CHOW # 68 – Resolving different approaches to implementing a SM role in an organization

WayToGo Inc. is a leading CRM solutions provider headquartered in San Jose with development teams divided between San Jose and Bangalore. They have hired you as a consultant to help them transform to being an Agile enterprise focusing on shorter cycle times for delivery, higher quality and responsiveness for their customers. You have done a detailed assessment on their current practices and created a Blueprint for what they need to do to become truly Agile. One of the recommendations you have made is to create a well-defined role for a Scrum Master and ensure that WayToGo implements this with either dedicated or focused Scrum Masters and appropriately formed teams.

Pallav, Sudhindra and Raj are three Business Unit heads who need to implement this in their respective BUs. Each of them has constraints due to the fact that the company cannot create additional positions for the SM role and needs to manage with their current overall head count. While Pallav wants to go with senior engineers / technical leads playing a part time SM role for their respective teams, Sudhindra goes to the other extreme of asking his Managers to play this as an additional role wearing appropriate hats ( of a SM or a Manager, as needed) ensuring no role conflicts whatsoever. Finally, Raj wants to go with a dedicated SM, with the SM doing the role for two teams to start with. To ensure that he is not asking for additional head count, Raj gives up two of his open reqs for engineers and uses them to hire dedicated SMs from outside.

What would your recommendation be to these three BU heads? Will the proposed arrangement work for the different BUs?

Suggested solution:

The first thing that worries me in this situation is the fact that the three BUs are taking entirely different approaches to implementing the SM role recommendation. This by itself is not an issue as long as the approaches are founded on a common rationale and principle. The reasoning the BU heads are using for their respective decisions seem to be something that suits their immediate purpose rather than a common logic or principle.

This is where the role of the Solutions Business Head (to whom the three BU heads report) is crucial. This person needs to drive the thinking behind creating a separate SM role and align all BU heads on that thinking. The separation of delivery from Product strategy / competence building (which is where the difference in the roles between SMs and Managers comes in) needs to be understood and all BU heads need to be aligned to this so they can implement the SM role in their respective BUs in spirit.

In particular I would be worried about Sudhindra’s thinking of having Managers play the SM role wearing a different hat. This is often not practical since the reporting relationship invariably comes in the way and team members can not differentiate a SM from the Manager role. This would defeat the very purpose of having a SM role. Only in extremely mature set ups with mature leaders as managers and teams that are self-organizing would this concept work.

Team leads as SMs is a good first step in implementing the SM role except that the role needs to be given its due importance. For example, the team lead needs to spend at least 30 to 40% of his/her time on the SM role. I would strongly suggest that the SM role becomes a pre-requisite for a team lead if he/she were to become a manager. If they play the role for one or two years and show good leadership qualities, they could be promoted as managers.

Having a dedicated SM role is a great idea but the organization needs to show 100% commitment to the SM role for this to be successful. There should be proper definition of the role, career mapping for the role and training and ecosystems to support the role and the growth for a person in that role.

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

What to read next