Comparison of the ScrumMaster, Product Owner, Project Manager and Team Lead Roles

Often in my classes, I’m asked for a clear comparison between the various traditional roles and the new roles in Scrum.  Here is a high level summary of some of the key responsibilities and activities that help highlight some important differences between these four roles:

ScrumMaster Product Owner Project Manager Team Lead
NEVER NEVER Assign Tasks YES
NO PARTICIPATES Create Schedule NO
NO YES Manage Budget NO
Remove Obstacles PARTICIPATES YES YES
NO Define Business Requirements PARTICIPATES NO
NO YES (Deliveries) Define Milestones NO
Facilitate Meetings NO YES YES
YES (process and people) YES (business) Risk Management PARTICIPATES
Organizational Change Agent NO NO NO
NO Accountable for Business Results RARELY (just costs) NO

Of course, there are many other ways we could compare these four roles.  What would you like me to add to this list?  Add a comment with a question or a suggestion and I will update the table appropriately!

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Timeboxing, Lateness and Character

I just finished reading a great rant about being on time by Greg Savage.  It got me thinking a bit.  I’ve been involved with Scrum and other Agile methods since the mid-90′s and in that time, my perspective on time has changed considerably.

saving time clock

I used to be the guy who was always late.  And it was a completely selfish behaviour.  Meetings, outings, even weddings.  I just couldn’t believe how “uptight” people were about time.  But gradually, over a period of about 5 years as I became more and more aware of the underlying philosophy of Agile, my perspective, and more importantly my behaviour, changed: I started being on time.  For everything.  Even if it meant doubling my travel time buffer.  Even if it meant sleeping 3 hours instead of 8 hours.  Even if it meant missing a meal or a drink or a personal to-do item.

Time is the only resource that, once spent, we can never get back.

Scrum and most other Agile methods respect this implicitly in their time-boxed iterations and meetings.  But people on Agile teams often need time to adapt and change their behaviour.  In many ways, timeliness (starting and finishing meetings on time) is a critical component of the Scrum value of Respect.

Timeliness is also related to our understanding of planning.  The Horizon of Predictability is short in most work environments.  Maybe a week or two.  If you dis-respect the tkmeboxes of the Agile process, you are jeopardizing your ability to effectively use the horizon of predictability.  Even the Daily Scrum, normally time boxed to 15 minutes each day, can through abuse of time, cause long-term ramifications in product development planning.

But really, I like Greg Savage’s point better than all the practical stuff: being late is rude.  Period.

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Humor – A Typical Project Launch Meeting

One of the things that I love is how many great videos there are that show the ridiculousness of a lot of corporate behaviour.  This video is a hilarious (and painful) look at one aspect: the way we treat our experts.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that we should never be sceptical.  Rather, sometimes we just have acknowledge reality: there is no magic to make a red line with a green marker.  The role of the expert is to clarify reality to others through their knowledge and experience.

When I am doing CSM and CSPO training, I often am faced with people who want to know how to make high-performance teams with distributed team members.  They are often looking for some sort of magical solution.  This is an example of not being willing to face the reality that distance makes communication slower, less effective, and less likely to happen at all.

I’m sure all of you have interesting experiences of being the expert in something and your audience pushing you to find the magical solution… share your stories in the comments please!

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The Rules of Scrum: I attend every Sprint Planning meeting in person

This rule of Scrum aligns with the Agile Manifesto principle “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”  In-person attendance of all Scrum Team members allows for the plan to unfold with minimal communication overhead and for the team to keep the meeting within the short time-box.  In-person attendance also allows the team to effectively collaborate in the work of creating the plan. The efficiency and effectiveness of the Product Owner’s presentation of the Product Backlog is optimized as well as the Development Team’s ability to collaboratively assess and select what it can and will accomplish in the Sprint. It also allows for everyone to be clear about the Sprint Goal and why the Development Team is building the increment. In-person attendance also allows the Development team to efficiently and effectively come to a decision as to how it will build the increment of functionality. In-person participation of all team members also increases the likelihood that the team will create the right design for the increment.  If even one team member attempts to attend this meeting by any other means, either by phone or even video conferencing, efficiency and effectiveness of the planning becomes compromised. Compromised collaborative planning yields compromised collective ownership. The successful delivery of the Sprint Goal requires full commitment on the part of the whole team. Lack of in-person participation increases the likelihood that the team will fail to deliver on its Goal because the planning will lack effectiveness. People are prone to estrangement from hazy goals reached through ineffective planning. In-person planning, therefore, is paramount to succeeding with Scrum.

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The Rules of Scrum: The Sprint Planning Meeting is Timeboxed to 2 Hours / Week of Sprint Length

Timeboxing is the practice of ending a meeting exactly on time regardless of the state of discussion or the desire of participants.  In Scrum, the length of the Sprint Planning Meeting is determined by the length of the Sprint.  For example, a one week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is timeboxed to two hours.  It is acceptable for the meeting to take less time, but not more.  A two week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is timeboxed to four hours.  Keeping the Sprint Planning Meeting timeboxed has two beneficial effects: one, the team keeps the overhead dedicated to meetings to a relatively low level, and two, the team learns to do effective planning in a very short period of time.  If the meeting is not timeboxed, then typically the team will keep planning until the plan is “done” which usually substantially eats into work time.

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