Scrum Notes 2013-20

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Scrum Master ≠ Project Manager ▶️

Illustration by Jerry Pinkney,

On a recent LinkedIn post someone quoted an unusual line from a Scrum Master job ad. This is the line:

"...emphasis on PM work on resume will DISQUALIFY YOU"

It was amazing just how many people were upset by this, but not just upset, bizarrely reading hate, prejudice and ignorance into the statement. It was as if the line stated that project management skills were evil, and that no one who had ever worked as a project manager had any value, and certainly should not apply for this job. None of which is true, of course. As my colleague Jem D'jelal observed, the important word 'emphasis' seems to have been completely overlooked, as if it wasn't there at all.

One person suggested the writer of the job ad be 'fired on the spot'' another that s/he 'should be flogged', and another compared the job ad to racism. I'm not making this up. Many people—many project management people—really struggle with the idea that scrum master is an utterly different role to project manager. The very idea is perceived as an attack. And over the years this misconception doesn't seem to have diminished, but rather the opposite.

Perhaps that's not surprising. As more and more companies jump on the Agile bandwagon, prefixing the term "Agile" or "Scrum" to every role while continuing business as usual, of course people will not understand the very different nature of a framework like Scrum. Calling your command and comply system "Scrum" doesn't make it so. Putting a sheepskin on a wolf doesn't make it a sheep. It will still kill and eat you if it gets the chance.

Since I began teaching Scrum in 2005 I've been strongly urging people to find better analogies for the scrum master role than to say "the scrum master is like a project manager". And not just me, many others have been encouraging the same shaking out of the mindset. Here's Lyssa Adkins on the topic, back in 2009: This is Not Like That. And here's me in 2011 and 2014. But honestly, today you'll find hundreds, perhaps thousands more articles on why the scrum master is like a project manager. Perhaps it's inevitable. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

And yet, I don't plan to give up any time soon. I shall continue to teach both aspiring and veteran scrum masters the art of the work, and help them to embrace the inevitable paradigm shift—which is occurring all around us whether you choose to see it or not.

Sheffield, 26/01/2019   comment