Agile Roles & Responsibilities: A Guide to Creating Agile Teams

Agile software development has managed to revolutionize how businesses work. It gives companies of all shapes and sizes a framework in which they can create better products faster. By encouraging project managers to embrace change rather than fear it, agile provided a well-needed shift from the status quo waterfall approach.

Agile is significantly different from traditional project management, so you may need to redefine roles, responsibilities, and your company’s work culture. This can be intimidating as failing to define who needs to do what can lead to serious issues within your company.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the five roles that make up agile teams: product owner, scrum master, development team, agile coach, and stakeholders. You’ll also learn how to successfully put agile into practice by clearly defining roles and how to implement them.

Agile Roles on a Scrum Team

Agile teams are different from traditional waterfall teams as they have a flexible approach to the product development process.

Agile teams are cross functional and self-organizing. They adapt to changing requirements quickly. These teams focus on the continuous improvement of the product to deliver the highest business value.

Within agile, there are multiple frameworks. The scrum team is one of the most important.

Scrum is an agile framework that breaks down complex tasks into short deliverables. It focuses on effective teamwork, adaptive strategies, and iteration to achieve product goals in the fastest time possible.

On a scrum team, there are three primary roles: product owner, scrum master, and the development team.

Product Owner

An agile team is flexible, but due to its dynamic nature it can easily get off track. The product owner takes on the task of defining goals and prioritizing vital tasks to ensure team members are delivering the highest value possible.

The product owner represents all the stakeholders that are involved in the development process. They bridge the gap between different stakeholders by understanding customer needs, representing them to  the scrum team, and balancing the requirements to achieve the product’s goals.

Most importantly, the product owner is responsible for prioritizing tasks after taking into account all of the stakeholders’ needs. An effective product owner eliminates conflicts and provides clear direction to improve the team’s execution.

Key Responsibilities of a Product Owner

  • Create, manage, and revise the product backlog 
  • Manage releases
  • Manage stakeholders

Scrum Master

The Scrum master focuses on aligning scrum teams to the values established by the scrum framework. A scrum master takes on different tasks in the organization and may act as a servant leader or team lead that ensures scrum teams work together.

Scrum masters assist product owners by keeping them updated – informing them about their abilities, progress, and what obstacles the scrum team faces. They’re also responsible for helping the product owner describe the value to developers, manage the product backlog, and break down complex tasks.

A scrum master also improves the efficiency of the development team by helping them improve self organization, manage bottlenecks, focus on end goals, and define what “done” means.

Key Responsibilities of Scrum Masters

  • Enforce scrum values in the organization
  • Maintain effective communication between team members 
  • Assist product owners
  • Help the development team

Development Team

The development team has direct involvement in making the product. In scrum methodology, a developer isn’t necessarily an engineer or coder; rather, scrum simplifies the process by labeling every team member part of the production process a “developer.”

This means that the development team consists of all team members that possess the needed skills. The development team may include designers, programmers, engineers, testers, etc.

Developers are arranged in self organizing teams. This empowers them to make their own decisions and adapt to customer feedback by issuing changes/fixes to the existing strategy.

Key Responsibilities of the Development team

  • Perform work in sprints and deliver products within the given timeframe
  • Participate in a daily scrum, also known as a stand-up, which is a 15-minute long meeting where developers discuss what to do for the day

Agile Coach

Agile coaches have industry knowledge, experience in researching trends, and possess a variety of soft skills. They are responsible for creating and monitoring agile processes that adhere to agile values. An agile coach sets the standard for an agile team to build upon and guides them through the process.

Key Responsibilities of an Agile Coach

  • Mentor agile teams to effectively carry out agile processes
  • Coach the scrum master and product owner to develop an agile mindset
  • Set up and maintain policies that adhere to agile values
  • Facilitate changes in the way teams work together

Stakeholders

Stakeholders are people who have an interest in the company’s decision-making. There are two types of stakeholders: internal and external.

Internal stakeholders are people within the organization who are part of the product development process; such as, team members or managers.

External stakeholders are people outside the organization who may be affected by the product development process; such as customers, investors, and suppliers.

Stakeholders play an important role in the development of an agile team as they help with continuous improvement by giving input into the product development cycle. They also participate in sprint demos, or demo meetings, where stakeholders come together to discuss the achievements and shortcomings of the sprint.

