TL; DR: Ignoring Self-Management — Undermining Scrum from the Start
There are plenty of failure possibilities with Scrum. Given that Scrum is a framework with a reasonable yet short “manual,” this effect should not surprise anyone. One of Scrum’s first principles is self-management. It is based on the idea that the people closest to a problem are best suited to find a solution. Therefore, the task of the management is not to tell people what to do when and how. Instead, its job is to provide the guardrails, the constraints within which a Scrum team identifies the best possible solution. Join me and explore the consequences of management ignoring self-management and what you can do about it.
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Self-Management According to the Scrum Guide
There are several references to self-management in the Scrum Guide 2020:
- Page 4: Adaptation becomes more difficult when the people involved are not empowered or self-managing.
- Page 5: [Scrum Teams] are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how.
- Page 5: They are structured and empowered by the organization to manage their own work.
- Page 6: The Scrum Master serves the Scrum Team in several ways, including coaching the team members in self-management and cross-functionality.
- Page 8: [Sprint Planning: How will the chosen work get done?] How this is done is at the sole discretion of the Developers. No one else tells them how to turn Product Backlog items into Increments of value.
- Page 9: The Developers can select whatever structure and techniques they want, as long as their Daily Scrum focuses on progress toward the Sprint Goal and produces an actionable plan for the next day of work. This creates focus and improves self-management.
- Page 11: The Sprint Backlog is a plan by and for the Developers.
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How Does Ignoring Self-Management Manifest itself?
There are various indicators that the management considers the self-management requirement at the Scrum team level to be no more than lip service:
- A manager assigns specific tasks directly to Developers, thus bypassing the Product Owner.
- Alternatively, a manager removes a Developer from the Scrum team (temporarily) to work on such a task.
- Developers are assigned to support other organization members while ignoring their commitment to achieving the Sprint Goal. (Examples: supporting sales in a pitch, being a subject matter expert in management meetings, etc.)
- Scrum is rolled back in a moment of crisis to a traditional form of command & control, exercised, for example, by dispatching jobs directly to individual Developers.
Ignoring self-management does not only violate Scrum’s first principles. It also indicates that a manager cannot let go of command and control practices. They continue to micromanage subordinates, although a Scrum team could accomplish the task themselves. This behavior demonstrates a level of ignorance that may require support from a higher management level to address.
Ignoring Self-Management — Conclusion
We are not getting paid to practices Scrum but to solve customer problems. However, ignoring self-management as a foundational success principle of Scrum means sabotaging the very idea of agile product development with autonomous teams. As the saying goes: choose your battles wisely (as a Scrum Master). However, in my experience, this one is worth fighting. What could go wrong? You either convince the individuals in question to trust self-management. Or you figure out that you cannot solve the problem. Then it is time to look for greener pastures in another organization. Win-win, I would say.
How are you dealing with moments where your managers ignore self-management? Please share them with us in the comments.
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