Who Should the Scrum Master Report To?

As medium-to-large companies begin to implement Agile, more and more Project Managers are transitioning to become Scrum Masters. Eventually, this question will come up…who should the Scrum Masters report to in an organizational hierarchy? Or, who should be the leader responsible for goal-setting, feedback, and salary administration for the Scrum Master? This dilemma was recently shared by a colleague of mine via email so I was able to put a little thought behind it.

From my actual experience leading Scrum Masters and from what I have observed while coaching many large organizations, here are my opinions from least favorite to most favorite.

LEAST FAVORITE. The Scrum Master reports to a leader within IT. This approach typically has the traditional IT roles (developer, testers, analysts) of an Agile team reporting to one Manager and the Scrum Master would be included with the other roles. This is my least favorite as the IT leader often has a technical background and may not know how to coach and mentor the Scrum Master or provide feedback on how well the Scrum Master is serving the team and organization. The expectations of a Scrum Master are different from that of a Project Manager and the measure of success is often subjective (i.e. team health, team flow, inclusion, culture, etc.).

Without a robust community of practice spanning all of your teams, the Scrum Masters can become easily isolated from other Scrum Masters. Coordinating Agile practice improvements across all of your teams become a challenge as well.

YOU CAN MAKE IT WORK. The Scrum Master reports to a leader in the PMO. This was the model I was a part of when Scrum Masters reported to me in the past and this worked to some degree. This approach works best if the Agile transformation, practices, and evangelism are being driven by the PMO which does happen in some organizations. By shifting the reporting structure away from IT managers, focus can be placed on how well the Scrum Master is coaching and facilitating their teams. My primary concern with this approach is the PMO typically remains a function within IT.

MOST FAVORITE. The Scrum Master reports to a leader in a dedicated “Agile Practice” department. Some organizations have created a separate department dedicated to their Agile implementation efforts. This would also be the group where Agile Coaches would report.

The benefits are:
• A leader with an intimate understanding of what it takes to be a successful Scrum Master and a focus on overall business agility and culture.
• A natural promotion path from Scrum Master to Agile Coach to Agile Evangelist to Enterprise Agility Coach to Agile Practice Leader (or something similar).
• A whole-system view by having the Scrum Master influence and coach business agility throughout the entire organization – not just IT.
• A freedom to work with and connect other departments such as Finance, Sales, Marketing, and Operations.

MOST FAVORITE BUT RADICAL. The Scrum Master reports to a leader in Organizational Development or Human Resources. I have never seen this implemented anywhere…yet. I would partner this with changing the name of HR to “People and Culture” but we’ll save that for another blog post. This is similar to the previous approach but you would take the Agile Practice group and align it with HR or OD.

This may be a bit revolutionary but I’m starting to believe this is the best place for Scrum Masters and any Agile initiative. If we really think about it, Scrum Masters are not responsible for any “hands-on” work to build or develop working product so I feel their goals and feedback should be focused on how they are a driving force for change or organizational improvement (The Scrum Guide, page 7). My book “Becoming a Catalyst – Scrum Master Edition” will cover this very topic.

In addition to the benefits of a Scrum Master reporting to a dedicated Agile Practice group mentioned previously, they can participate in revolutionizing the hiring practices in an organization. By being in the trenches everyday, the Scrum Master should know, better than anyone else, the characteristics of a good culture fit in your Agile organization and on specific teams.

Again, these thoughts are my own and I would love to hear yours. Are there other options you have experienced or other radical ideas out there? Please share them below.

DH – Thanks for the question and inspiration for this post!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Who Should the Scrum Master Report To?

  1. I am currently a ScrumMaster and report to your “Least Favorite,” but for the small organization I am in it works. It especially works as my background was in IT (Dev to PM to SM). I still see that a lot of companies are trying to adopt Agile (Scrum in particular), but when I have conversations with PMO managers who say they want to do agile when the going gets tough, the manager get waterfalling (not a real word).

    I’m looking forward to one day meeting someone in your “Most Favorite but Radical Section.” I can see so many benefits to working with the men and women in HR. Their perception, and overall respect of all of the individuals within an organization is amazing, and I bet that would help turn a SM to an Agile Coach very fast.

    • My first career aspiration was to be an OD consultant. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in HR Development (with focus on leadership, change, & training). I fell into IT and have never really felt that it really aligned with my passion until I started learning about the agile manifesto and principles. As I continue to practice being a ScrumMaster and learn more, I find myself going back to Organization Development theory and practice. I think that ScrumMasters fit well within a People and Culture group however I believe there is a stigma about HR that isn’t beneficial. Talent Management guru’s in many organizations have also tried to separate themselves from HR because of this stigma. In many organizations HR isn’t seen as a strategic partner, for many reasons.