When a Scrum Master evolves into an agile leader

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My employer announced my promotion to the company’s middle management at the beginning of this year.

When a Scrum Master evolves to an agile leader

So, as a member of middle management, does a Scrum Master ‘manage’ others? Gunther Verheyen explains in this 2014 article that the Scrum Master role is not a management role, but rather a facilitation role. The Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that Scrum is understood and implemented effectively by the Scrum Team, the Product Owner, and the organization as a whole. So, not your typical manager who ‘manages’ teams. But what about a Scrum Master in a ‘management-level position‘? That would imply that the Scrum Master would be in a position to wield far more power within the organization. This raises the question of how a Scrum Master in (middle) management can make a difference.

Sphere of influence

One of the most powerful ways a Scrum Master can exercise their influence is by removing impediments to the Scrum Team’s progress. This includes operational issues such as resource constraints, technical challenges or communication breakdowns, which can slow or even halt progress. A Scrum Master can help identify and eliminate these impediments by leveraging their understanding of the Scrum framework and ranking position within the organization. This allows the team to focus on delivering value.

The Scrum Master is also better placed to address organizational impediments that are affecting the performance of the Scrum Team(s). This can include issues such as ambiguous goals or priorities, siloed teams, or a lack of C-level buy-in. The Scrum Master, as a trusted member of the Scrum Team(s) and a facilitator of Scrum events, is uniquely positioned to identify these impediments and work with stakeholders across the organization to address them.

Aside from these more immediate benefits, the Scrum Master has the potential to influence long-term organizational change. A Scrum Master can help to build an organization’s culture of agility and continuous improvement by managing the adoption of the Scrum framework. This can result in greater alignment between the Scrum Team(s) and C-level management, as well as improved agile maturity across the board.

One of the key responsibilities of a Scrum Master in a management position is to promote the self-organization of the Scrum Teams in the organization. A Scrum Master in a management position can drive organizational change and aid in the creation of high-performing Scrum Teams by encouraging collaboration, empowerment, fostering a culture of trust, and supporting continuous improvement.

A management team is also a team

As a Scrum Master in a management position, the role provides a unique opportunity to spread agile leadership values among their leader-peers while also playing an important role in the development of the leadership team itself.

A Scrum Master can lead by example by demonstrating agile leadership values in the actions and behaviors of their peers. This can include being open to feedback, transparent, and collaborative. A Scrum Master can educate and coach their peers on agile principles and practices, as well as assist them in understanding the benefits of an agile approach. This allows them to better support the Scrum Team(s) and promote an agile culture within the organization.

A fun challenge for a Scrum Master in management is to create a safe environment for their leader-peers to experiment with agile practices and ideas. This can include hosting agile leadership workshops or training sessions, as well as encouraging peers to try new things and learn from their experiences.

In addition to spreading agile leadership values among leader-peers, a Scrum Master in a management position can play an important role in building the leadership team itself with Scrum Master skills. A Scrum Master can coach and mentor members of the leadership team, assisting them in developing their (servant-) leadership skills and becoming more effective in their roles. A Scrum Master, acting as a facilitator, can help to ensure that everyone has a voice and that decisions are made collaboratively.

High maturity of a Scrum Master

In the Agile Maturity Model by the Agile Leadership School, the highest level of maturity of a Scrum Master is mainly focused on the organization at large. 

The Scrum Master, at the highest level of agile maturity, plays a critical role in leading and motivating everyone in the organization to success. They enable the organization to have a consistent positive impact on end users by assisting the organization in understanding and applying Agile principles. The Scrum Master is responsible for promoting continuous improvement within the organization and assisting teams in becoming more effective and efficient over time. The Scrum Master ensures that everyone is aligned with the overall goals and strategy of the organization and that the organization is able to deliver value to its end-users in a sustainable and effective manner by working closely with stakeholders across the organization.

The Scrum Master, through their leadership and guidance, contributes to the creation of a culture of agility and innovation that allows the organization to thrive and succeed in a rapidly changing business environment.

Moving forward

My focus shifts to a larger, organizational scale as my skills as a Scrum Master mature and will do so more in the future. Taking a position in the company’s middle management will provide me with a unique opportunity to have a significant impact in promoting high-level agile activities and driving organizational change by leveraging my knowledge of the Scrum framework, my relationships within the organization, and my ability to influence key decision-makers.

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