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  • Jacob Anderson

Endless Agile Roles and Job Titles MUST STOP!

I have been the participant in many sessions over the years where the intent was to clarify the roles and responsibilities of participants, bystanders or others involved in the process of becoming more Agile as a team or organization. Without fail, those sessions follow a pattern of identifying existing responsibilities of the aforementioned roles, and oftentimes extrapolation of appropriate titles associated with them. What doesn’t have to follow that is the complicated mess of slicing and dicing the roles so much that they no longer have relevance back to the original intent of the roles. When the job titles have so many layers that it is hard to understand where the responsibility of one person stops and another begins, it’s time to start simplifying. So, for that sake of simplicity, let’s take a look at the roles that should exist within and in support of an Agile Team.

Simplicity with Agile Team Roles

The main job function of any given role should fall within the confines of three key areas. As an organization we have defined this before and it shouldn’t be new to any purveyor of the Dark Arts that are Agile. However, we need to ask ourselves what the extra job title or extra role does that doesn’t fit into the following categories. Keep in mind that with some potential titles associated with each of the roles, they are in no way intended to be exhaustive:

  • Customer – Product Owner, Product Manager, Business Analyst, Technical Analyst, Functional Analyst, etc.

  • Facilitator – Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Release Train Engineer, etc.

  • Implementer – Developer, Tester, Trainer, UX Designer, etc.

We should be asking the question of what our job does in relationship to the Customer, Facilitator or Implementor role that becomes defined at a high level. What part do we play, or should we play, on a team that is implementing a business solution or product for the company. If for any reason it doesn’t fall in one of these categories, don’t fret, there are still roles that support the Agile Team(s) in their path towards success that I will talk about further below.

To help identify the correct level of detail needed for each role, it may be necessary to have the people for the respective roles meet together to discuss and determine what they are really responsible for at the team level. At the very least, the Customer and Facilitator role should meet together to ensure that they understand what they are doing to support creation of the backlog for the Implementors to work on and also the facilitation of events or ceremonies that will usher in progress towards the delivered solution at a sustainable pace. This type of meeting may not be without a degree of conflict or disagreement, but it is important that this healthy conflict occurs so a sound understanding exists of who is helping the team get the right details and process working for them to be successful.

Expanded Agile Roles – Friends of the Team

For those of you who have mulled on the roles above without finding your specific area of influence identified, let’s talk about some of the other roles that oftentimes exist within an organization to help teams be successful. I regularly call these roles the “Friends of the Team” role because quite simply they exist to support the team in many different and distinct ways. If you look at many of the scaling frameworks of Agile (Scrum at Scale, Disciplined Agile Delivery and Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe to name just a few), they each call out the expanded roles needed to support team success as part of a greater organization. In order to determine where our role finds the most value we must ask what type of support, clarification or direction it provides for the core roles mentioned above. Let’s look at a few titles oftentimes called out as roles in an organization which again are in no way intended to be exhaustive.

  • Managers – Who or what does the manager support? Do they have developers that report to them? Testers? Some other mixture? What are they helping enable for these people so they can get the product built right? Are there other considerations for this crucial role or title?

  • Executives – What funding mechanisms do they hold onto in order to determine what to focus on from a product standpoint? What type of relationship do they have with the Customer role on the Agile Team? Do they dictate what will be focused on from a product perspective or are they more concerned with the outcomes for clients?

  • Directors – What area of expertise do they own or manage? What do they do to bring this expertise into the Agile Team(s)? Who do they have that works with them that is responsible for enabling knowledge acquisition for the Agile Team(s)?

  • Client Support – What information do these crucial people play in crafting the future of your products? What type of mentality exists amongst this key role to enhance the future of products or solutions that the company offers? How closely do they work with the Customer role on the Agile Team, such as the Product Owner, in making sure the Product is responsive to customer needs while also being intuitive?

As you can clearly see, regardless of the expanded role that exists within the organization they are in place to support the success of the core Agile Team roles. There are many people within your organization that can help be change agents and you need to harness that wealth of knowledge with your people to have the greatest success possible for your products and solutions. The openness and exchange of information that is encouraged across roles within the organization with these “Friends of the Team” will help chart the progress towards sustainable outcomes while the opposite leads to a more siloed approach within an organization.

Roles: Keep it Simple – Keep it Agile

Regardless of the responsibilities you may have within your organization, it becomes crucial to ask the following questions?

  • Am I responsible for product direction or vision?

  • Am I responsible for facilitating team direction, process implementation and sustainability?

  • Am I responsible for implementing a certain aspect of a Product or Solution?

  • Am I responsible for enabling Product, Process or Implementation to be smoother within my organization?

Knowing your role either on the Agile Team or in support of the Agile Team’s goals can help to know how best to approach the outcome intended for you and your organization. Don’t overcomplicate things with roles and job titles by adding too many superfluous layers. Try to keep the organization as flat as possible with the layers utilized in your reporting hierarchy. Take ownership of your role in the Agile Team’s success by keeping everything as simple as possible. Only then can you embrace business agility as the ultimate outcome for your organization.

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