Scrum and Leadership

Many of the readers know Scrum.

Scrum is a bare framework, but it does talk a bit about leadership.

Some examples regarding leadership:

1. The Product Owner (PO) is the final prioritizer of the Product Backlog

By this I mean that anyone (Team member or business stakeholder or customer, etc) can have an opinion, and offer that thinking.  But because these people seldom agree, the PO must make the “final” call.  In some sense it is never final final, but you get the idea.

The decision-making authority puts that person, to some degree, in the role of leader.

2. The PO must inspire the Team

Well, this is not said in the Scrum Guide, but to me it is implied and obvious.

Sure, others (eg, senior management in the Takeuchi and Nonaka model) can inspire as well.  But the PO must make the value of the coming-product so plain,  that the Team can taste it.  And the Team wants to build it.

A kind of leadership role.

3. The SM is the minister of self-organization

As people think and talk about leadership (let’s say, in typical US business culture), this is an odd role. Not leadership in the usual sense.

But it is servant leadership, as well described by Robert Greenleaf and others.

4. The Dev Team has the final say about how much to commit to in the sprint

This is a notable amount of power.  Power is often construed as “leadership” more or less.

And indeed, the Doers or Implementers are expected in Scrum to “figure it out”, and, despite all the problems, produce a great product.  Definitely a kind of leadership.


Much beyond these comments, the Scrum Guide is silent.

But not really.  Jeff Sutherland (a co-creator of Scrum) often talks of emergent leadership.

How to explain this?  Every day, realizations come to us, decisions must be made, directions taken, problems must be overcome.

So, everyday, Scrum allows anyone in the Team to step up and assume a leader role, and to make things happen.

Let’s go a bit further.

The leader does not necessarily make the decision.  But a leader may help the team realize that a key decision must be made.  And maybe by when it must be made. And maybe some key information needed to make a more-accurate decision.  Etc etc.

So, in any of these ways and more, at any time a person can emerge for a minute, or hour or day, to take some leadership.

A couple of key things:

Leadership is never done in a vacuum. It is always within a bigger context, including, for example, the other people in and around the team, and how the leader wishes to influence them.

It helps if your suggestions are usually right, or seen later as mostly right.  Or, at least, it seemed like a good decision at the time.

There is uncertainty. And also, things change.  So, deciding is tough under uncertainty and with things changing.

Still, in ways everyone can do this.

And, using good common sense, Jeff Sutherland suggests that we encourage people on our teams to do this.

One thing: they become that actively engaged!


Better teams will learn how to do this well. This meaning “emergent leadership”.

You can also imagine how some power-threatened people may object when “emergent leaders” start to speak up.

So, culturally, this can be hard to get going.   But also, if you get some of the right people going it, it can make a big difference.



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