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A model for management helps to understand ScrumMaster duties

The Scrum world mostly focuses on leading agile teams. In this community we constantly discuss how to treat team members and whether the Product Owner is a part of the team or not. We question the role of management and are still not sure if the ScrumMaster is a leader. Several times the agile world tried to dismiss managers as not being useful anymore. In his famous article “First, let’s fire all the managers” Gary Hamel even treated the manager’s position as a tax rather than a value creating function (Hamel 2011). Most people on the operational level (primarily those who produce something) consider managers as not creating value. Management is something bad whereas no management is something good. Sometimes, agilists believe that only leadership is necessary and people are able to manage themselves.

I have never been sure whether this simplistic approach to distinction between management and leadership is really useful. And I am still struggling with the idea that large corporations like Daimler, General Motors, Apple or Google shall exist without having a “management”. Of course I know that Buurtzorg for example doesn’t have a distinctive management level, neither has Spotify. Being aware of that, I wanted to know more and went back to university. I enrolled in a Global Executive Master of Business Administration Program at St. Gallen University (HSG). Within the first week of the program I was shown that the professors thought like the protagonists of the agile world but they don’t try to simplify things in the same way as we sometimes tend to do within the agile community.

It might be useful for the agile community to understand the deep implications of seeing management as a “reflexive design praxis” as the St. Gallen Management Model (SGMM) suggests (I will talk about the SGMM in another article). One “translation” of the SGMM into practical terms is described by a model, that I do not claim having understood correctly in detail yet but I would like to share a piece with you which helped me understand the difference between the logical levels of vision and strategy. Looks pretty obvious when you see this model, but not having clear this distinction before had confused my thinking. We got this depiction from HSG Professor Dr. Wolfgang Jenewein who specializes in High Performance Teams (he has also written a book about it, see Jenewein and Heidbrink 2008). He coaches large organizations as well as football teams – and it seems to me that he is very successful in doing so.


You can see the model he introduced and which is used at HSG by many professors in the picture. Please note that this is not the St. Gallen Management Model itself (Rüegg-Stürm and Grand, 2015) which I will try to describe in another article. The model explained by Jenewein operates on three levels – normative, strategic and operational – and five different aspects of management (give a vision, create a strategy, build an organization, form a culture and lead your people) which comprise “Leadership” as one necessary function of management. Let’s have a look at the three levels:

  1. The normative level represents the settings put in place by managers or e.g. the board of directors. One function of the normative level is to determine the vision of the company or the team. A vision offers the “Why?” (see Sinek 2011). The normative level is located above the strategic level, so the strategy of a company or team is not part of the vision but it can influence the vision of course.
  2. Most of the time, the strategic level consists of a set of processes to determine and guide the actions of a company or team. On this level we need to answer all the questions which help guiding the company. We need to deliver:
    a. Focus
    b. The positioning of the company/team = the differentiation to other teams or companies
    c. Customer segments and the respective customer needs
    d. We need to consider potentials and risks of our strategy
    e. And it is all about the FUTURE!
  3. The operational level is the most important according to the agile community as the “real” work is done on this level:
    a. Set up of processes to organize the organization. That means also to set targets and goals for the organization.
    b. Working on and building the culture
    c. “Leadership” is a day to day activity which is shaped by the context you are working in. If you are the head of department, you will need to set up visions that are different from those visions you would set up if you were the ScrumMaster of a cross-functional development team.

I believe this model helps us to understand which aspects of management need to be taken care of in order to structure an organization, a department, a project and even a team. As the ScrumMaster is the one who works on raising the productivity of the organization, he is also in charge (on his level) of making this happen.

The ScrumMaster has to make sure that there is a vision, a strategy, a clear set of rules that guides the organization and he needs to build the culture. He or she does this by applying modern leadership tools as I described in “Selforganization needs Leadership”(available online here)

If you understand leadership as an activity then you can also learn it. You can learn how to help your team by working on all three levels using the appropriate “transfers”, f.e. the company vision becomes the product vision, the strategy might become your product roadmap and so on. Using an approach that lets team members grow in their personality, work attitude and ability of self organization.


Hamel, G. (2011). First, let’s fire all the managers. Harvard Business Review, 89(12), 48-60.

