Monday, January 12, 2015

Schizophrenia in agile projects

In quite a number of projects the project manager is asked to play the role of Scrum master or agile coach as well. These roles have a different project goal and point of view. Can fulfilling both roles lead to schizophrenia?

In my previous blog on ‘Management in agile projects’ I have described the three management roles Project Manager, Product Owner and Scrum Master and how they could coexist. In this post I will show you why team members could think that a project manager that also is the Scrum Master is suffering from schizophrenia.

According to Wikipedia

“Schizophrenia is a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity. Diagnosis is based on observed behavior and the person's reported experiences.”

Fortunately, someone playing both roles isn’t schizophrenic, so not all characteristics will come true.


First of all, the the diagnosis needs to be based on observed  behavior and reported experiences. The ones who can do the best observation are members of the development team (Product Owner, developers, testers, analysts etc.). They work in close collaboration with our victim on a day by day basis. What behavior can they observe?

Suppose the project has just started based on some kind of calculation. As a project manager our victim is very result driven. He has made planning and likes the team to follow the plan as close as possible. So the first thing he does is telling the team what to do first, e.g. realize a specific story. However as the Scrum Master of the team our victim want the product owner to set priorities and let him or her pick the stories with the highest priority in the sprint, and finally let the team decide in the sprint planning, how much of these stories they think they can get to done. Most likely, these stories are not the same as the stories in the planning and the planned velocity is not the velocity the team thinks it can make. Because to the Scrum Master the most important thing is that the team and the Product Owner are feeling comfortable with the stories, the victim would say something like “If this is what you think is good, please do so”. Our victim shows both strongly directive as very laid back behavior in a short period of time; observers could call it unclear thinking.

The team learned from the reaction of the victim as project manager, so they subconsciously decided to follow the plan. They took some stories in the sprint they thought that would be important and they neglected the priorities of the product owner. As the project manager’s planning was quite ambitious, they even worked some overtime for free. Making the project manager in the victim very happy. However, during the retrospective it appears that the product owner didn’t like this kind of proactive behavior. The Scrum Master in our victim now had to act. He had to teach the team to follow the agile rules by having the Product Owner in the driver seat and realizing in a sustainable pace. As this appeared to be an old habit of the team members, the Scrum Master had a lot of work in coaching the team towards agility, without being directive. The team that just get used to the project manager in our victim, now observes a non directive very facilitating coach. They observe some kind of false believes in our victim.

As a Scrum Master our victim is the facilitator of the sprint meetings, like the Retrospective. In one the Retrospectives a team member noticed that the team is behind schedule and that the cause is laying in lack of resources. This team member immediately asks our victim to take the appropriate measures. Our victim decides not to react during the retrospective because he is in this meeting as the Scrum Master and not as the project manager. The team member again observes some unexpected reaction by our victim.

As the project continues and the product backlog increases, our victim will look into his planning and his budgets. He will notice that the budget and time he will need to finish the project based on the ETC and the actual work completed, will exceed his project budget or the deadlines. Immediately, he will do an impact analysis, check his risk log and if necessary write an exception report for the project board. He also will run to the the team members for corrective measures by telling them that they need to do such or so. On the other hand the Scrum Master is very confident how it goes. The team is working in an agile way and is delivering stories with a constant velocity. He sees that the team is improving and as the Product Owner is prioritizing well, only stories with little business value will remain.To our victim live is beautiful and relaxed again just a couple of minutes after he was in a hurry because everything was going wrong. Strange unclear behavior, this can be called.

These situations make clear that someone playing both the project managers and the Scrum Masters role can ran in situations that require a total different approach that can be be experienced as schizophrenic behavior.

How to prevent being pointed as schizophrenic?

First try to prevent that you run in such kind of situations. The easiest way is not fulfilling both roles in the same project. If you manage to do so, it is very clear to the team which role you fulfill and what they can expect from you.

However, is quite a lot of agile projects the project manager is also asked to be the Scrum Master. There may be many causes for this, like the combination of those two roles make one FTE on the project or you perfectly fit both roles because of your experience as coach and project manager. Either way, you ran in this situation and you don’t want to depicted as schizophrenic. What should you do?

  • At the project start tell the team that you will fulfill  both roles and that sometimes these roles will conflict with each other.
  • When you run in a potential schizophrenic situation, stay calm and decide what role you should play at that moment. Base this decision on what is the best for the team and the progress. Give the team your opinion in words like “As a Scrum Master I would …” or “As a project manager I would …”. Your team will notice your struggle and will also think about what you didn’t say.

Being open is the most effective way of preventing to be seen as Schizophrenic, supposing you aren’t.

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