PMI Portland Chapter

Being a ScrumMaster+PM in an Agile World

Being a ScrumMaster and Project Manager in an Agile World

by Sally Wycislak Bommen

In 2015, I started my role as an IT project manager on a new project, and I was encouraged to use an agile software development methodology by the PMO and my steering committee. Since I wasn’t familiar with agile, I took the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) course to find out more.

One of the key points expressed in the class was that there was no way a ScrumMaster and a project manager could be the same person. Since “project manager” is my job title and I knew we wanted to work in an agile way and I was the only option as ScrumMaster, I remember feeling a sense of panic because it seemed like they were incompatible roles. I knew I had to make it work.

These are the facts I knew about my project and the basics of Scrum:

  • Project managers commit to timelines and budgets, staffing and resourcing, project scope management, risk management, governance requirements and change requests. In addition to these items, I am accountable to deliver specific deliverables at specified release dates.
  • Product owners set the content and priority of the stories for the team. Product owners can’t definitively say when specific functionality is going to be released, but they can quantitatively guess about specific timing based on their priorities. In my project, I have a very committed product owner who shifts the priorities of the functionality and regularly pushes to expand the scope of the project in little bites. He is not accountable for the specific scope that was approved by the executive steering committee.
  • ScrumMasters are facilitators who focus on coaching the team to be the best team it can be—getting the right requirements, breaking down the stories correctly, estimating, delivering and maintaining the backlog. ScrumMasters are the gatekeeper of ceremonies—the standup, sprint planning, sprint retrospective, sprint review and backlog refinement. ScrumMasters are supposed to be impartial about the outcomes of the meetings. In my project, I have a vested interest in the project. My compensation and performance assessments are directly impacted by how well I manage the project.
  • The development team is a multi-functional team that works on completing the stories, meeting their commitments, working together and providing feedback. My team is multi-functional, composed entirely of contractors.

It took a while to find my footing as both a project manager and ScrumMaster. I understood very well what a ScrumMaster (facilitator) was supposed to do from the course, and I worked very hard to get the team communicating and working together on creating our product. Meanwhile, in the background, the IT organization around me also was implementing scrum on different teams. IT had different kinds of ScrumMasters:

  1. ScrumMaster = A facilitator on one or many projects
  2. ScrumMaster = Product Owner + Facilitator
  3. ScrumMaster = Project Manager and Product Owner
  4. ScrumMaster = A Facilitator + Project Manager

It took me a while to find the right answer for our project. I tried “Option A” first for about six weeks (three sprints), and I felt like the product owners could reprioritize at any moment and completely change the scope of the project without repercussions. I was accountable for the outcomes, but by only moderating, I did not feel like I had the influence required to make sure we stayed within the confines of the project scope we promised to the stakeholders. At that point, I re-evaluated the other ScrumMaster types:

  • Option B was out of the question because the product owner on our project was very busy and could not take on the additional responsibilities (and he certainly wasn’t about to hand over his role of product owner to me!).
  • Option C also didn’t work for us because there was a dedicated product owner on the project, and my project management responsibilities did not provide the time to do the role.
  • Option D required me to figure out how to balance being both the project manager and the ScrumMaster at the same time.

Option D was the only right answer for the project because it allowed me to facilitate and build the team while staying on track with the project. It has been about 16 months since we transitioned to this model, and I wanted to share things that work for our team…

As project manager:

  • I organize a pre-grooming session with the business mid-way through each sprint. The purpose of this meeting is to review required deliverables, progress to date and the business’ top priorities. The meeting sets a general agenda for the backlog grooming session later in the week, and it reconciles the project scope against the project charter.
  • I manage the integration management, scope, timeline, cost, quality, staffing, risk, procurement, communications and stakeholders.
  • I get all the obstacles out of the development team’s way. I have more influence in the organization as a project manager than Scrum Master.
  • I require each team member to get CSM certification—including the business. When we all have the same foundation, we work together better.
  • I do not take requirements from multiple organizations and prioritize them myself. The business needs to understand the priority and scope of the requirements before any items are added to a sprint or the backlog.

As ScrumMaster:

  • I facilitate the meetings. However, I do provide feedback about my experience, and I always champion for the end user.
  • I manage the ticket management system (Jira) because the business tends to articulate their stories out loud and on white boards. It helps keep the stories and backlog clean so the development team can work without interference from the business.
  • The development team helps select new team members. I need the team to work well together, so everyone is involved in the decision-making process.
  • I act as team cheerleader to encourage the team to give it their all.
  • I encourage failure early on so we can fix things sooner rather than later.
  • I continue to ask for feedback and help us continue to evolve and change as agile practitioners.

As chameleon (both roles):

  • I am flexible and transition from ScrumMaster mode to project manager mode (and sometimes even say, “I am putting on my project manager hat for a moment”).
  • I refine my role continuously from day to day to do the best for the team and the organization.

As a side note: Another option we did not pursue was adding a full-time ScrumMaster. We did not have the budget or headcount available for this option, and I was not convinced that it would add the value we needed to the team. I am still not convinced that a ScrumMaster would be as effective as a ScrumMaster/project manager because it is necessary to understand the rules and constraints of the organization to be effective.

If you too are a project manager embarking in this crazy agile world of Scrum, use these as potential ideas for your team. Remember, you don’t have to do it exactly the way anyone else does it. Be open to change, and listen to your team. It will have good ideas, and giving everyone a voice makes for a wildly successful, innovative and inspired group. It is possible to do both the ScrumMaster and project manager roles well at the same time.

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About the Author

bommen sally wSally W. Bommen is an experienced project manager who works in the Oil & Gas Industry. She has worked on global change management projects, global implementation projects, software development projects and a building-and-data center renovation project.