Jenewein, W., Heidbrink, M. (2008). High-Performance-Teams: Die fünf Erfolgsprinzipien für Führung und Zusammenarbeit. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel.

Rüegg-Stürm, J., Grand, S. (2015). The St. Gallen Management Model. English translation of the fourth generation of the German text. Bern: Haupt Verlag.

  • rktic

    This gets me thinking…

    How do you make sure the ‚right‘ person gets into the Scrum Masters‘ seat — the one with the intrinsic vision other than just a rational understanding of it in order to be a good leader?

  • bgloger

    To be honest, I do not get your question. The „right person“ assumes that leading people can not be learned. I believe that leadership and management are skills that can be mastered using the right mindset and toolset. Both can be developed. The question is wether somebody who wants to become an agile manager sees and understand that he/she is usally in a state of not knowing how to do agile management. Let me try to make clear what I mean with my own development. I took me 10 years to develope a deep understanding what kind of mindset, what kind of believe system, what kind of knowledge, tools and methode I needed to „use“ to be able to create an agile organization. I needed to retrain all my management skills I got from university and my former jobs. I needed to invent a complete new toolset. I needed to practice my ideas using my own teams and while using it, running one cycle of reflection after another to reshape my own believe system. It took me a decade to do all this and I am still learning that there is more to explore. With the text above I wanted to make clear, that there is much more to cover in the role of being a ScrumMaster than just running Scrum. You need to come up with a deep purpose for your team, a strategy how to „implement“ your vision, with your team in order to create a culture of achievement and acknowledgement and a way to organize processes like running retros continuously to be able to reflect on your own work. That is a much bigger task for managers, ScrumMasters, Product Owner and and and, than many people believe. Best Boris

  • rktic

    Hi Boris,

    thank you for taking time to respond and sorry for being too brief with my question.

    I’d like to let your answer sink for a moment because it contains a crucial point in my train of thought — considering the normative, strategic and operational levels. I’ll clear this up shortly!


  • Luner

    Boris, I really like your thinking, your speeches(youtube) & style on this difficult and somehow emotional topic. I’d say that I’m a truly agilist, even if I was lucky enough to get executive / management positions in the meantime. But I think that recently, at most conferences or community events kind of „oversimplified“ management bashing started. There’s no differentiation of good management (as Malik described it in my opinion) and bad management.

    At speeches people have their showcases, as Buurtzorg or Spotify & others.
    One could reply that: Buurtzorg is a non profit organization, Spotify still does not earn any money and the „..others..“ , we’ll let’s see how many of the usual suspects claim themselves being a purely self-organized & truly agile organization: Apple? guess they actually lived from a passionate & visionary core management team. Steve Jobs was not really known to be a nice guy. But he was a tremendous visionary guy. Professor Bill Fisher (IMD) call the teams around these people: virtuoso teams and claims that „polite people create polite results“ which somehow is true: neither Steve Jobs nor Elon Musk and not even Jeff Bezos are known as super-nice-guys. Google ? I recommend to have a look on some Quora postings how live at Google can be. There’s not only the glory story of 20% work time to be spent on whatever you want.

    Management people have to execute some inspect & adapt cycles. The problem is, that the higher the position the managers have, the more ego-centric & self-confident personalities one can meet. Partially certainly people who needed to be self-confident at a pretty much extreme level, else they never would have got the job. Now – we, the agile community – are requesting them to shift their mindsets, adapt their behavior, renew their management practices. I don’t think that it’s possible to change people or personalities – but I truly believe that it’s possible to lead people – even managers. The problem with that change is, that if managers would agree, they really could feel like losers, loosing their power or status first and they all have to learn new roles. Here, especially business schools and already transformed executives have to do continue the education of new management models, methods & practices. Guess a real success story of an established, well known DAX company could be a boost to the community.

    For me, self organizing teams especially in the operational context is rather cool.
    I always loved situations where the teams ensured execution of the business, improved themselves, shared know how and so on. I have enjoyed not having the „being busy syndrome“ and spent the additional time with being innovative, trying to work on vision & strategy, helping people to get further.

    My second point of critics to the agile community is, that the agile manifesto started with the importance of added value for the customer. This is the core of agile thinking – for me. One could have the feeling that the self-organizing community today cares more about their self organization than any best customer experience – but the posting is already too long now – this could become another one, another time.

    best regards
    Marco P.