Six Specific Tasks for Executive & Middle Management in Scrum

October 10, 20142 min

“Out with all the managers!” is a rallying cry sometimes heard from Scrum and Agile evangelists.  When I hear people say this, or observe when they act in ways that reflects this bias, I have a good idea these folks do not have a good understanding of how Scrum actually works in a sizable business.  As Scrum spreads into larger and larger organizations, it needs both the support of the people doing the work, executive management and middle managers.  Otherwise, the elimination of organization impediments that impede the flow of value or the culture change necessary to become a customer-centered organization will not occur and the whole Scrum experiment fizzles out.

Originally, Scrum began as a team-centric process and most of the practices and the early stories about its success discussed how single Teams flourished.  Not a lot of the early literature and discussions talked about how to scale Scrum or how the Scrum framework operated and influences an enterprise decision-making.  Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, recently noted in his new book the ability to scale Scrum was embedded in the basic elements of the framework.  While the basic pieces to scale have always been present in Scrum, as a friend and colleague recently reminded me, to be successful with Scrum you have to apply your critical thinking skills to figure out how Scrum might influence the larger business.

So how can executive management and middle management participate in Scrum? How do they add value to the process so the Scrum Teams can be successful?  I was looking through some notes of mine from a Jeff Sutherland’s 2013 keynote at the Scrum Gathering Las Vegas.  Here are the six new responsibilities Jeff and his team have found for executive and middle management.

  1. Build and execute a business plan that works for the company.
  2. Provide all resources required by the Teams.
  3. Understand Team velocity, identify and remove those impediments that the Teams cannot remove themselves.
  4. Challenge the Teams to move beyond mediocrity.
  5. Hold Product Owner accountable for delivery of revenue (or appropriate value measured) per [story] point.
  6. Hold ScrumMasters responsible for improving performance of the Team.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to resolve the challenges faced by your business.  All Scrum provides you is a way to measure the impact of the changes you make and offers the opportunity to inspect-and-adapt yourself to an optimal solution that works for you, your customers and your business.  Companies that strive to be industry-leaders or introduce market disrupting innovations, embrace the ambiguity of Scrum.  Organizations and leaders that are interested in preserving the status quo just play it SAFe.