Agile Team Role Interactions

From the last post, here are the three common roles found on an agile team:

  1. Cross-functional team member–in keeping with the non-hierarchical structure of the agile team, the cross-functional team member is mentioned first, and NOT the product owner or team facilitator.   They are professionals who deliver potentially releasable product on a regular basis.   They need to deliver work in the shortest possible time, with higher quality, without external dependencies.
  2. The product owner interacts with the customer and stakeholders as well as the team, and they pay attention to the highest value for the customer. They typically have a business background and have deep subject matter expertise.   They create the backlog for and with the team, in a way that delivers the highest value without creating waste.
  3. This role can be called various names, such as a project manager, scrum master, as well as a team lead, couch, or facilitator.  The servant leader, no matter what he or she is called, needs to focus on facilitation of the work done by the team, impediment removal, and coaching.   If the servant leader feels their internal coaching capability is not yet fully developed, then they may invite external agile coaches.

How do they interact with each other, with the customers for whom the project is being done, and the organization which is doing the project?

Well, bear with me on this, but an analogy came to me yesterday while I was taking a shower–it’s like how soap works to get things clean.   A soap molecule must combine water and the substance that is being cleaned, including if it is covered in something oily like grease, and essentially have the water molecules carry away the dirt off the surface being cleaned.

One problem with this is that water and oil do not normally mix.   The soap molecule has a special structure which is that at one end, it attracts water (it is hydrophilic to use the technical term).   The other end repels water but is compatible with oil because it is itself composed of fatty acids.   The soap molecule, by combining these two properties in the same molecule, can therefore make water and oil mix, causing the oily dirt to be carried away when the water is washed away.

The product owner faces the customers and communicates their requirements to the cross-functional team members.   The cross-functional team members are the ones who are trying to create a solution, so they are, like water molecules, trying to break apart the problems being handed to them by the product owner, who gets them from the customers.  The customers and the cross-functional team members are like the “oil” and “water” that have to work together to get the solution done.

And what causes them to be able to work together, when their roles are so different?   That is the team facilitator (who may also be called a project manager, scrum master, or other designation)–he or she holds the team together by facilitating, coaching if necessary, and removing impediments that would prevent them from working cohesively.

So the team facilitator has to face both the team AND the product owner in order to make sure that the solutions that the team come up with are communicated to the customer so that the customer is pleased with the product.

What types of specializations work best with these three roles?   That is the subject of the following post.


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