How to resolve Agile roles conflicts, confusions and doubts at workplace?

I am a Project Management Professional with 14+ years of extensive experience majorly in software product development, development and support (web/desktop applications), onsite client interaction, global program/project management, strategy, planning.

Agile Role Conflicts ? Confusion and Doubt !!

Abstract

 In the last couple of years, I observed that one of the topics most discussed in Agile blogs, Agile Conferences, Webinars, etc. was around ‘Role Definition in Agile World’.

I felt that many organizations transitioning to Agile are facing similar problems. Here is an attempt to share my observations and learning’s. I would like to hear from you on how these problems are addressed in your organizations.

Lack of Role Clarity: Many people seem to have no clarity on Agile Roles

Role Conflicts: Existing roles seem to have conflicts with newly introduced roles.

Lack of Ownership: There seems to be no clear Responsibility and Accountability for results and retention

Lack of Career Path: There seems to be no clear career path for different roles

Relevance of HR Titles: There seems to be confusion about relating multiple levels of traditional HR Titles to Scrum where everyone is called a Developer.

Role or Title: There seems to be confusion here as well.

Disappearance of Traditional Roles: There seems to be confusion about sudden disappearance of Project Manager, Business Analyst, and Functional Manager roles

Agile Coach vs. Scrum Master: There seems to be some confusion about these two Agile Roles as well.

Manager Role: There seems to be more confusion on manager role in terms of expectations.

Role of Managers of Managers: Managers of Managers don’t seem to understand ‘ownership by team’; they want one person (typically, the Manager) to be accountable for delivery.

Different Observations and Reactions:

Here are my initial observations based on my conversations with people playing different Agile roles:

Some of the Scrum Masters I met think that they are People Managers and Project Managers. They think they are the People Managers because they resolve people problems, they coach them. They think they also play the Project Manager role as they focus on delivery as well. They think that other roles such as, Team Leaders, Managers, and Top Management does not understand Agile. Here is a comment from one of my conversations with a Scrum Master at many places.

“Team leads/Managers are not supporting us in terms of empowering teams, talking to team, allowing SM to do people involvements, people engagement and let’s allow team to do whatever they want to do. Management does not understand agile, current mindset is not agile mindset. My role is misunderstood, I don’t have power to play role and people are not respecting my role”

Some of the Team Leads I met think that they are the People Managers because people engagement /motivation are the key part of their role, team members officially report to them and they are accountable for delivery. They also keep questioning about Scrum Master Role’s contribution in the team. Here is a comment from one of my conversations with a Team Leader.

“We are not clear what value Scrum Master is adding other than just arranging meetings / phone calls. They are not removing impediments, not involved with PO’s, not taking a stand to talk to team about problems when there is a process breach, hiding team’s misses and mistakes, meeting with teams directly without leaders and they are not involved in story level estimations”

Some of the Scrum Teams think that managers should not be enforcing their decision on the teams and should keep themselves out of the team. They think that they are self-organized/self-sustained team and do not need any manager and sometime they keep questioning on scrum masters role as well.

Scrum Guide says that project failure or success accountability belongs to product owners, teams and scrum master and nothing mentioned about manager.

Agile Coaches think that failure or success of the projects belong to teams (major emphasis on scrum teams) during my various discussion with different agile coaches and sessions. Accountability in scrum is mainly around all three roles Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the value of the team’s work as well as the value of the product they are working on, the Scrum Master is accountable for raising or maintaining the team’s velocity and the Team Members are all accountable to each other to produce good work. Both the Product Owner and the Scrum Master are accountable to management for their decisions (or lack thereof) and for enhancing the visibility of work, impediments, and other items.

Mangers think that if managers being accountable for end to end delivery /people then peoples have to accountable for them as well to drive those behavior in the same directions. Here is a comment from one of my conversations with a Manager

“I being asked questions by management especially in case of project failure neither scrum master nor leads nor teams also not product owners where I had no role to play other than supporting team for their needs and been kept aside from delivery. I don’t know what am I supposed to do… but I know I have been asked questions on capacity /productivity /matrices as well.

Some % of the management held manager accountable for project success and failure.

Some % of the management gives credit to team for their success but held manager accountable to failure only.

During the discussions, I found that an accountability factors drives the behavior of the manager or anybody to ask various questions at various point of time which may or may not be taken as positive by agile teams as they feel manager should not intervene.

