Empowerment and Borrowed Authority - A Cohesive Relationship

What is Empowerment? For those of us who have experienced it, Empowerment comes when oneself comes to the realization that they are self-powered to make things happen. For example, “As a Scrum Master, I am empowered to protect the development team.”. Not only is it my job, but it is expected. This is the embodiment of Empowerment.

There are many types of authority, you’ll see some in government, education, healthcare, business and familial. For the purpose of this blog, let’s introduce Borrowed Authority. Borrowed Authority is authority that is granted to you from someone who naturally has authority. The person who naturally has the authority might be a world leader, executive or matriarch. Thinking about this Borrowed Authority from a business standpoint and how it relates to Empowerment, a person of authority might hire you with an expectation that you are empowered to perform the job for which you are hired. However, this does not naturally mean you are able to perform the job effectively. Let’s continue with the example of the Scrum Master. As a newly hired Scrum Master, you start to perform the job and protect the development team. However, you tend to notice that the sprint goals aren’t being met. Upon further examination (i.e. retrospective), there are members of the development team that are performing outside work. Since this development team is embracing the retrospective – good job – you learn that an executive is directly contacting the development team and requesting special work.

Are you seeing the picture? “Wait, I’m empowered – why is the team taking on special work? Oh wait, I don’t seem to have Borrowed Authority! Why am I here?” Don’t fret, this can be fixed.

Since we have now realized team success will come with your Empowerment and Borrowed Authority, it is time to talk with the executive. “Hey executive, I’d like to be the Scrum Master that I was hired to be. In order to create a self-directed team, I need your authority – as in Borrowed Authority. Please meet with me and the development team. You can state that I am acting on your authority and the team will work through the Scrum Master so we can do great things. The Scrum Master will bring any blocks to my attention that need resolving.”

Is it coming together? By having the executive, who we discovered is the root of the cause for missing the sprint goal, grant his/her authority to the Scrum Master, with public display, the Scrum Master can now act on the Empowerment of the role.

We have now come back to the title, “Empowerment and Borrowed Authority – A Cohesive Relationship”, Empowerment is great and necessary, but to be truly effective, add the cohesiveness of Borrowed Authority.

What do I do with my Project Managers?

I was recently asked this question by a Project Manager who is undergoing a transformation to Scrum within her company. Scrum tells us that there are three roles, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Scrum Team. No mention of a Project Manager...hmmm. What to do? As you might do on an assembly line for a new product, let's retool our Project Managers. They might want to become a Scrum Master or Product Owner. Generating awareness about these roles to each Project Manager will create excitement and a renewed energy. It might also remove any fear about being out of a job. As part of retooling the Project Managers into trained Scrum Masters and Product Owners, they will need coaching. No, not soccer coaching, although that is one of my passions, but Scrum Coaching. Transformation for an organization, company, enterprise, department, classroom, squad, etc.. requires new skills mixed with experienced personnel.

You're reading this and might be thinking, "sounds good, but what about all the duties that a Project Manager performs?" Ideally, these are now Scrum Team activities. These duties become part of the product backlog to support a product feature, but that's another blog. A lingering thought is to add a coordinator, as in Project Coordinator, to the Scrum Team. This coordinator is a member of the Scrum Team that has skills such as finance, invoice, contract, staffing, etc.. Just remember, everything they do must be all about the product.

Let's talk money. Retooling your Project Managers requires an investment. As a rule of thumb, the cost of replacing a resource is equal to their annual salary. Wow! A Project Manager earning $100k/year would cost you $100k to replace them with a new hire of a Product Manager or a Scrum Master. Training will cost about 10%, or $10k to retool your Project Manager with costs for the CSM or CSPO course, travel and time away from the office. You just saved $90k, great job! But wait, do you recall I mentioned Scrum Coaching? Good recollection. Coaching is invaluable to take these burgeoning skills to use. Scrum Coaches typically work with a multiple of Scrum Teams, thereby spreading their cost into productivity gains. Much less than the remaining $90k.

Retool your Project Managers and create a Happiness factor, also another blog, and supplement with Scrum Coaches.