There are three key roles for every Agile team: Product Owner, ScrumMaster and the Team. And, of course, we also have the stakeholders – our customers, managers, board of directors, etc. We’ll take a look at these roles and their various responsibilities and then we will explore how these people gel to form a high performing agile team.
The Product Owner is the proxy for the customer. They are available to the team during the course of their working day to answer any questions about the customer – for instance, the team may want clarification around the problem the customer is trying to solve, or their motivation, or when and where they experience said problem. The Product Owner is a necessary role in every agile team as it ensures that the Team has a subject matter expert on hand and can get their questions answered promptly to avoid being blocked.
Ideally the team would be co-located with the customer and could ask them questions directly. Often this is not the case, which is unfortunate. However, even when the Team is co-located with the customer the role of Product Owner is still necessary.
The key responsibility of the Product Owner is to paint a vision for the product and order the product backlog. They take all of the input from the customer and work with the customer to identify the highest value problems they have – ordering the backlog from highest value to the customer to lowest. Clearly we want to focus our effort on delivering the most value to the customer as soon as possible.
The ScrumMaster is another essential role for a high performing agile team. The ScrumMaster has a number of responsibilities and they have a place in both Scrum and Kanban teams – the term KanbanMaster is not in common parlance, although the responsibilities are the same.
ScrumMasters are often considered servant leaders1 as they put the priorities of the Team before their own. They help the Team overcome blocked work, defend the team from scope change, maintain the reports to measure Team progress and facilitate the agile ceremonies such as planning sessions, daily standups, demo’s and retrospectives.
A ScrumMaster may, for instance, help a team write out their Definition of Done and Working Agreement, and help the team stay accountable to themselves for these definitions which they own. Discipline is key to a high performing agile team, to any high performing team, and so the role of the ScrumMaster requires great discipline too.
The Team themselves have responsibilities as well. Ultimately everyone in the Team, including the Product Owner and ScrumMaster, are responsible for the deliverable – if the quality is not up to scratch the team has no one to blame but themselves.
An agile Team works as a cohesive unit – not a loose grouping of individuals. It is important that the team strives to become cross-functional, if they are not already. Being cross-functional helps the Team avoid being blocked and assists with the flow of work ensuring they deliver value to the customer consistently and frequently, enabling a positive feedback loop.
The Team estimates work on the backlog2 to give them confidence that they can meet the sprint commitments (Scrum) or to allow them to measure cycle time with greater accuracy (Kanban). This drives predictability for the Team, and may give the Product Owner the confidence to provide delivery estimates to the customer.
Delivery is another key point, if the Team commits to deliver then they must do so. To do anything else could harm the trust of the customer. Clearly there are unforeseen circumstances that arise and impact this from time to time – these should be the exception and should be explored in a retrospective. When the team commits they also commit to stick to the Definition of Done and Working Agreement that they own.
Chickens and Pigs
Above we’ve looked at the ‘Pigs’. There are also the stakeholders, the ‘Chickens’. The Chickens have responsibilities too. But first, why do they get these terms? Think of bacon and eggs for breakfast (yum!), the chicken is involved by providing eggs while the pig is committed by providing bacon3.
So, what are the stakeholders responsible for? Customers in particular are asked to explain their problems, not merely the first layer but the root cause of their problem. The team will help the customer identify this root cause and work to address it. The customer is also responsible for providing input to the Product Owner around priorities.
Finally, stakeholders should not disturb the Team directly with new work requests, instead they should speak with the Product Owner to get these requests entered in to the backlog.
When these roles and responsibilities are clearly defined by the Team people will not abdicate their responsibilities, will work together better, and will hold one another accountable for delivering. The underlying ethos of Agile is to be constantly looking for opportunities to improve, and this is no different. If you find that one person is better suited to being the Product Owner – perhaps they have built a good working relationship with the customer – then feel free to try switching roles.
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities give the team structure to perform at their capacity, minimise disruption, and focus on getting work done.
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— Velocity Counts (@VelocityCounts) June 12, 2013