When is it time for a dedicated Iteration Manager?

Trev de Vroome
6 min readAug 15, 2020


In the fast-paced world of start-up organisations, you have to be lean to survive early phase gestation of your business. Often this takes the form of individuals filling multiple roles within a business — until sufficient demand and capital is available to warrant splitting those roles out into dedicated positions.

For modern Engineering teams — the last role that typically gets a dedicated position is an individual who is responsible for the continuous improvement and facilitation of Engineering practices as a whole — the Iteration Manager.

Let’s have a look at what this role does, and when we need it.

What does an iteration manager do?

The Iteration Manager is often seen as the ‘ceremony facilitator’ of many software teams — but that barely scratches the surface of where this role is most critical. An Iteration Manager can both help the team…

to understand what it means to be both Agile (understanding the Agile principles, practices, and frameworks) and agile (understanding how to operate and respond quickly to the changing world around them).¹

A typical week would look like this for an Iteration Manager:

They focus inwards on the team¹ — with the goal of the Iteration Manager is to ensure the team is delivering customer value in the form of complex software solutions in the fastest and most efficient way possible.

How is this different from a Product Manager or Project Manager?

Beware the misconceptions that an Iteration Manager is a Project Manager — this isn’t true. The only person responsible for dictating the flow of value is the Product Manager.

Where the Product Manager focuses on what (the ends) is produced, the Iteration Manager focuses on how (the means) it is produced.

The differences between a Product Manager and an Iteration Manager

The Product Manager is merely part of the function of Agile software delivery — and it would be the Iteration Managers responsibility to be a servant leader for the Product Manager, coaching and mentoring them in their role towards delivering customer value.

This person isn’t a Project Manager either. The Product Manager is responsible for what is produced — which includes when it is produced. So they have the responsibility for prioritizing and planning iterations, establishing a roadmap, and tracking progress against that. Having a Project Manager serves no benefit to Product teams #NoProjects

How is this role different to a Scrum Master?

Its purpose remains the same — it’s about helping the team both doing Agile (frameworks, practices, principles) and be agile (understand how to adapt quickly to changing circumstances)

A Scrum Master fulfils this role in Scrum — but an Iteration Manager is merely a more generic term that accomplishes the same for other iterative and incremental delivery teams.

That said — much of the same thinking applies between both roles — with The Twelve Scrum Master principles³ also something that Iteration Managers should live by:

So yes — you can synonymously use this to mean Scrum Master. But where that Scrum Master role is specific to the Scrum Framework — the Iteration Manager can be applied to any Product Engineering situation that involves Agile values and principles.

Does this need to be a stand-alone position?

There are a lot of arguments circling the internet making points for and against a dedicated person in this role. And in my mind — they are all saying the same underlying message.

From complaints about project managers needing new roles², following Zombie Scrum⁴, or acting as the process police — what’s clear, is teams don’t need another layer of wasteful management⁶.

Similarly, I firmly believe that #NoScrummaster is a good aspiration for a business, as it matures and the skills, practices, culture and values of a company mature to truly be adaptive. But the reality is for most — we’re somewhere in between, as it is rare to find a business that has the required delivery maturity across all of their Product Engineering teams to not warrant this role.

Yes — there are some overly simplified views on the role of Scrum Masters being glorified facilitators⁶ — but that misses the Product & Engineering Coach that underpins the Iteration Manager’s toolkit.

So when do we need someone dedicated to this?

At the core of if — a team needs a dedicated Iteration Manager when the value and speed of what they are delivering aren’t at the desired pace of efficiency of the organisation.

The three core reasons - are because the team doesn’t…

  • Know how to address the challenges
  • Have the time/support to address the challenges
  • Have the knowledge or expertise to address the challenges

You can identify these problems — by looking for these twelve signs that indicate you are needing to recruit a dedicated Iteration Manager:

How on earth can I justify another full-time employee to do this?

It’s amazing how many times I talk about the importance of these kinds of roles to business leaders — yet when asked if a sporting team should have a coach, the answer is almost always “of course”.

If you want to play the game of competitive SaaS software — yes you can go alone without a coach, but at best you’ll be playing at an amateur level.

As they coach Engineering practices — quality in particular — they can make substantial financial savings through early detection, as the cost of a bug increases twenty-fold if that bug makes it to production.

From ‘What is a Software Bug’, by Testbytes

And that’s before we look at the cost of distractions and impediments. For an average-sized team of 7 developers + 1 Product Manager working 40h a week — if the Iteration Manager can net a 10% efficiency improvement for the team — that will translate to 32h in recovered time per week. This rises to 64h if the Iteration Manager is covering two teams.

And this is only the economic improvements —once we unpack the staff culture and happiness benefits like reductions in staff turnover, the case only gets stronger.

What if we train them and they leave? What if we don’t and they stay?

Sharpen your Product Engineering saw

The modern Product Engineering world moves fast — and so to do your competitors and their employees. It’s not enough to continue to do what you’re doing today — the need to adopt the Kaizen⁷ way of Continuous Improvement has never been greater.

So invest in sharpening your saw⁸, and ensure you have an investment in the continuous improvement not only of the ends of your product, but in the means by which you produce it — helped extensively by a dedicated person focused on coaching and development your Product Engineering teams.



Trev de Vroome

Information technology program and agile transformation leader, change catalyst, and educator.