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Team Leader role in pure Scrum environment

Last post 08:21 am February 25, 2019 by Ian Mitchell
4 replies
06:21 am February 20, 2019

I wonder how many organizations reached the point that there are pure Scrum teams with no managers that own the technology/delivery (so the team owns the technology/delivery). We reached that point in my company in Israel (and I’m not familiar with other Israeli companies reached that point), and we are now struggling with formalizing the new "team leader" role (we call it "coach" now). If you reached that point, I would love to hear how you handled that situation. 

In my group we have went through quite a few agile transitions and this post is about the structural transition we went through.

  • We started with component teams being called Scrum teams. The team leaders were the leaders of a Scrum Team (sometimes they were the Scrum Master and sometimes someone else was the Scrum Master). 
  • Then we moved to the Spotify model where we have built cross-functional Scrum teams, but we still had technology teams in parallel (“squads” and "chapters" in Spotify language). The team leaders where the leaders of the technology team (the "chapter"). 
  • Then we moved to pure Scrum teams (specialists became generalists, T-shape engineers, so no more pure technology teams). At this point the team leaders didn't have technology team anymore. We changed their name from a "team leader" to "coach". They coach people for people-development and coach the group for engineering practices. 

Those coaches are very talented people, but they were used to deal with day-to-day delivery and technology. Now they had to start practicing people-development and driving engineering practices initiatives for the group (we do that by driving guilds of engineering practices). 

Some of the ex-team-leaders chose to be part of a Scrum team as additional role for being a coach (we reached the point where we have Scrum team of ex-team-leaders). One of them chose to get into a PO role (and he is very good at that role). 

What we are struggling with is the content of their activity with the people they coach. I believe that every person in the organization should have someone that gives him/her 1:1 attention and responsible for developing that person. The engineers themselves used to the fact that team-leader is a person that solves their technical problems and request a status from them. So the new situation is new to the people as well, and they are not seeing (yet) the value out of those weekly coach-engineer conversations. It might be a transition phase where everyone needs to get used to the new format, but I would love to hear from you in case you got into that situation as well, and what the content of the coach-engineer weekly conversation is.

07:28 am February 20, 2019

What does the Scrum Master exactly do in those teams, regarding to people development etc?

Given "pure" Scrum, there is no coach role. I'd say 1 on 1 in a good thing, but from the Scrum Master. What is the goal of these conversations, and those everyone have the same expectations? If people are not seeing the value of these conversations, one of the things that comes to mind is that the expetations are not clear or are not met. 

Anyway, having a coach for both people development as well as technology coaching is not part of Scrum and seems a bit excessive to me. If there is a bottleneck in the technical knowledge of the team, this should pop up with the PO (maybe in conversations with the SM), as they are responsible for maximizing the output of the team's work. If a lack of knowledge becomes a bottleneck for value progression, this might be raised as an impediment that has multiple options to solve..


03:56 pm February 20, 2019

Pure Scrum often has conflicts with Corporate America (or Israel in your case).  Corporate feels the need for a hierarchy because that is what fits with "normal" compensation structures.  As pointed out, Scrum has no role for a personnel manager function.  But reality does.  

You say that your organization has achieved "pure Scrum" but to me it sounds like one segment of your organization has achieved it, I'm guessing the Software Development segment. Pure Scrum requires total organizational change and you have not reached that based on your question.  So, you will have to do some type of Scrum-but in order to satisfy your entire organization OR find ways to transform more and more of the organization until you have reached Scrum nervana. 

Here is what we did.  We have Engineering Managers and we have included them as part of the Scrum Team.  They function as part of the Development Team but also have responsibilities for all of the Human Resource requirements for the other Development Team members.  As Scrum Master I report to a different individual, as do our Product Owners. Our company wanted a separation of duties plus our respective "bosses" have knowledge of our domains and can "help" us with our career growth. 

07:01 am February 25, 2019

Thanks for the answers. I would like to clarify that our environment is not "pure Scrum". I wanted to point out that the teams are using pure Scrum teams - self-organized, cross-funtional, etc. The Scrum teams are the owners of the delivery and the technology. 

Given that, I wonder what 'former team leaders' do at such environment in your organizations. Based on your answers, the leaders were integrated into the Scrum team themselves. 

08:21 am February 25, 2019

What we are struggling with is the content of their activity with the people they coach. I believe that every person in the organization should have someone that gives him/her 1:1 attention and responsible for developing that person.

Might that begin with 1:1 coaching, preferably through each Scrum Master, on developing the team?

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