The scrum master role is crucial

Both an organisation and its project teams need to overcome challenges, as well as take risks if they are to become Agile (as discussed in part one of this blog).

There is also a significant amount of cultural change that is necessary. Management need to start trusting and empowering its project managers, while project managers need to see themselves less as individuals and more as part of something bigger.

This involves switching from being task-orientated to being accountable and taking responsibility for the end result.

The incentive to adapt to this way of working is the success of the project, and while that in itself should be a big motivator, there are two roles that are crucial not only for the team to succeed, but for selling the project to the team in the first place: the scrum master and the product owner.

Making sure these two roles grow faster than the rest of the team – through training, as well as coaching and consulting – is the key to ensuring organisations become Agile faster, because they hold the answers to a lot of problems.

Peer control

Despite the freedom Agile promotes, there is still the need for an element of control. But with Agile, rather than controlling the people who execute the project, the scrum master and product owner take responsibility for the extent to which their team is doing a good job or not.

Team members must be able to feel that they can assert themselves, and with Agile, there are many opportunities to do this – with daily scrum meetings and reviews that ensure people can be open and honest. It is down to the scrum master to ensure these happen.

The basis of this is continuous improvement through peer control. If no one feels they can say they have a problem, nothing can be improved. Agile is about moving people to a mind-set instead of labelling where you don’t label whether something is good or bad, you look at how it can be improved.

The most important thing a scrum master can do is actually go through the process of doing things like analysing and improving – to operate in cycles from which you will see results, and then adjust.

When they start doing it more and more, they can then think about introducing any coaching or consulting in order to hone those skills.

Value adding

As well as collaboration, Agile advocates value – specifically adding value.

Ultimately, it is the customer who defines the value, so the faster you go to the customer with something, the faster the customer will say what its value is, and whether it’s good or bad.

Businesses can no longer afford to spend as much time defining the value by themselves without checking with the customer, or spending all their time bringing something to the market which the customer doesn’t like.

So this is where the product owner role is so crucial – connecting the project team with the end customer. The faster you connect this, and the more intimate the connection is, the better chance there is for the product to work.

The only thing that matters is the end result – if the product works but there is no value in it, you might have done a good job but you won’t end up making any money. (The value is how much someone will pay for something, it has nothing to do with the amount of work you put into a project.)

So the product owner is also vital for giving the project team the knowledge that it’s not about building the best product, but to innovate on the business model, such as making something cheaper and more affordable for the customer.

Fortunately, we are in a phase where people are curious and want to know more and are therefore embracing training and consulting.

But being interested and wanting to learn is not enough. You need to be prepared for the next phase – working with customers to actually produce something in an Agile way, go to the next level, implement some projects and resources, and take some risks.

Ideally, you do this when it’s your decision to do it, not because the market forces you to make the switch – as it sooner or later will. It is much better to make the move while there is time to learn – and practice – what you have learnt.