Making the Transition from Project Manager to Scrum Master

Photo by m kasahara

Photo by m kasahara

Many of the Scrum Masters I work with come from a project management background, and making the transition to being a servant leader does not come easily.  I’ve noticed that especially in times of stress, a new Scrum Master might revert back to acting like a Project Manager.  Or other folks in the organization continue to ask the same questions even though the person’s role has changed from Project Manager to Scrum Master, and it is confusing to the person in transition—who does the organization want you to be??

The trick is to create what you need to learn your new role.  Stepping back from the project details can provide space to practice being a neutral facilitator.  Remind people that your new role is different—you can be a messenger for the team but do not make decisions or commitments on behalf of the team.  Admit when you overstep into project management.  Recognize what is triggering you to move into command and control behaviors and (if appropriate) discuss it with your team—what are you seeing or hearing that causes concern?  Perhaps your intuition is picking up on something the team needs to discuss and take action on.  Let go of having the answers and controlling the outcomes.

When you’re more settled into the Scrum Master mindset, you might realize that it’s not so much what you say as the way that you say it that conveys a command and control mindset versus a servant leader mindset.  Practice standing in a place of empathy and team building.  Radiate information to stakeholders and provide insulation to the team so they can focus on work.  Be curious.  Introspect.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The Questions We Ask

Photo by LEOL30

Photo by LEOL30

Back when I was a project manager, I asked the question, “Are you done yet?” on a frequent basis.  A person being done with his work meant the next action could happen—either the next person could do her work, or I could do my part and communicate something to a client.  Managing a project meant seeing the entire Rube Goldberg process of getting work done: knowing what was in progress, what would happen next, and making sure the steps happened like they should.

Recently a developer told me that in his experience with Scrum, he has been asked this same question by Scrum Masters.  I’m sure those Scrum Masters had good intentions, and I wish they’d asked a different question

Becoming a Scrum Master is not easy.  It means becoming a different kind of leader.  And as difficult as it is to make the transition to being a Scrum Master, it is also difficult for others to see us in that new role.  That is why the questions we ask matter so much.  If we use the same language as we did before Scrum, the transition will be harder.  I wonder what the Scrum Masters wanted to know when they asked, “Are you done yet?”  I hope it was, “How can I help you?”

What other questions might a Scrum Master ask?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.