A Sacrifice to the Agile Gods

Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending the Agile Practitioner in Israel meeting. Roy Osherove gave a splendid presentation on the “10 mistakes team leaders make” (and if that’s the sample, you better go check the entire course).

As the presentation went on, it was evident there’s some division between the crowd and Roy. The crowd came to hear about the agile leader, the Scrum Master. Roy was talking about the team leader. And these entities, their roles and skills were not the same. Or were there? You can read more impressions on the discussion in Lior Friedman’s blog.

Is this post-agile speak? Are the two roles the same, or have we grown past the “classic” scrum master role?

Scrum Master vs Team Leader

Roy is talking about the role that scrum left behind: The manager. That’s the classic team manager, the one who is responsible for her team, from the view point of the organization. You remember her, right?

Usually, team leaders get promoted by being the best at what they do, usually develop software. No one has taught them how to manage, let alone lead. No one has taught them how to hire people, how to develop their team, and how to manage conflicts in the team. This doesn’t sound like scrum anymore, does it?

Nope, that’s management, that nobody teaches (nobody except the excellent Manager-Tools). The great team leader is a great manager. The one that scrum forgot.

The Forgotten Manager

In a recent post, “Is Agile Doomed?” I wrote (again) about the disconnect between the developers and the business, and what led there. Scrum managed to build a protected developer team. But it did so by building a wall between the developers and the business. The manager was indeed another brick in the wall (get it?). Scrum didn’t have a place for a manager. The team self organizes, communication is flowing, and processes are in place, thanks for the scrum master.

But business organizations have not changed so much over the last few years. Sorry agile folks, we’re the minority. For businesses to grow, we need good managers and great leaders, whose people skills are at play. The people the business counts on to grow the people on their team. These would be the future managers.

Teams that are adapting agile are struggling with the role of the team leader. Most of the discussion around this, not surprisingly, was about the manager losing his “power”, or authority. The transformation of the manager to a scrum master was the answer.

However, this transformation should not be complete!

The good managers should continue to manage people. The bad managers should be removed, and replaced with good managers. Scrum has given us a great platform for businesses to be effective and productive. But in the long run, businesses need to consider the big picture.

Managers should not be sacrificed on the agile altar.

2 comments on “A Sacrifice to the Agile Gods”

  1. chandanpandey05 Reply

    Its nice reading .. just twitted that “Agility is more about people ..responsible people .. it sucks when company say, we follow agile “process””.
    My agile experience http://chandanpandey.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/myagileexperience/

    I have read abt the purists views .. but in practice — its seems like agile is a facade delegating to micro managed waterfall.
    Where do we get that dream team in which every one is so responsible to take “ownership”, “understand client” .. May be I am still less experienced .. or may be its illusion .. at least it has not crossed me

  2. Gil Zilberfeld Reply

    Hi Chandan,

    Thanks for the comment!
    Agility is all about people, as are processes, which we seem to forget a a lot.

    Agile is not really a facade for waterfall. The problem is that water fall has been around since the industrial revolution, and agile is kind of new. We still got lots to learn.

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