Who does a scrum master usually report to or answer to?
There is a big difference between where scrum masters usually report to and who I think they should be working with and reporting to instead.
I see two (2) main veins where scrum masters end up falling into in that organisational structure.
They either get claimed by project management or IT departments.
Scrum masters are sometimes people who were project managers in their previous lives and through a title and responsibilities change, are now the designated scrum master for the development team.
In this structure, the prevailing thought is that scrum masters reporting into project management makes sense because project managers are responsible for delivering projects whilst scrum masters are responsible for the delivery of a product within their scrum environment.
Scrum masters aren’t responsible for product delivery, the product development team are, however, many organisations do like the idea of scrum masters reporting into their project management divisions and into project managers or project directors.
The other area that I see scrum masters reporting into is the nebulous IT department.
They either become a part of development or previously come from a development environment and so they get claimed by IT as people who are there to help deliver on IT projects.
IT departments also claim scrum masters because many of the product teams they work with are delivering a tech product or environment and this falls under the domain of Information Technology.
Caught between a rock and a hard place
These are the two main areas that I see scrum masters reporting into and I don’t believe that either of them is the right places for Scrum Masters.
They aren’t project managers.
Project management is about the successful completion of an outcome that is predetermined in terms of costs and deadlines. It’s about following plans and rewards diligence, obedience, and compliance rather than creativity, innovation, and collaboration.
That’s not a scrum master’s role.
They aren’t responsible for delivery of a product; they are responsible for creating a great environment where the team can thrive and excel. So, they don’t really belong in project management.
There’s a lot of tension between those two roles and so it isn’t a great place for a scrum master to be.
They don’t belong in the nebulous environment of IT either. They aren’t part of a software engineering team nor are they responsible for the delivery of IT projects and infrastructure.
Many scrum masters come from a technical background, but their role isn’t technical in nature.
Just because a scrum master comes from a software development background, it doesn’t mean that they need to sit in the IT department for the rest of their working lives.
Information Technology are responsible for the delivery of great products and infrastructure. That isn’t the role of a Scrum Master. Instead, they are responsible for the creation of great environments where teams can thrive and excel.
They are a people-based role rather than a technology-based role.
Successful scrum masters and agile coaches often fall into the human resources remit or report directly to chief operating officers.
They are working with people whose remit it is to create environments where other people can do great work. People who are responsible for a working environment that unleashes potential and promotes creativity, passion, and collaboration.
That is a far better fit for scrum masters and agile coaches.
A scrum master turns up to work with the question of how to better serve their teams and create environments where those teams and individuals can excel. Environments that unleash their creativity and passion.
A scrum master will be thinking about how to help teams by removing impediments that those teams can’t remove themselves. How to work with people within the organisation, but outside of the scrum team, that can help solve problems for the scrum team.
They will be figuring out which policies they need to push back on and which conversations they need to be having to ensure the team have everything they need to do a great job.
A Chief Operating Officer is ultimately trying to achieve the exact same thing as the scrum master, just at scale. Human Resources teams are also trying to achieve the same objectives as scrum masters and create an environment where individuals can excel in their job role.
So, for me personally, I think scrum masters and agile coaches fit better into the HR environment than they do anywhere else in the organisation. Ideally, they would report directly to the Chief Operating Officer of the organisation but working with Operations teams works just fine too.
I think having a small cadre of scrum masters and agile coaches, working with operating officers, largely outside of traditional reporting lines, is a great fit.
Having this kind of a setup empowers scrum masters and agile coaches to have tough conversations with anyone in the organisation that they need to.
Scrum masters need to work from a place where they can create environments and cultures that work for the organisation rather than focus on product delivery.
Project Management and Information Technology departments are all about delivery, it’s their primary mandate, and as such, it just isn’t a great fit for scrum masters and agile coaches.
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