The dangers of wearing two hats

Scrum is an agile project development framework. It is a powerful way of thinking within software development organisations. However it has to be understood properly in order to get the most of it.

Although starting things up as a soloist is cool, any project that evolves into a competitive stage, with a community of users, requires more than one person to keep going. That is, we work in teams. This means management and organisation.

Scrum is particularly precise When assigning roles to people. Apart from the Development Team, it defines those roles of the Product Owner and the Scrum Master. The former represents the customer and other stakeholders, and takes the responsibility for managing the product. She or he has the vision. The later is a facilitator of the Scrum process, someone that removes impediments for the team and enforces the rules of the process. Rules such as the no interference in the development process during the sprint by the Product Owner or any of the stakeholders, or the correct development of many of the important meetings.

The traditional role of project manager does not correspond to the Scrum Master at all. Actually, this role is distributed between the Product Owner, that manages the requirements, and the Development Team, that is self-managed and self-commited with the development tasks.

However, it is not unfrequent that the Scrum Master eventually takes over management roles. The causes may include Product Owners that lack the vision or the time to manage and communicate the product, or members of the Development Team without the initiative or the skill-set needed to be committed with the development tasks. The consequences are normally a Scrum Master, that normally feels more responsible of the project success, deciding on user stories and their importance (without really knowing the customer needs), and assigning tasks to developers.

In any case this is a sub-optimal implementation of Scrum. Many of its benefits reside on a self-commited development team that works without interference, and a Product Owner with a good product vision and a broad communication with the team and the stakeholders. And specially in a Scrum Master that facilitates while not managing. That empowers others and not takes power from them. Therefore, instead of taking over management tasks, the Scrum Master has to put all its efforts in bringing the process back to its best shape.