Working with Agile Roles

Basic

difficulty

Stage 1

Agile IQ® Level

Self-Organisation

Practices

Governance

Framework

Introduction

Agile’s roles tend to be sourced from the Scrum framework [1]. They consist of the following:

  • Product Owner 
  • Scrum Master
  • Team members (Developers)

Product Owner

The Product Owner is accountable for maximising the value of the product resulting from the work of the agile team.

The Product Owner is also accountable for effective Product Backlog management, which includes:

  • Managing the relationship between the company’s strategy and execution through a Product Goal.
  • Developing and explicitly communicating the Product Goal (and vision)
  • Creating and clearly communicating Product Backlog items
  • Ordering Product Backlog items
  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understood

The Product Owner is responsible for:

  • The budget
  • When to release value
  • Stakeholder engagement and communications management
  • Change management, including understanding whether users and stakeholders are ready to use the work that the team has been producing (“business readiness”)
  • Reporting to senior stakeholders, e.g. financial committees, boards, C-level executives on the impacts and outcomes of their product

Who should be the Product Owner?

The Product Owner needs the authority to make decisions about what the team should do and when. They are responsible for the budget and how much of the team’s time should be invested in producing product solutions and delivering services to the rest of the organisation.

BA as the Product Owner

Some organisations feel that Product Owners should write all the backlog items (“user stories”) and, because those activities are similar to those of a traditional Business Analyst (who writes requirements), a Business Analyst should become the Product Owner. In most organisations, though, requirements require approval. This results in a Business Analyst / Product Owner seeking sign-off of backlog items, producing delays in decision-making regarding what the team should focus on in any given Sprint.

This anti-pattern is called the Proxy Product Owner. This should be avoided.

Anti-patterns: Proxy Product Owner

Product Owners are a strategic role acountable for connecting the organisation's strategy into an implementable product vision through to execution and delivery. This is not just a traditional B.A. role.

Stakeholder as the Product Owner

Using the stakeholder as the Product Owner comes from the agile framework Extreme Programming (XP). This can work well, so long as:

  • The stakeholder adheres to the rules of your agile framework.
  • The stakeholder actually performs the roles and responsibilities of the Product Owner role and doesn’t delegate it to someone else.
  • The stakeholder becomes a member of the agile team.
  • The team doesn’t have multiple stakeholders, e.g. is producing outcomes for multiple stakeholders. 

In the latter instance, the Product Owner tends to become a committee instead of a single person. Avoid this anti-pattern.

Characteristics of a great product Owner

  • Is a team player (the role is an integral part of the agile team, not just an observer)
  • Understands users and stakeholders
  • Understands what users and stakeholders value
  • Can make trade-offs in scope versus time and costs
  • Can engage effectively with senior stakeholders

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master isn’t an “agile project manager”. They’re not responsible for making the team deliver. Their responsibility begins and ends with establishing Scrum (as defined in the Scrum Guide) and ensuring its effectiveness.

Who should be the Scrum Master?

While the Scrum Master is a leader and facilitator, they aren’t the team’s secretary. Many teams get their Scrum Master to book Sprint events, write reports, and manage the Scrum board. This anti-pattern is often referred to as the Secretary and should be avoided.

Anti-patterns: Secretary

The Scrum Master is not there to book meetings, invite participants, and take notes. This anti-pattern is called the Secretary and should be avoided.

Characteristics of a great Scrum Master

  • Servant leadership – helps the team to be successful rather than focussing on managing the team’s deliver.
  • Coach – developing shared improvement goals to ensure Scrum and agile are successful in enhancing the team’s operations.
  • Facilitation – of key events without directly being involved in giving advice.
  • Mentor – helping the Product Owner, stakeholders and the team to develop a “how to” based on experience.
  • Change agent – supports the team (including the Product Owner) to navigate positive change and continuous improvement.
  • Teacher – supports structured learning of agile practices.
  • Lean leadership – supports the team (including the Product Owner) to navigate 
  • Counsellor – able to help the team treat disfunction.
  • Consultant – Focusing on development frameworks and toolkits to support enhanced agility.

Team Members (Developers)

Scrum calls the people who do the work “Developers”. This is because these people are the ones who develop the product (or service) by doing the work. Developers are self-managing, meaning that they work within the guardrails of Scrum, and from a single product backlog, but no one from outside of the team tells them how to do their work.

Developers are committed to creating a usable Increment each Sprint.

While the specific skills needed by the Developers are often broad and will vary with the domain of work, Developers are always accountable for:

  • Creating a plan for the Sprint, the Sprint Backlog
  • Instilling quality by adhering to a Definition of Done
  • Adapting their plan each day toward the Sprint Goal
  • Holding each other accountable as professionals

Characteristics of great team members

  • Work together toward a common goal
  • Don’t work in silos
  • Don’t take on more work from the backlog once their own work finishes, but lends a hand to help others get their work to Done.
  • Help everyone in the team keep to timeboxes
  • Puts up their hand and asks for help when they get “stuck” and issues impede their delivery of work

More on Agile Roles

Roles

Developer

Developers are the people in the Scrum Team that are committed to creating any aspect of

Product Management

Product Manager

What does it take to lead an Agile Release Train as its Product Manager?

Product Management

Product Owner

What does it take to be a great Product Owner?

Roles

Scrum Master

Scrum Masters are responsible for the effectiveness of agile.

References

1. Schwaber, K. and Sutherland, J. (2020) The Scrum Guide. The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game. November, 2020.

2. Overeem, B. (2016). The 28 characteristics of a great Scrum Master. Online at: https://www.scrum.org/resources/blog/28-characteristics-great-scrum-master

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