Succession Planning



Stage 4

Agile IQ® Level






With three key roles in Scrum, active planning for who will take up their responsibilities, particularly due to leave, is critical to smooth product delivery.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is a process and strategy for replacement planning or passing on key roles. It is used to identify and develop people who can move into key roles if and when certain roles become vacant.

7 steps for succession planning

  1. Be proactive with a plan.
  2. Pinpoint succession candidates.
  3. Let them know and explain the stages.
  4. Step up professional development efforts.
  5. Do a trial run of your succession plan.
  6. Integrate your succession plan into your hiring strategy.

1. Be proactive with a plan.

Sometimes, you’ll know well in advance if a hard-to-replace team member is going to be on leave, moving to a new role, or even planning retirement. Other times, you’ll be caught off guard by sudden unplanned leave. Does you team know what to do if the Product Owner or Scrum Master is suddenly not with the team?

In Sprint Planning, consider:

  • What’s the day-to-day impact of the Product Owner in our team?
  • What’s the day-to-day impact of the Scrum Master in our team?
  • If the person currently in these key roles left, or had to take unplanned leave, how would that affect our operations?
  • Are there any other roles that are critical points of risk? Is there a type of work only one person can do? Is there a need to also have a backup plan/succession plan for this person?

Backup plans don't stop at the Product Owner and Scrum Master

Assess potential single points of risk and failure across the whole team. Are there scarce skills that, if a person left, would put the team's delivery at risk? This is a critical question for succession planning.

2. Pinpoint succession candidates

Once you have a handle on the ripple effect that the departure of your critical roles might cause, choose team members who could potentially step into those roles.

In Sprint Planning, discuss:

  • If we were to hire for the role internally, which team members would be the strongest candidates for stepping into this role?
  • Would those candidates need training? And, if so, what type?

While the obvious successor to a role may be the person who is immediately next in line in the organisational chart, don’t discount other promising employees. Look for people who display the skills necessary to thrive in higher positions, regardless of their current title.

3. Let them know

In Sprint Planning with the whole team:

  • Agree who will take on the role and essentially be the “back-up” Product Owner and/or Scrum Master.
  • List the decisions that the person can make and can’t make while temporarily in that role. Can they change the order of the Product Backlog? Can they decide that Daily Scrum is in the afternoon instead of the morning? Look at the events of a typical Sprint and come to consensus about the responsibilities of the backup person.
  • Make the agreement transparent for all to see.
  • Ensure that the chosen peson understands the consequences of taking on the role.
  • Ensure that succession planning is effective, in particular, that there is no impact to the time it usually takes to make decisions.


4. Step up professional development efforts

In Sprint Planning:

  • Assess whether backup people will rotate into their role this Sprint.
  • Pair the backup with the person in the role for a Sprint to help pass on knowledge and experience of what the role requires on a day-to-day basis.
  • Determine the amount of time for pairing. Is it the whole Sprint, a few hours a day, or only for key meetings and events?
  • Set a learning objective for the Sprint. Rate the current level of knowledge and ability on a scale of 1-5 (fist of 5) and set the expected score when the activities of the Sprint conclude.

In the Retrospective:

  • Reflect on the experience in the Retrospective and how to improve the pairing activities for backups in future Sprints. 
  • Assess the efficacy of the learning and pairing activities and their outcomes.
  • On a scale of 1-5, did you acheive the desired outcome? If not, why not? What things contributed to learning and capability improving? Ensure that these factors are writen down so they can be repeated in the future.
  • Identify whether the backups need formal training or guidance.

5. Do a trial run

Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to test whether a person has the right skills and motivation to assume the demands of Scrum’s key roles. 

In the Retrospective:

  • Discuss whether the person enjoyed their time in the backup role.
  • Reflect on the success of the plan. How do you know it was a success?
  • Generate insights on what factors contributed to its success.
  • Agree on what to do next time.

6. Integrate your succession plan into yoyur hiring strategy

In your Retrospective:

  • Take note of any skills gaps people would leave behind when they “step up”.
  • Identify how you might hire for those skills in the future or build capability in the rest of the team to cover for them.


1. Adapted from: Half, R. (2021) What Is Succession Planning? 7 Steps to Success. Online at:

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