The Role of the Functional Manager in Scrum

One of the surprises that I have encountered is the resistance to implementing Scrum from the functional managers. Just to clarify, functional managers refer to the QA manager, software development manager, BA manager, etc.

One of the things that Scrum does is provide a very simple framework with very few well defined roles. The only roles that are clearly defined are Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Team. Click here to find out more about these roles.

Nowhere does it define a “QA manager”, or “Software Development Manager”. I think I understand why. In traditional, “waterfall-ish” environments, everything is separated by function. There are functional silos where the manager will tell their team what to do. The QA manager will manage the work for the QA team, the software manager will manage the work for the software team, etc. Scrum emphasized cross-functional and self-organizing teams. This is a complete contradiction to how the functional manager has been trained to work.

When I was confronted by one of the functional managers, I was surprised at first. He felt that there was no place for his position, and that his job was in jeopardy. I assured him that this wasn’t the case, that his position was important and that it just needs to change. Then, I thought about this more. What IS the role of the functional manager? They don’t manage work. They (usually) don’t DO the work. They aren’t really chickens or pigs.

I searched for some time for some clear direction. After quite a bit of searching, I found out that this was one of those things where the answer was “it depends”. There was no clear-cut answer.

Depending on the needs of the team, there may be no place for functional managers. If the team is small and self-managing, the scrum roles are being filled competently and impediments are being removed without help from the functional manager, then I don’t believe there is a need for functional managers. However, there aren’t many organizations that will achieve this state of bliss.

The functional manager can serve very important roles within organizations that have implemented Scrum. Below are some ways the functional manager can add value.

  • Ensure each team member’s skills are kept up to date. This is a big one, and could consume a large portion of the functional manager’s time.
  • Help remove impediments. I have experienced situations in which there were just too many impediments for one Scrum Master.
  • Play the Scrum Master role on projects as necessary.
  • Help with resource allocation. Notice that I said “help with”, not “do”. This is more important with teams that have not attained the “self-managing” phase yet. Many times the functional group has to serve on many different projects. The functional manager can work with the team, Scrum Master and product owner on project assignments.
  • Handle personnel issues, paperwork, etc.
  • Participate in the hiring process. In a truly self-managing organization, the team would do the hiring. Until self-managing is fully realized, the functional manager can facilitate this.

Implementing Scrum does not automatically eliminate the functional manager role. However, it absolutely changes it. The functional manager will have to be willing to “release” some (most?) of their authority to the team. They will have to become a servant-leader.

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About Andre Simones
I am a founding partner of One80 Services that specializes in agile training, small business and startup guidance, and custom development. My goal is plain and simple. To see others succeed. I want to teach you how stop doing the things that aren't working and give you tools that will empower you to succeed on your own.

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