Where should Scrum Masters report?

I have heard this question perhaps twenty times over the past several months.  “What part of the organization should Scrum Masters belong to?”  “Who should their manager be?”  At best, the root of this question is to find the part of the organization that will serve the role of Scrum Master optimally, providing the best possible leadership, coaching, and mentorship for those in that role.  At worst, it’s a question to determine a “land grab” of people for organization political power.  For those reading who serve as an agile coach for an organization, you have no doubt heard questions such as this one from those looking for prescriptive advice to solve a problem driven by complex variables.  As it turns out, there is no single right answer, but there can be a best answer given the scenario.

Often, there are not many choices from which to answer this question.  You may have the IT department, a PMO, or perhaps you are lucky enough to have an “agile center of excellence” group.   The major variables you should be thinking through are organizational culture, experience and mindset of management in those groups, and the ability of that group as a whole to promote a positive learning experience for Scrum Masters.

If your IT organization has a very agile and lean mindset, and is focused on not just technology delivery, but on high-performance process and has a culture of mentorship…that might be a good option.  I’ve seen this work.

If your PMO has thrown out the mentality of waterfall project management, has leaders that embrace and evangelize agile and lean thinking, and your Scrum Masters are former Project Managers…that might be a good option.  I’ve seen this work.  (ProTip: look at renaming that department if this is the case.)

Maybe you have developed a formal “agile center of excellence” group within your organization that is wholly focused on helping the organization adopt agile culture and practices…that might be a good option.  I’ve seen this work too.

The bottom line is that the Scrum Master role (and for many, is a full-time job) needs to be a part of an organization that helps people learn and thrive to the betterment of the entire company.  Find the best possible group in your organization for people in that role to live and grow in, and your experience with Scrum will be that much better.