Responsibilities in an agile company: From Scrum Team to C-Level

This article aims to draw a simplified high level picture about the responsibilities of all major roles across a given hierarchy from Scrum team to C-Level (however flat that hierarchy may be).

This article originally appeared on Quandoo@Medium under the headline How to Scale Responsibilities From Scrum Team to C-Level. The following is a strongly abbreviated version.

Responsibilities in a Scrum Team

The Product Owner

Product Owners are responsible for the Product Backlog. Everything from inception and validation of ideas, research, concepts and eventually User Stories. A Product Owners prime motivation and responsibility is the generation of value and thus effectiveness.

The Team

(Development) Teams are responsible for implementing the most important and/or most valuable Product Backlog items. They self select how many Backlog Items they commit to getting done in a given Sprint. Why is this autonomy so important? Only with the autonomy to decide how much to do in one Sprint the Team gains full control of quality. No compromises, no shortcuts: Delivering things in good quality.

This might be controversial: Does only Team focus on quality? What about the Product Owner? Quality products will surely deliver more value, no? Of course! But with all kinds of creative work and software development in particular, there can be an unseen lack of quality: Your product might be ready and usable, but how long will it work? How far will it scale? How much effort is it to maintain it? How easy is it to extend? Only the team can keep this in check.

The ScrumMaster

My brief summary of the responsibilities of and shout out to ScrumMasters: Please care for facilitating events and generating a common understanding of all things! Care for agile best practices and help (both!) other roles to self-organize! Help people to continuously improve and work with other ScrumMasters to drive organizational agility.

The ScrumMasters’ sole responsibility boils down to efficiency. Make sure we’re doing those good things in the best way possible.

Disclaimer: If effectiveness is not taken care of by the Product Owner and the Team doesn’t care enough for quality, then of course it remains a task of the ScrumMaster to coach them to get there. After all there is a priority in those responsibilities and it must be:

  1. Effectiveness
  2. Quality
  3. Efficiency

“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” ― Peter Drucker

Credit where credit is due

This view of Scrum roles’ is strongly inspired by this great post on Agile42’s blog by Martin von Weissenberg, who expertly lays out how the three Scrum roles enhance one another.

Responsibilities in a Management Board

The Chief Product Officer (CPO)

The CPO takes care of building “a great product that avails sustainable value in terms of revenue and profits for the business [and] is responsible for all product-related matters.” (Wikipedia) The why behind all activities from product vision to various stages of product development and product marketing is value generation: The use of means of production to generate enough revenue to make a profit. The capability of producing a desired output (which for any investment is profit) is called effectiveness. The Product Owner of one team owns that teams Product Backlog. The CPO owns the Company Product Backlog and is responsible for sizing and prioritizing items in that backlog.

The Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

The responsibility of a CTO is to “make decisions for the overarching technology infrastructure that closely align with the organization’s goals […]. A CTO should be aware of new and existing technologies to guide the company’s future endeavors.” (Wikipedia) So with regards to our products, the CTO is responsible (on the highest level) for the exact same things Teams are responsible for on a ground level:

  • How long will our technology stack work?
  • How far will our products scale? (Supporting future endeavors.)
  • How much effort does it cost to maintain our product suite?
  • How easy is it to extend our product offering and integrate with one another? (Supporting the organization’s goals.)

A CTOs responsibility is the same as the responsibility of every role in the tech organization: Anybody between CTO and Junior Associate Development Intern is responsible for quality.

The Chief Operating Officer (COO)

The COO is responsible for the daily operation of the company.” (Wikipedia) That includes weighing effectiveness and efficiency. In a company that has a CPO there is a role responsible for effectiveness of it’s product offering. A COO still needs to cater to the effectiveness of it’s internal services, but overall should put greater weight on company efficiency.

Let’s extrapolate from the responsibilities of a ScrumMaster:

  1. A ScrumMaster makes sure a Team works well together internally and communication with the other role, the Product Owner, is smooth.
    A COO has the responsibility to make sure all teams within a company work well together and also ensure that communication with the management and other stakeholders is smooth.
  2. A ScrumMaster drives Team-internal process improvement as well as collaboration with others, where needed.
    A COO needs to keep overall company processes working, ideally above industry standards to achieve a competitive advantage.
  3. A ScrumMaster caters to the general mood inside a Team, drives self-improvement and learning and escalates if required skills are not present or cannot be obtained.
    A COO should be “maintaining and monitoring staffing, levels, knowledge-skills-attributes […], expectations and motivation”. (Wikipedia)

See? Similarly to the ScrumMaster, the COO is responsible for efficiency.

Scaling Responsibilities

All of the above leads us to this simplified overview of responsibilities at scale:

Let’s look at the nature of those overlaps:

Team-levelC-level
Effectiveness & QualityProduct Owner & Teams elaborate on product vision and roadmap.CTO derives a long term technical roadmap from the long-term product roadmap, shaped by the CPO.
Effectiveness & EfficiencyScrumMasters work with Product Owners, sparring in many ways and on all topics around work and team work.CPO and COO measure value generation, the ability to plan better, while retaining agility, reporting and ideally the automation of (first cumbersome, then all of) it.
Quality & EfficiencyTeams work with the ScrumMaster for ongoing self improvement.COO and CTO care for the delivery processes (on company level), for automation and/or shipping. Most things which at the start of a business are done quite manually, hold potential value in automation. Time spent here is time (or money) that could be spent elsewhere.

How about bigger company with more roles in between? 

Roles along the reporting lines between the highest office and teams “on the ground” retain the very same responsibilities. What changes is primarily the area (size) of responsibility.

Conclusion

Scrum is successful because it takes all responsibilities from an overpowered (and conflicted) role (the project manager) and puts the responsibilities on three roles. Each of these shall focus on one responsibility.

Those responsibilities are in constant conflict. Collaboration is key to overcome conflicts and pave the way for productivity. However: The overlap in the operative field of work does not mean any role can neglect their main responsibility.


Links other than Wikipedia and the Scrum guide:

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