Beyond Roles in Scrum

Posted by on Feb 19, 2014 in People's Scrum | 8 Comments

In this post we will explain how we can move to shared responsibility by focusing away from roles in Scrum.

(This is a joint post with Michael Sahota)

Build the Right thing. Build it Right. Build it Fast. ?

Henrik Kniberg produced a kick-ass intro video on Agile and Scrum that we use a lot in trainings. It’s titled “Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell”. It’s a great general introduction to Scrum, not just for Product Owners.

One amazing detail in this video is Henrik’s visualisation that helps understand three project goals and how the three Scrum Roles relate tend to focus on each:

Kniberg Roles

Kniberg Roles

He highlights how Scrum teams continually get better at finding and exploiting the sweet spot, of doing the right thing in the right way at the right point in time.

A Problem with Roles

We were using this model in a training and a participant in a training inspired us with a question: “What if these circles are closer together or further apart? There is no sweet spot any more if they don’t share these responsibilities…”

We noticed that the word “role” is actually not helpful in this context. A role is a “not my problem” rule. (cf Somebody Else’s Problem)

A team employing the traditional “role interpretation” to Scrum roles would look like this:

Somebody Else' s Problem

Somebody Else’ s Problem

They will have a hard time finding a sweet spot on their own, and they might choose doing what they are told: deliver on expectations. Such an environment has a low probability to continually improve.

Roles have been useful in the past, when organisations were structured based on one proven way to do things. In today’s ever-changing business contexts, following an established process, having clear roles and responsibilities, is limiting our options. One example is blame: “He is responsible for that, so it’s not my fault.” When we want to enable a group of people to discover a path to success, having shared responsibility for the outcome, it’s helpful to use a different language that focuses our awareness on the new game we’re playing.

Value Interests over Roles

We want to talk about interests instead of roles:

Interests, Not Roles

Interests, Not Roles

  1. Do the right thing.

  2. Do things right.

  3. Get better and better every day.

Positions not Roles

We may think about positions like on a team: forward, mid-field, defense where we all work together to win. This is a more useful and less limiting model than roles.

In soccer, we’ve seen goalkeepers score in the 92nd minute. When the goalkeeper falls other players help keeping the ball out of the goal. This is the behaviour we want to see in teams.

The Heart of Scrum: Shared Responsibility

When we focus as a group on these shared interests, we may end up as shown below.

Shared Responsibility

Shared Responsibility

As collaboration and shared responsibility increases, teams explore multiple beneficial sweet spots to have an abundance of options for success. We see this as a huge “sweet blob” in the middle where – we call this the Heart of Scrum. For us, this means the group fully works together as a team towards a common goal.

Acknowledgements

A big thanks for Henrik Kniberg for creating such an awesome and valuable video. We would like to thank Tobias Mayer for inspiring this concept with the People’s Scrum and Krishan Mathis for co-facilitating a session with the same name at OOP.

8 Comments

  1. Frieda
    2014/02/22

    Nice!
    Just one question: What if people simply do not_have_the same interests? In the soccer example that would be “scoring” instead of just “kicking a ball around for fun”. What makes them want to score?
    Excited for your answer!
    Frieda
    PS: Hope you don’t mind that I asked Michael, too ;)

  2. Olaf
    2014/02/22

    Frieda,
    thank you for starting a conversation!
    Really good question.
    Three possible answers:
    (from a writer/rational perspective) people without a shared interest (which in this case is to win the game) are not a team.
    (from a team member’s perspective) play is no fun if I’m on a team without shared interest, so I’d do my best to help create it, or find a team where I can do that.
    (from a coaches perspective) I’d use my observations of the results of the lack of shared interest to inspire a conversation to help the team find out if they want one. And then let them discover what it is and live it…
    Does this answer your question?
    Hugs
    Olaf

  3. Andreas Schliep
    2014/02/23

    Nice article, although the problem is not about the existence of roles per se, but always about interpretation. The sweet spot, also called collaboration area, is where the magic happens. The roles in Scrum are designed to create and grow this sweet spot. Alas, the roles are still poorly understood.

    - The Product Owner is not a business analyst, nor a team lead. It’s plainly the person who owns the product. Simple as that. However, it is in the interest of the Product Owner, to spread a sense of ownership within the Scrum Team. This happens by collaborative Product Backlog Refinement.

    - The Development Team is not just a team of developers. It consists of everyone who is necessary to design, refine, create, test and deliver the product. They hold quality high, and spread the sense of technical excellence within the Scrum Team.

    - The Coach or ScrumMaster is no project manager in disguise. As a combined social worker and process quality manager, the ScrumMaster spreads the spirit and mechanics of Scrum within the Scrum Team.

    All role bearers have their special focus, and they share their passion and experiences. If they just hold on to their ‘own’ mission, they will not win with the team. I think, this is the message of this article.

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    2014/02/27

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  6. Beyond Roles in Scrum - Olaf Lewitz | Articles ...
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    […] In this post we will explain how we can move to shared responsibility by focusing away from roles in Scrum. (This is a joint post with Michael Sahota) Build the Right thing. Build it Right. Build it Fast. ? Henrik Kniberg produced a kick-ass intro video on Agile and Scrum that we use a lot …  […]

  7. Silvana Wasitova
    2014/03/13

    Andreas: love the SM as “combined social worker and process quality manager” :)

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