Similarly there are lot of confusions between small (Jr.) or BIG (Sr.) titles and responsibilities, people normally comes and say that what are the different qualifier between Jr./Sr. when responsibilities are same.

Small (Jr.) BIG (Sr.)” Developers: “Why titles are different when roles are same??”

Symptoms

Above observations/reactions are eventually turns into frustration; don’t allow people to work together, leads to lack of role respect /trust with each other and team conflicts which end results are as below

  • High job dissatisfaction
  • Ultimately leads to bad performance
  • And finally led to Attrition.

Problem Statement

Here are the some visible problem statements I found by observing those comments/conversations.

Role Interpretation – Actual vs. Own Version of Understanding (everybody has their own version and understanding of role)

Role Conflicts – who owns what (no ownership clarity)?

Role Overlapping and Ambiguity – Same responsibilities been own by multiple people ex: Scrum Master/Lead /lead eng/technical lead /Manager /Sr. Manager

Accountability vs. Responsibility – Lack of clarity on Accountability vs. Responsibilities ex: Scrum Team OR Manager OR Product Owner OR Team?

Old Practices and Procedure still exist:

Root Causes

Lack of Role Clarity and Expectation

Organization Culture

Inefficient /Inadequate Coaching or Understanding about the roles

Solution

Role Clarity and Expectation

The person or team must have a clear understanding of what they are responsible for delivering. This usually takes the form of a set of SMART goals. SMART is a mnemonic acronym to ease the setting of goals. The letters stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Information about SMART is available.

I felt that common mistake done at stage 0 ‘hiring’ with unclear role and expectation from beginning so it is important that you are crystal clear about what you expect from him/her while hiring. Look for right candidates as per their role fitment, cultural fitment while mapping skill set /interest level /future aspiration etc…

The right way to hold people accountable If only you have clear expectation laid out (SMART goal) with your continuous feedback mechanism for their deliverables.

Every role should be given equal empowerment and should be engaged in decision making.

Organization Culture

Probing a bit deeper reveals that most of this agility starts and ends with the product development teams – specifically software engineering. There is rarely a mention of “agile in the HR group” in terms of their practices, polices and behaviors or “continuous improvement in finance” or “any other support department” And yet, it is in these infrastructural disciplines that agility must take root to support software-driven businesses.

No changes are easy changes. It is important to bring agile to the whole organization and change must embraced by everyone with open mindset else continuous challenges will occur in journey and again agile will end with product development teams – specifically software engineering only

Few Guidelines

  • Change in mindset
  • Bring transparency and visibility roles and corresponding career path
  • Change in hiring style- Make job requisition more meaningful (avoid ambiguous language)
  • Set expectation from day 1-It should not conflict with other role in same team.
  • Empowers and engage every important role in decision making
  • Give importance and respect to the role
  • Have good intention for team or Individual Success- Work with team or individual for their success with continuous feedback.
  • Stop measuring teams on old non Agile metrics (Avoid dysfunctional behavior)
  • Change in behavior when dealing with people (Exhibit supporting behaviors)
  • Stop making perceptions rather looks for facts
  • Evaluation based on defined tangible SMART goals

These guidelines will not only bring best out of the every employee capabilities with clear expectation but also brings positive environment in a team where everybody knows about their roles in team along with career path 2 -3 years down the line.

Coaching

I realized that either there are problems with the people understanding or coaching such as Role of Manager in Agile, Scrum master is not a project Manager, Role of development leads so it is important to clear the concept with examples /practical’s and relate with practical fitment in your organization culture.

Read about Gabrielle Benefield, who wrote on Yahoo’s Agile transformation: It is important that organization leverage Agile coaches capabilities at large scale, Agile coaches can be expensive but it is worth to have at least 1 because based on compelling data, one Agile coach saved the company around 1.5 million dollars per year

Conclusion

Every role is important in an organization as far they are clear, adds value to organization, given empowerment, distinct with minimum role overlapping and ambiguity, and has crystal clear expectation starting from hiring with right level of understanding  and transparency across the team.

Role vs. Title also may vary as well as far as expectations are clear and not impacting other performing roles in any given situation within organization.

Anybody can be accountable for any things as far as they know what is expected out of them and given empowerment in order to make them successful.

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