Key Responsibilities of Stakeholders

  • Provide constructive feedback on product increments
  • Collaborate with product owners on the product backlog for future sprints
  • Set expectations of the product and communicate requirements to the product owner

Are Scrum Roles the Same as Job Titles?

If it’s your first time defining agile roles for your company it can be confusing to know where to start. A common misconception is to think of these scrum roles as job titles.

Scrum roles aren’t the same as job titles. In the Scrum Guide, roles are vaguely defined with only the key responsibilities clarified. Any team member who can carry out the responsibilities expected of them can take on that role.

Scrum is based upon an empirical process, self organization, and continuous improvement, which gives companies flexibility in creating an agile team. Scrum team members are accountable for their own actions.

Additional Roles for Scaling the Agile Methodology

When planning to expand, increasing tasks may become complicated to handle. This is a common issue when trying to scale agile. Companies may have to define additional team roles for larger scrum projects.

Integrator

Integrators are responsible for developing additional tools or processes that streamline team coordination and integrate different parts of the process to make an end-product suitable for release. These are usually used in large teams as it’s only effective when multiple separate teams may be working on a project together.

Technical and Domain Experts

Technical and domain experts have extensive technical and industry knowledge. They help in overcoming challenges and technical issues that can be solved with a specific set of skills.

These experts may work with a business analyst to consider a variety of stakeholders and advise on creating the best plan of action. They set the standard for scrum team members and help prevent future problems with users.

Independent Testing and Audit Team

An independent tester or audit team is optional but can prove to be helpful in larger, more complex projects. They help assure that the product is free from defects after creation as it provides an outside perspective and an advanced testing process.

Integrators and independent testers may work together to test proposed solutions as well.

Architect Owner

An architect owner is needed for architectural envisioning and making sure proposed solutions fit within the enterprise structure. They don’t, however, provide architectural direction to the agile team but focus more on evolving the process.

How to Build a Scrum Team for Your Business

When defining roles for building a scrum team it’s easy for a project manager to overlook some key aspects of an effective agile team. The elements that lay the foundation for a scrum team include:

  • Collaboration
  • Accountability
  • Trust
  • Adaptability

Since scrum teams are self-organizing and empowered to make their own decisions, the above keep a check on scrum values and help project managers keep the team on track and implement scrum effectively.

Collaboration

Agile thrives on individual team members working together. Scrum improves collaboration by encouraging people to communicate with other team members and keep them updated on the progress.

A daily scrum is also practiced where developers come together every day and discuss new tactics, ideas, and solutions to have a productive start to the day.

Accountability

Agile teams encourage people to embrace risk and learn from failures. A team member should be held accountable for their actions, since scrum enables them to make their own decisions. Being held accountable leads to an increased sense of responsibility which prompts them to make better, more well-informed decisions.

Trust

Trust is the most crucial aspect of defining team roles. Agile requires effective team collaboration. Establishing trust between team members will make them confident that they are being guided in the right direction.

Trust is even more important for roles such as the product owner or team lead/scrum master. Since they are responsible for making key decisions and communicating value to the development team, you need to make sure they are experienced team members that have established trust between different teams.

Adaptability

Agile’s advantage over traditional project management, like Waterfall, is that it embraces change rather than avoids it. Under scrum agile methodology, teams are expected to adapt to change by creating a flexible plan and changing their strategy as customer feedback evolves.

Assess the capabilities and skills of the team before assigning them development roles. Team members should be able to adapt to changing circumstances and effectively adapt their tactics to changing customer trends.

Keeping in mind the above key elements, you need to also incorporate your company’s work culture. Shifting to agile is no easy task as it would require you to redefine roles, organize staff, and make significant changes to the company work culture.

But by adhering to the standards set by the Scrum guide and making sure teams are transparent, balanced, and adaptive, you are well on your way to creating an effective agile team for your business.

Conclusion: Defining Agile Roles to Streamline Business Operations

In scrum methodology, there are three primary roles: product owner, scrum master, and the development team. Scaling agile for larger projects may require additional roles such as an integrator, technical and domain expert, independent testing and audit team, and an architect owner.

When defining agile roles for your business, you need to consider your company’s work culture, business goals, and the ability of existing staff. Define roles to maximize collaboration, accountability, trust, and adaptability.