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I’ve been having this ongoing conversation with a college of mine where we discussed the topic of servant leadership. After sleeping on it, he arrived to the office the next day and asked me the following: Isn’t servant leadership …leadership? I replied, yes, but a different type of leadership. Now, the context; our conversation revolved around servant leadership, by project managers, in a traditional waterfall or agile project. His point was – he supports his team by removing constraints, holding weekly, sometimes daily, status meetings; and creates ‘widgets’ for SharePoint that track team milestones, defects, version control, and other activities. He then states that he ‘enforces’ dates for completing milestones on his team and ‘pushes’ his project teams to meet those dates, if not, he works to de-scope the items that will not make a milestone out of his project. My point to him was that “this is not servant leadership.” Servant leadership is about trust: trusting your team to get the work done they committed to. Serving them by protecting them from meaningless meetings, removing constraints they encounter; providing them with the decisions needed to complete their work; and growing them into a empowered, confident, efficient , and predictable team! In Scrum, the Scrum Master, in this case, an agile project manager (APM), is responsible for ensuring Scrum is understood and enacted. Scrum Masters, or APMs, do this by ensuring that the Scrum Team adheres to Scrum theory, practices, and rules. The Scrum Master, and APM, is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master  and APM, serves the Development Team in several ways, including:

  • Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Teaching and leading the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood

Robert Greenleaf writes servant leadership is a management philosophy which implies a comprehensive view of the quality of people, work and community spirit.” Although my colleague supports his team by removing constraints he also does not coach, teach, nor has a project management philosophy that views the quality of people, work, and community. As soon as I told him that trust is a key to agile project management success, he stopped talking, thought a minute, and then said “Isn’t trust coming from the way the project team communicates to business leaders, sponsors, and stakeholders?” My reply “trust comes from when the project team can meet their commitments consistently and become predictable.” “Once the team becomes predictable, the business leaders, sponsors, and stakeholders will increase their support of the team and they will become proxies for the [agile] project manager and Scrum Master. In short, as agile practitioners we need to continue to practice what we preach, educate those who are learning the agile way, and support those as they mature in their learning and practice. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In the case or project management, “be the servant leader you want others to be.”

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