Success with agile management depends on a long list of contributing factors, the key factor being your people. Agile success requires the right people with the right attitudes the right skills at the right time – all working together in an aligned team.
There is no secret behind this, it takes smart hiring, a clear organization-wide understanding of what agile is and isn’t, and how agile management success depends the team approach. It’s this team and the roles within the team that really do make or break your ability to thrive in an agile environment.
All too often, companies who decide to transition to agile, neglect to spend time learning about the value of agile management team roles. There is a misunderstanding that the roles don’t matter that much – rather just bring a group of smart and motivated people together and instantly you have a functioning team. Unfortunately, this approach has led to the demise of many agile teams, the reality is, that roles matter.
Because agile relies on successful communication and collaboration, it’s important that everyone involved on the project knows who is responsible for what, why they’re responsible for their piece, and how everyone fits together to contribute to the agile team goals. Just like a sports team, each person has a role and within this role are expected skills, behaviors, leadership qualities, and responsibility levels. When this attention to roles is discarded, the team cannot function and you end up with a group of individuals who after a few unsuccessful iterations likely don’t even want to go out for lunch together let alone work together.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the key roles on an agile management team – what they are, why they matter, and how they all contribute to the greater overall success of the organization.
The product owner has the most all-encompassing role on your agile team. The product owner must be connected to and in-sync with everyone on the agile team and the organization. Responsible for the business side of the agile project, the product owner must define and drive requirements, manage the product backlog, and be keenly in-tune with resource demands.
A successful agile team depends on having an agile product owner who:
- Clearly communicates customer demands and requirements.
- Establishes a clear product vision and timeline.
- Manages the product backlog.
- Manages resource planning, including budgeting and deliverable dates.
- Handles communication during the release cycle – both internally and externally.
A successful product owner is someone who can easily talk to customers, development, and management. This requires the product owner to have a deep and well-rounded understanding of the demands placed on every person on the agile team. From understanding barriers to development to customer priorities to the importance of investor pressures placed on management – all this comes into the day-to-day of a product owner.
Scrum Master or Project Manager
Depending on your agile team structure, you’ll rely on a Scum Master or project manager to facilitate a productive and smooth work environment for the development team. Taking cues and guidance from the product owner, the Scrum Master or project manager, ensures that the team is able to steadily move forward with development and product growth.
This key person is highly-connected to the development team and interacts daily with the team to make sure the team can focus on the sprint or iteration deliverables. Regular communication with the product owner is key to ensure that the team is aligned with the business goals of the organization.
The Scrum Master or project manager is busy on a daily basis with:
- Removing barriers and blockers that prevent the development team from succeeding.
- Communicating and explaining the business requirements to the team.
- Ensuring the development team has an environment that allows them to work effectively and efficiently.
- Hosting the daily stand-ups.
- Managing and organizing the spring planning, retrospective, and review meetings.
- Acting as a facilitator to ensure the team is on-track and able to meet sprint goals.
To do this effectively, your Scrum Master or project manager must have expert communication skills. It takes being able to communicate with everyone on the team and knowing how to identify the real issues and problems within the team. This role demands strong problem solving skills, excellent people skills, a high degree of organization, a commitment to being a team player, strong leadership skills, and a willingness to always be communicating with the team. The Scrum Master or project manager does not work in isolation – this role is highly connected and establishes the real foundation of how the agile team functions.
Scrum Team Members
Think of the agile team members as the nuts and bolts of the project. The team members are responsible for completing the goals of the agile team – this can be developing new software, refining manufacturing processes, or leading new research – it all depends on the industry in which agile management is being applied.
Efficient scrum teams are composed of a fine-balance of personalities who are self-organizing, self-motivated, and driven. The team members understand that they are part of a greater whole and that while each of them may have unique responsibilities within the agile scrum team, they cannot succeed alone.
The most successful scrum teams are made up of five to nine people, who have a mix of responsibilities including:
- Planning the work involved to achieve the requirements detailed in the product backlog.
- Communicating clearly with the Scum Master or project manager about barriers, blockers, and other external distractions.
- Committing to getting the work done.
- Attending and participating in daily stand-ups – being honest about progress and potential slow-downs.
- Being open to working with others and communicating honestly.
- Supporting the Scrum Master or project manager by providing honest feedback on the iteration or spring progress.
The product owner and Scrum Master or project manager depend heavily on the success of their agile scrum team. All the best planning, agile management tools, communication, and support cannot compensate for an agile team that does not work together as a committed unit.
Agile Management Roles – A Fine Balance
While hierarchy is important to establish leadership and responsibility, it’s a fine balance within a successful agile managed team. The product owner is ultimately responsible for the vision of the project while the Scrum Master or project manager must drive and support both the business and development side and then the agile team members are expected to deliver the end result.
One cannot work without the other. Successful agile management takes an understanding of the roles involved and then massaging these roles to work within your organization. Successful teams require good leadership, open communication, effective collaboration, and a willingness to improve – all achievable within an agile management framework.