Scrum Master and Software Manager: Distinct Roles Working Collaboratively

Benjamin De Point

VP of Engineering at Olly Olly



"There is no well-defined answer pertaining to the separation of responsibilities between a scrum master and a software manager. For that reason, many people do not know how to respond when I pose that question to them during the hiring process. Even more so, it remains a puzzling territory for those who support those specific roles in the workplace."

Actions taken

Let's take an underperforming 'Scrum Team A' as an example. If they are not meeting commitments, consistently running into roadblocks, and/or not working well together because of environmental or personal issues, it is the scrum master's job to suss that out. They must challenge the team to overcome it and pull in the manager as needed.

The manager's job is to do the same exact thing from a hands-off-standpoint, meaning getting data points from other places and have one on one's with the scrum master.

  • "I myself have one on one's with my scrum master regularly and that is where we dig into individuals, team performance, stay on top of burndown charts, and all the other artifacts. I constantly look at what is going on with regards to story completion, including how many are rolling over and individuals that seem to be stepping up at times where there needs to be someone to triage."

  • "I go to scrum ceremonies that I think management should be at, such as planning sessions and grooming activities. This is where I evaluate how the team is acting. Is there one person and one ego that is running everything? If I see that, I will first go to the scrum master to identify if they have recognized this lack of collaboration and if it can be worked out. If not, that is where I will grab the team."

  • "I also leverage how the team is doing by pinging people on the team to hear what they have to say about how things are going and ask them to be candid with their answers. I try not to undermine the scrum master's position of making sure the framework is working properly as the facilitator, mentor, and coach. Instead, what I do is an attempt to work through them by nudging them in directions where I think there might be a problem if they have not already caught it themselves."

Lessons learned

  • "It is meant to be a collaborative effort between the scrum master and the software manager. The product owner can also be useful to formulate an opinion on how well the team is doing and then I can work either directly or through other surrogates to sort the team out."

  • "The scrum master's job is not authoritative over the individuals, but fully embracing and owning the maturity of the team as a whole as they work towards a high-level maturity from a scrum standpoint."

  • "The only way that self-managing teams work is if they are open and honest with one another and with management about the things that aren't working. In this way, things can be more readily solved and/or team members can be removed or swapped. The job of management in this context is to get as many data points as possible to formulate an opinion on the matter."

  • "There is no book on defining clearly the separate roles of scrum master and manager, so I tend to just use my best judgment."

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Benjamin De Point

VP of Engineering at Olly Olly

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