If You Are a Non-techie Manager, You Should Love Scrum

If you manage technical resources but are not very technical yourself, and you struggle to establish a workplace environment that leverages both skill sets while not interfering with with each other, I encourage you to consider adopting scrum. It provides a clear, minimalistic structure in which your developers can do their best work and you can do your best work, with each one respecting the other’s sphere of responsibility.

One fundamental rule of scrum is that the scrum team must be self-organizing. The Scrum Guide states, “Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.” It limits the influence that the rest of the organization can have on the team: “For the Product Owner to succeed, the entire organization must respect his or her decisions” regarding how requirements are prioritized. It even establishes boundaries on how team members can influence one another: “No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn [requirements into deliverables].”

This leaves practically no room for micromanaging the team. Managers who are used to directing the team in day-to-day scheduling and implementation details will find that they need to adopt a much more hands-off approach with scrum teams. Not because scrum requires managers to step back, but it because it requires the team to step forward and assume much of the responsibility for planning, design, and communication that might have traditionally belonged to other points of contact in the organization who were not as closely involved with the actual work of implementation. In this sense, scrum fosters a strong sense of leadership and accountability in the team members rather than relying on having a manager who possesses these attributes. (In fact, the word “manager” does not appear anywhere in the scrum guide as of this writing.)

Some managers consider this a relief, while others consider it nerve-wracking. I am in the former group. Scrum is a good framework for making both managers’ and developers’ lives easier. It frees developers to nurture and apply their creativity as they see fit, and it frees managers to focus on the higher-level issues that developers should be mostly insulated from, such as organization-wide planning and the accompanying politics. Scrum essentially lets people do what they should be doing, as best as they know how, without being distracted by people who don’t. Even as someone with a technical background, I find this extremely liberating. Why not give it a try?