Troubleshooting Agile Project Challenges (4)–Clarifying Team Roles and Responsibilities


On pages 58 and 59 of the Agile Practice Guide, there are twenty-one challenges or “pain points” described together with the suggested solution(s) to the problem.   However, they are listed in a random, laundry-list fashion without much rhyme or reason to the order.  So what I have done is reviewed all the suggested solutions and grouped those challenges that require the same type of solution.   These five types of solution are:

  1. Production of agile charter
  2. Product backlog/user story definition
  3. Kanban boards
  4. Focus on team roles/responsibilities
  5. Testing implementation

I have already covered the first three solutions, production of an agile charter, production and maintenance of a product backlog, and the use of kanban boards, in the past three posts.

The production of the agile charter was essential for challenges dealing with the context of the project (what is the product vision?, what is the organization’s mission for doing the project?, etc.).

The production, refinement, and maintenance of the product backlog helped with challenges dealing with the requirements of the product and how these are reflected in the user stories that make up the product backlog.   It also showed how to adjust the user stories that comprise that backlog in order that the team not bite off more than it can chew during any one iteration.

And the challenges dealing with the process of the project, i.e., doing the work and then reviewing it during retrospectives, were met by the use of kanban boards to visualize those processes, which then in turn makes it easier to pinpoint bottlenecks or barriers so they can be focused on and removed.

Today I’m covering the four series of challenges that can be faced by using a common solution, namely, focusing on and clarifying the team’s roles and responsibilities, especially those of the product owner and the servant leader (whatever title that person goes by, such as scrum master, project manager, etc.).

Here are the five challenges that can be faceed by focusing on the team’s roles and responsibliites.

  1. Team struggles with obstacles–The servant leader should be the one focusing on and clearing those obstacles.   The servant leader should create options for the team to choose among.   If the servant leader is unable for whatever reason (such as lack of experience) to remove the obstacles, consider escalating the problem by consulting with an agile coach.
  2. False starts, wasted efforts–This is usually caused by the team’s insufficient understanding of exactly what the project mission is (what exactly is it we are trying to produce).   The product owner needs to be an integral part of these team discussions so that he or she can communicate with the customer and clarify exactly what the requirements are.
  3. “Hurry up and wait”, i.e., an uneven flow of work–This is where the clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the individual team members is important.  Plan to the team’s work in progress (WIP) capacity and not more; even consider reducing that WIP capacity if necessary.   The team should stop multitasking (i.e., working on other projects) and be dedicated to one team.   Have the team members consider working in pairs or even in groups to even out the capabilities across the entire team, and to increase communication between team members.
  4. Impossible stakeholder demands–The servant leader needs to work together with the product owner and stakeholders to clarify the obstacles in meeting the current demands.
  5. Siloed teams, instead or cross-functional teams–If you are getting team members from managers in a specific department that are comfortable working with each other but not necessarily those from other departments, then the servant leader needs to educate the managers on why cross-functional teams are essential to the success of an agile project.    Ask the team members on the project to work together in pairs or even in groups with team members from other departments in order to create create cross-functional teams.

You can see that this set of solutions involves both the strengthening of the roles and responsibilities of the leadership on an agile team (the servant leader and the product owner), and the clarification of the roles and responsibilities of team members (they need to stop multitasking and working alone and move towards inclusion of other team members from other departments on their team).

This will help the team create the work product.   This helps with the scope of the project, which deals with the completeness of the work.   What about the correctness of that completed work, which is where quality control comes in?   For issues regarding this area, see the next and final post in this series on clarification of testing.

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