a champion of Agile.  They know that Agile is a living and breathing thing, it has a lifespan, maturity stages and requires loving correction.  The Agile Master should be a master at building stories, communicating beliefs, understanding the company strategy/vision and applying value concepts to how we will build the ‘right product’ faster.

How can you coach a Product Owner unless you understand how to properly build stories to not only build a product but encourage human behavior?  How can you influence the business to break down stories to reduce risk, encourage openness, build rapidly, get faster feedback and encourage better estimates if you don’t understand the ‘why’ behaviors a story can encourage?  If a story is huge do you understand the human behaviors it encourages to the team and multi-layered business units? Ask an Agile Master to build a story template, it will give a huge insight into what they believe, how they communicate, how they encourage collaboration, where they want agile to go.

Does the Agile Master understand or even care how the company is structured, knowing that the business influences what we believe in or lack there of?  How can an Agile Master remove roadblocks if they don’t understand or even care WHY the company is structured the way it is?  How does the Agile Master want to encourage an Agile culture through out the company?  Do they believe one person can truly make a difference?  A Project Manager would mitigate risk, an Agile Master would rock the boat to get people off balance.  Is the Agile Master empowered?  Seldom is a Project Manager empowered beyond their project/resources.  An Agile Master demands this before they take the job.  They understand, like the movie Thor, that you have to be ‘worthy’ to get empowered.  Once empowered you remove the impediment..product, process, mindset, PEOPLE if necessary.  However, are they humble?  Like the movie Kingdom of Heaven, Orlando Bloom can give a speech about protecting the people, defending the city to ensure life and is empowered to lead the army.  At the end of the movie, the King of England comes up to Orlando and tries to recruit him.  What was his response?  “I am a blacksmith.”

‘I may have been empowered for a task but I know that humility is key to my inner person.’  Is that truly what your Agile Master feels?  A team should not follow someone because of what they ‘do’.  They should follow someone because they believe in something.  The team should follow the Agile Master forward because they ‘want’ to.  To inspire a belief is not to discuss time/scope/budget.  No where in that triangle is a belief, a motivator, a desire to be a better person and team.  Time/Scope/Budget is pure WHAT and some HOW.  An Agile Master is about WHY, that is what a coach does The WHAT and HOW proves what the coach believes in.

An Agile Master is a skier, not a snowboarder.

A skier has an easier start but a harder to master skill when compared to a snowboarder.  They can easily move to a team, focus on the team from budget and time.  They can focus on how to get this story done faster.  However, to get a team to believe, to want to try harder things, to commit to a vision of values is hard and truly never ending.  A Project Manager ‘would ask the team’, an Agile Master would ask the team ‘why not’.  An Agile Master challenges the team to be better, even if it is painful to get there.  They don’t just ‘ask the team’ because the team easily falls into the ‘comfort zone’.  An Agile Master will ask the team to believe, to ‘try’ something and learn from the outcome.  What they learn will either validate their previous opinion or open doors to new ones.

Back to the certifications.  A PMP takes 3-5 years of traditional project management behaviors and beliefs.  A CSM takes 2 days of power point slides.  Shame on the industry for giving such a false pretext of preparedness.  Some certifications like the PSM 1 doesn’t even require a class.  Do we read books then pin them to our shirt?  What do you believe in?  What do you value?

This is a value based system.  The people developing the product are just as important, if not more so important, then the value they deploy to the market.  If your team isn’t any better, if your team doesn’t believe then how will customers believe?  “Software markets itself” — Seth Godin.

So why are companies taking a value based system with a requirement of CSM and placing it in a job description of a plan based system requiring a PMP?  It makes no sense.  It defeats itself. 

In Karate Kid 1, Mr. Miyagi told Daniel, ‘you either do karate yes, or karate no.  If you go in the middle you get squished just like grape.”  The same is true with Agile.  You either do Agile YES or Agile no. Don’t attempt to marry a plan based system with a value based system!

Agile is about WHY, about value, coaching, customer loyalty and feedback.  Traditional is about WHAT/HOW, about plans, budgets, heavy process and sales.  The goal isn’t to do business with everyone that MIGHT need your product.  The goal is to do business with those who believe what you believe.  That is a loyal customer. 

If you want an Agile Master, don’t make their job description a Project Manager.  They may have a PMP, they might be a Project Manager ‘now’ but hire them to be something else… someone that truly believes and will carry the Agile spirit forward.  Martin Luther King didn’t have a ‘I Have a Plan” speech like a Project Manager, he had a “I have a Dream” speech like an Agile Master.  By the way, 250,000 people showed up for his speech, no marketing, no commercials, people came because they believed a cause of value, the what/how of the movement was the proof of the belief.

An Agile Master needs to look at every aspect as to the culture of Agile.

An example is a tool.  Project Managers are good at selecting tools for process workflows.  An Agile Master would look at a tool and say ‘what behaviors will this encourage’?  The tool may have great workflows but does it encourage ‘throw it over the fence’ mentality?  From a Project Management perspective it may be perfect with visibility and tracking of tickets but from an Agile Master prospective it encourages micro-management, distrust, you vs me.  Does your Agile Master know the behaviors encouraged by the mainstream tools (IE:  Rally, VersionOne, Jira, Fitnesse, Quality Center, Quick Test Professional…)?  If not, why do you want them, for a PMP in a value-based system just because…?

Is the PMP ready to handle HR coaching problems?  As the teams become more self managed can they HR themselves?  Aside from legal stuff (IE: Harassment) can they HR manage accountability, responsible behaviors, actively giving peer reviews, counseling in front of the team?  The CSM won’t teach you that either.  This is a coaching and people management skill that wasn’t necessarily ‘required’ in the role.  Perhaps on a PMP test but not the role itself overall.

In closing, the success criteria of these different roles can be summed up with:

  • Project Manager = Are we on time, is it in scope, is it in budget?  Did the ‘product’ get deployed?  Is the process followed, are the metrics delivered, are the critical pathways adhered to?
  • Agile Master = Did we deliver value?  If not, did we learn something to make the ‘right product’ faster?  Is my team believing in the vision of the product roadmap?  Does the organization show signs of Agile culture growth?  Is my Product Owner giving us the feedback we need to make a better product?  Is the Product Owner advancing in Agile-ness?  Who am I as a person, how can I be a better influence of human nature to everyone who believes in Agile?