Friday, 5 October 2012

Scrum Master, Project Manager ... Po-tay-to, Pot-at-o

The Ignite! Newsletter recaptured earlier work in a December'08 article entitled "The Stabilizing Effect of Good Leadership" where they noted companies that best deal with adversities and workforce anxieties caused by financial uncertainty cycles and layoffs are those that have:

  • A clear and compelling vision 
  • Passionate and engaged employees 
  • Strong servant leaders 

I'd like to extend that to the decade long and ongoing debate over the differences between the Scrum Master and Project Manager roles (or titles); if there even are any differences to be quite frank. Many others in addition to myself agree there is too much debate and wasted energy on this topic. A topic I would suggest is now a rather distasteful topic simply driven with a desire to validate their personal definitions of "success" rather than focusing on how they can add ever greater value over time. When people behaving in that prior way finally realize they should embrace instead of fear the grey-scale reality that life is the pigeon-hole B&W role definitions will finally cease. Then we can all get on with adding value.

A tangible example I'd offer is from the Disney corporation. People are cast members; plain and simple. Of course they have roles like managers, Scrum Master, Project Manager, Developer, Tester, etc. And I suspect there is also a good deal of focus applied to ensure each cast member has a mutual respect for other cast members and their roles. Based on my experience in the business world and that of various mentors over the years the more a company touts having mutual respect in the workplace the less likely this is actually to exist. I suspect this is a carry over from school days behavior (and maturity); the guys who garishly announced they got 'it' on their date the night before very typically didn't get anything of the sort.

That said and getting back to my Disney example; one of my favorite quotes is from Walt Disney himself. He was once quoted from his berating of an executive who was behaving poorly to a gardener working outside his office. Walt called that exec into his office and expressively told him "There's only one tyrant in this place; and that's me!" ... meaning that we all do our part and the parts working collaboratively together doing what they each do best are what create the greatest value. Walt was not a tyrant; that I've ever heard of from any reputable source.

I'd like to offer a personal example too. My current income source is for a position (role) labeled 'Project Manager'. My job, however, is to enable, motivate and empower groups of people so together they are as effective and productive as they can be to create, enhance and innovate new software, business practices and release initiatives to meet customer needs and expectations as efficiently as possible. I prefer to do this using whichever Agile methodology or framework best suits (aligns to) the initiative. Whether I'm called 'Project Manager', 'Scrum Master', 'Joe Schmoe' or any other label is really inconsequential to doing my job.

Kudos to Robert K. Greenleaf (1904–1990) and Ken Blanchard for all their inspirational work and Steven Starke for his article which inspired this post.


Appelo, Juergen. "Management 3.0": Chapter 7