The agile SCRUM team – bundled forces.

The agile SCRUM team.

Besides the key roles in SCRUM, there is still this unstructured collection of humans – the team. When we started to introduce SCRUM we simply put all developers into SCRUM teams and we were finished. Amazingly, this went quite well. Developers found themselves confronted with other tasks than pure coding – but as said they did well, accepted the responsibility, improved their intra-team communication skills and everything seemed fine.

From a pure developer’s view the story could end here already. BUT (you knew there would be a “but”, right?) software development as such doesn’t contain only software development tasks – especially not in a web environment.

How to treat the non-developer resources? What about architects, user experience, visual grafix, editors, system administrators, online marketeers, quality assurance? Are they part of the SCRUM team – or not? If not, how to get them to work together with the SCRUM team?

A lot of questions! What we changed so far …

We started to structure the team. Besides the developer we have a lead developer. This person actually leads the team from a technical perspective and acts as an architect for the team. Next to the developers we onboarded the quality assurance team members to let them work directly with the SCRUM team. In parallel, we put user experience specialists directly into the SCRUM team. The visual grafix persons are still external to the team and form a service center where multiple departments of the company got access to. Members of the editorial team participate in the daily stand-up meetings (well, most of them) – but are still not part of the SCRUM teams. The system administrators are associated to the various SCRUM teams we operate – but are not actually part of the team. Online marketeers? Other departments? They are also not part of the SCRUM team and communicate mainly with the product owners and scrum masters.

So, to summarize – our SCRUM team is structured like this:

Closely connected to the SCRUM team are:

  • editorial team member

Still in other parts of the organization:

  • visual grafix designers
  • system administrators
  • other departements

Is it optimal? Well, not really – but SCRUM in our organization is a living process – we’re still improving!

Lessons learned?

  • Initially, get the SCRUM team going with the product owner, scrum master, developers and quality assurance as team.
  • In a next step when SCRUM is well accepted and adopted start thinking about a better structure for your teams.

Good ideas needed? Have a look at Marty Cagan’s great and inspiring methods and principles @

Project Manager? No need in SCRUM any more …

Project Manager? Not known in SCRUM books – hence no need for it?!?!

SCRUM in books transports the idea of “You don’t need project managers any more”. Why is it so? Well, the roles in SCRUM books – product owner, SCRUM master, team – explicitly exclude a project manager.

The project manager’s work is shared across various roles:

  • The product owner manages the backlog, prioritizes the stories and creates release plans.
  • The SCRUM master “enforces” the mechanics of the process, organizes meetings and moderates them.
  • The team takes over the detailed planning sessions and estimations.

When we introduced SCRUM we really enjoyed getting rid of all all the structures and limitations of the project work. We arrived 100% in “agile”. During our SCRUM setup days we decided to move our “project managers” into “SCRUM master”. Now with their new very limited scope of “not breaking” the new process rules. All the other duties – gone!

The Break – Working on Epics

The new modell went all well until … we started our first epic. In waterfall days the epic was called project.

After some time SCRUM works very well organizing the software development. Mainly because the process SCRUM isn’t that hard to apply and everybody likes it – because it’s agile and simple. But the overarching business planing – looking beyond the daily SCRUM work … we lost it almost entirely.

Who does the prioritization work on which project – ahhh epic – we should work next? Is it the product owner? The VP product? The CEO? The whole management team? Who takes care of the resource conflicts arising automatically if you have scarce resources? Who detects those conflicts and escalates them? How do we deal with delays?

Quite some questions. A lot of companies switching from traditional – thoroughly controlled processes to the agile modell encounter comparable issues, we learned.

How did we solve it? Well, we started to recognize that SCRUM is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Furthermore, you need to work on your agile organization. Not only product development and product management are customer of your SCRUM teams. A lot of topics – owned e.g. by online marketing or customer care center – need attention as well.

In the end, when multiple departments within our organization are involved in work we started to include project managers again. They have an inter-department communication and coordination role. So, for us project managers did not disappear entirely, they showed up again in the context of strategic projects with a slightly different role.

Lessons learned?

  • SCRUM is good to organize the product development part of your agile organization
  • There is more than just SCRUM to become truly agile
  • In an agile organization you better have roles like project managers

The role of the Scrum Master – a key player!?

The role of the Scrum Master – a real key player?!

Very early in the process of introducing SCRUM, we had to choose persons for the roles well known in SCRUM. One of them obviously for the scrum master. Knowing waterfall-a-like models from the past and project management we decided to transform project managers into scrum masters.

Why? What was the motivation?

Well, from the books and theory the scrum master personalizes the “big brother” of the SCRUM process. Not having too much experience with the agile process, the logical step is to transform the person looking after processes from the old universe into the new one. Make the project manager the scrum master.

This worked quite well for a while. But suddenly, scrum masters started complaining about their work – too less meaningful work to be done – too less challenges to be looked after – the process became a common tool and so did the framework. The master of ceremony wasn’t so important any more.
But on the other hand we recognized another role in the process to be overwhelmed with organizational, planning, decision preparation, controling, steering and actually leading the team. Which role is it? In books you usually find the role description of the product owner being reduced to owning the back log, giving input to the team and otherwise having quite a nice life. We found this role in our experience being one of the most important roles – but another blog entry for this topic.

What role does the scrum master actually play right now in our teams? We still have  scrum masters. Some teams run the role of the lead developer and the scrum master in one person. Others still have dedicated persons for the scrum master role – but himself actually looking after three teams. Other teams have one scrum master heavily supporting the product owner consulting the backlog prioritization, the user story splitting and how to actually run the team.

Lesson learned?

  • The scrum master needs to be experienced and well-educated about agile processes.
  • After a while, the process is established, the scrum master will start looking for further challenges – and will most likely find them supporting the product owner.
  • Even if the books don’t tell you – one of the most important roles of the scrum master in our environment is to improve the processes and challenge the teams against their commitment.