24 October 2019

Working in Scrum: what are the jobs you can apply for?

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While an agile mindset or frameworks can be applied to nearly all positions within a company, most job descriptions relating to this theme directly will have you working inside a Scrum team.

There is one basic, recurring question when it comes to setting up a Scrum team: what are the different roles of Scrum team members, and what are their responsibilities? Understanding these roles and responsibilities is essential to assembling an Agile team, and earning their collaboration and commitment. These roles naturally correspond to different job roles for which one can apply.

A Scrum team always has:

  1. A product owner (PO);
  2. A scrum master (SM);
  3. The development team

Scrum teams are self-organized and multidisciplinary. That means that they decide as a team the best way to do their own work, rather than someone from outside the team leading them and determining their process. They also should possess all the skills to do the work needed without depending on the aid of other people outside of the Scrum team. A successful and mature Scrum team relies on their ability to organize, dealing with both functional and technical aspects.

A Scrum Who’s-Who

A Scrum team is composed of 6 +/- 3 members (a minimum of 3 people to a maximum of 9 people).

Product owner

The product owner (PO) is the representative for the customers and users within the project. There is one PO per Scrum team. The PO is responsible for maintaining and managing the product backlog, which includes the order the elements of this backlog will be processed. Backlog elements could be user stories, features to be developed. In other words, the PO is responsible for the success of the product.

According to the Scrum Guide says: “Product Backlog management includes:

  • Clearly expressing Product Backlog items;
  • Ordering the items in the Product Backlog to best achieve goals and missions;
  • Optimizing the value of the work the Development Team performs;
  • Ensuring that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next; and,
  • Ensuring the Development Team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed.”

The product owner must have a very good product vision and understanding: they must know the product well, and the way in which it should evolve, in order to make sure that the product best adapts to the real needs of customers. They must define the product roadmap.

Ideally, the product owner (sometimes called "product manager" although there is no hierarchical authority over the team) is an integral part of the team, they work in the same room, or as close as possible. The PO’s success is highly dependent upon the respect of the organization for their responsibilities.

When it comes to a Product Owner job description, what are commonly requested skills?

Some of the most often mentioned skills, other than good knowledge of Scrum and other Agile framework experience, are:

  • Translating business objectives into user stories
  • Stakeholder management
  • Creative problem solving skills
  • Ability to technically understand the product
  • Strong leadership, communication, and presentation skills
  • Attention to detail

Scrum Master

The role of the Scrum Master (SM) is not of a leader who directs his team, rather they should be considered an accompanist. There is no real hierarchy in the Scrum methodology. In managing the progress of the project, the SM makes sure that all members of the Scrum team are involved and know clearly how to organize themselves.

A good Scrum Master also shows empathy, diplomacy and humility in order to best solve problems. Also, in order to train and advance the team, they should have and improve their teaching skills.

A team working together on a Scrum project must be united. It’s up to the Scrum Master to create harmony among all members. They ensure that there is strong team cohesion by, as outlined in the Scrum Guide:

  • “Coaching the Development Team in self-organization and cross-functionality;
  • Helping the Development Team to create high-value products;
  • Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress;
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed; and,
  • Coaching the Development Team in organizational environments in which Scrum is not yet fully adopted and understood.”

The Scrum Master also serves as a link between the product owner and the customer and their team, since the product owner is responsible for communication with the customer. The Scrum Master will indicate to the Scrum team the changes or new options that the client asks for. Other Scrum Master responsibilities, from the Scrum Guide:

  • “Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are understood by everyone on the Scrum Team as well as possible;
  • Finding techniques for effective Product Backlog management;
  • Helping the Scrum Team understand the need for clear and concise Product Backlog items;
  • Understanding product planning in an empirical environment;
  • Ensuring the Product Owner knows how to arrange the Product Backlog to maximize value;
  • Understanding and practicing agility; and,
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed.”

It is important to remember that the Scrum Master is primarily responsible for the harmony of the team, rather than the content of the project that is in action. The role of the SM covers a wide range of responsibilities--however, the SM is neither a project manager nor a secretary, and that's why it's important that they have these human qualities, as described in the Scrum Guide:

  • “Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
  • Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
  • Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development;
  • Causing change that increases the productivity of the Scrum Team; and,
  • Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.”

When it comes to a Scrum Master job description, what are commonly requested skills?

Some of the most often mentioned skills, other than good knowledge of Scrum and other Agile framework experience, are:

  • Coaching
  • Basic knowledge of software development, or the project at hand
  • Techniques like user stories, continuous testing, agile games, continuous integration, or pairing
  • Time management, to understand and ensure the product is delivered on time

Development team

The members of a development team can vary, as each project should be self-sufficient, with the team members’ skills capable of handling the major aspects. In IT projects, these team members traditionally are developers, as they are developing software. As Scrum is being adopted to use in other types of projects, the “developers” can come from a variety of roles.

Look at the Scrum Guide again, the following should be true of a development team:

  • “They are self-organizing. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality;
  • Development Teams are cross-functional, with all the skills as a team necessary to create a product Increment;
  • Scrum recognizes no titles for Development Team members, regardless of the work being performed by the person;
  • Scrum recognizes no sub-teams in the Development Team, regardless of domains that need to be addressed like testing, architecture, operations, or business analysis; and,
  • Individual Development Team members may have specialized skills and areas of focus, but accountability belongs to the Development Team as a whole.”

The number of people on the development team can vary, but as a general rule, fewer is better. This allows for clarity and simplicity while delivering the product. That said, it is important to have the necessary skills represented within the team, or the whole Scrum team could have reduced productivity. The PO and SM are not usually counted as part of the Development team.

As for the job description, it is extremely varied. Rather than being hired by title (“Development Scrum Team Member”), members of the development team are usually hired by skill. Development team members generally need to possess the necessary skills for their role in the development of the project only, but it can be beneficial to have experience or expertise in Scrum or other Agile frameworks.

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