The 3 Key Roles in an Agile Team

by Caitlin Mackie, Graduate Marketing Coordinator

28 Jan 2021

In an agile environment, there's no successful sprint or project without a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ agile team. They have all it takes to achieve big goals within short time frames. How? Everyone in the team knows its power and how to use it. 🧙The end result is achieving big goals without burning out.

An agile team's structure is step one to succeeding at agile development. Take the example of fire brigades. Would a fire brigade put out fires if they didn't have the right members, lieutenant, or captain? The answer is short: nope. The team structure is quintessential.

Therefore, in an agile development process, each member should know what each role involves in the team. Today, we'll go over the roles in an agile team and a few characteristics of great agile teams. But first, we should talk a bit about what an agile team is.

What’s an agile team?

In each development cycle — or sprint — of an agile project, each agile team iterates the product according to customer feedback. That increases the speed of product development 🏃 and the efficiency of that process. And in each iteration, the team releases or launches either a new or improved product functionality.

Agile teams have similar characteristics. They should be:

  • Small — 5-6 members
  • Focused on hitting the target on time
  • Coordinated in terms of task execution
  • Conscious of the contribution from each role
  • Flexible to allow members to be proactive and excel themselves
  • Tolerant of changing customer needs

However, the structure of agile teams depends on the agile framework. For instance, you can have a Scrum team or a Kanban team. And whereas the Scrum-based roles are well-defined, Kanban-based teams are not.

At this point, we should discuss the structure of an agile team. Head over to the next section. 👇

The skeleton of an agile team

An agile team is composed of 3️⃣ main roles. Both teams' and companies' continuous improvement needs to have the right people playing the right role. Let's go over those roles one by one.

Product Owner

Agile team: The Kennedy Center GIF

The Product Owner is the player with the deepest knowledge of the product. They eat, drink, and breathe the product.

They're the supreme advocates of the product. So, when something isn't right with the product, they should know that quickly. Plus, they know exactly how the product contributes to the company's vision and goals. 🎯

Their communication skills 🎙️ must be top-notch as most of their job requires:

  • Triggering the team to engage with and undertake important product developments
  • Intervening to adjust that process if and when necessary
  • Changing plans if absolutely necessary
  • Responding to variable customer needs

In a sprint, the goal is an increment of complete work. At the end of the day, the Product Owner defines and communicates the goals and quality expectations. 📣

The top priority of Product Owners is the customer and customer needs. In that sense, a Product Owner interfaces between the customer and the rest of the team. They also get customer feedback.

The Product Owner also creates and manages the product backlog. Additionally, they review deliverables before product release or launch. 🧐

Bear in mind: The Product Owner aims at maximizing product value. And the only way to achieve that is through teamwork.

Sometimes, in tiny companies, the Product Owner may be the CEO.

Some agile events are especially important for a Product Owner:

  • Sprint planning. This agile ceremony’s goal is to prepare the iteration. It’s the right time and place for the Product Owner to present the product backlog to the Team Members and answer their questions.
  • Sprint review. That’s the meeting to showcase work done throughout the iteration. The Product Owner gathers feedback from external stakeholders and internal staff and answers their questions. After the review, the Product Owner might adjust the product backlog and release complete product functionality.

Scrum Master

Agile team: Jennifer Aniston Reaction GIF

Whereas the Product Owner is product-focused, the Scrum Master is process-focused. They're concerned with:

  • Ensuring that the team follows the best agile practices for the context they're working in
  • Inspecting the work progress of Team Members daily to make sure they meet the deadlines
  • Giving constructive feedback to Team Members on how they're performing
  • Safeguarding the time of Team Members so they can dedicate themselves to what delivers the most value
  • Getting customer feedback from the Product Owner
  • Making sure that the Product Owner is clear about the goal and quality expectations
  • Guiding the team throughout the sprint, clarifying any doubts about tasks and their execution
  • Motivating Team Members
  • Remove any blockage to a Team Members' success

The Scrum Master is also the one who manages the Scrum board. This board should be up-to-date and detailed at all times.

Managers with an extensive resume of successful product development projects are good candidates for Scrum Master. They know from experience where execution can go wrong and what to do to prevent or amend that. They're also great at assessing progress. 📈

Here's how the Scrum Master takes part in agile events:

  • Sprint planning. The Scrum Master facilitates this ceremony and participates in effort or story point estimations.
  • Daily stand-up. During this meeting, the Scrum Master focuses on clearing all the barriers in the way of the Team Member’s success. And if the development process should change, the Scrum Master will make sure that happens.
  • Sprint review. The Scrum Master prepares this event in terms of logistics. When external stakeholders attend the meeting, it must go smoothly.
  • Sprint retrospective. During this ceremony, Team Members should discuss what went wrong during the iteration. The Scrum Master should encourage a spirit of sharing and transparency, not only about technical and procedural aspects but also relational issues.

Team Member

Let's Go Motivation GIF By South Park

These are the ultimate doers. ⛑️ Depending on the type of product, they may be developers, UX designers, and many other kinds of professionals.

Of course, depending on their skills, their role within the team varies. Nevertheless, they're the ones accountable for implementing amazing deliverables on time.

They're usually autonomous and creative, regardless of working together as a group, supporting each other. Actually, Team Members complement each other in terms of skills and experience. ☯️

It's not uncommon to find Team Members discussing ideas on how to work faster and easier. It can be a new tool or a new technique, for instance. And a single Team Member can belong to multiple teams.

Now, what else can we tell you about ideal Team Members?

  • They trust and support each other much more. At the same time, they capitalize on each other's strengths and collaborate extensively. In the end, you should notice that the work flows smoothly.
  • They learn and mentor one another. One day, a Team Member might teach another, and the day after, they might learn from the member they taught. This is continuous mentoring.
  • With a shared skillset, Team Members are better equipped to support each other. They're also better prepared to switch technical specialties if needed.
  • Team Members question success and come up with alternative ways of pushing continuous improvement all the time. It's in their 🧬, which means that they can't help it. And that's a great trait, as it's key to continuously growing products.
  • Last, Team Members push themselves to deliver the absolute best outcome from an iteration.

Note: Project stakeholders are usually not part of the agile team itself, yet they're part of the overall equation. They might be members of the C suite, marketers, or anyone requesting or reviewing work from the team.

Here are team members' roles during the following agile events:

  • Sprint planning. Team Members discuss the product backlog with the Product Owner to decide on the work that they will complete during the iteration.
  • Daily stand-up. Every day, Team Members briefly describe the status of their work and what they’ll do next. If they have any blockages, they should ask for help.
  • Sprint review. Team Members showcase complete work.
  • Sprint retrospective. During this event, Team Members should talk about problems they faced along the iteration. Those can be technical problems, problems with the way they worked or interpersonal problems.

Majestic agile teams

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Yes GIF

Winning any team challenge would be a nightmare without a carefully thought out structure. Everyone's role in an agile team should be crystal clear. That's the basis for everybody to feel that they're contributing to the goal in a valuable way.

There are no individuals in the daily life of a great agile team. They aim for group success, not individual achievements. An agile team is a group of professionals who work together to achieve sprint goals. Long story short: no teamwork, no agile team.

Want to set your agile team up for success? Check out Easy Agile Programs or Easy Agile User Story Maps.

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