With terms like masters and ceremonies, Agile might seem more like a mythology than a methodology.
But Agile’s not exactly fancy stories about Mount Olympus-worthy feats.
It’s a practical approach to help your team be more effective.
An Agile team shares responsibility, and empowers each team member to manage themselves — Making tantalizing goals achievable.
And it pays off. Agile companies are 30-50% more productive than their counterparts.
In this article, we’ll cover all the different Agile roles and responsibilities in detail, so you can easily adapt your team and join the high productivity club.
How many Agile roles are there?
The number of roles in your Agile team depends on the framework, the scale of your project, and the size of your team.
Typically, you’ll have at least three different roles in your team with unique duties:
- Product owner
- Team lead (called Scrum master in Scrum-based teams)
- Agile team member (your “worker bees”)
These are the core team roles in any Agile framework.
Then you have stakeholders. They’re people who’re not directly a part of your team, but still care how the project turns out and may have the power to impact it. And they play an important role in the Agile development process.
For larger projects, you may have other team roles or even independent testing teams.
But we’ll get into that in a minute. Let’s start with the basics.
A product owner is often one of the main users of the system or someone from marketing or product management. They could even be a business analyst.
The key is that they must understand your customers and their needs. If not, your project has no compass.
Many people think a product owner is exactly the same as a product manager, but that’s not true.
They have similar responsibilities, but one is a job title (product manager) and one is a role on a project (product owner).
A product manager is hired to manage and plan future development for an entire product. They could act as a product owner on projects related to that product (i.e., version upgrades).
But they could also have product owners under them managing different projects.
If a team is working on the mobile experience, the product owner doesn’t work on the overall product roadmap. Instead, they focus solely on user stories (features) for the mobile experience.
Product owner responsibilities
- Creating a vision and product roadmap (long-term product plan) for the team
- Mapping the customer journey (every interaction a customer will have with your company and product) and understanding customer needs
- Acting as the primary link between users and the Sprint team
- Planning Sprints and product iteration releases (in collaboration with others)
- Making high-level decisions and setting goals for future Sprints
The product owner doesn’t do anything in isolation. But ultimately, it falls on them to make the high-level decisions that ensure your customers’ needs are met.
For example, a product owner is in charge of overseeing and managing the list of features stakeholders need in the finished product.
In Scrum, we call this a product backlog.
Then, product owners can collaborate with the team members to adjust and update it.
Together, they must estimate the required effort for each feature and decide which to focus on in upcoming Sprints.
Team lead (Scrum master)
When most people hear the title “Agile team lead” they think of a traditional top-down team structure.
But that’s not how a team lead or Scrum master should work.
The whole point of an Agile team is to get the benefit of sharing responsibility and working together as a unit. Leveraging everyone’s expertise to move forward faster without bottlenecks.
Team lead responsibilities
- Keeping the Sprint moving at all times — Identifying bottlenecks or conflicts and finding solutions
- Keeping team members on task by reminding them of their responsibilities
- Reinforcing Agile values and principles
- Not a direct boss or leader (shouldn’t point out mistakes or underperforming members to avoid the dark Scrum trap)
Does every team need a team lead or Scrum master?
If you have an experienced team where every team member is familiar with the Agile methodology, you may not need a specified team lead.
None of our internal development teams have a Scrum master. We believe in the power of ownership and self-management. It’s the foundation of monday.com’s productive work culture.
During a Sprint, our teams divide goals into sub-tasks, prioritize them, and assign them based on skills.
They then use the board during their daily standup Zoom calls to make sure everyone’s engaged, motivated, and accountable. Everyone gets up to speed with one look.
Agile team member
The real foundation of an Agile or Scrum team isn’t its leaders, it lies in its team members.Because Agile is a democratized process, you can’t have a single strong leader and a group of meek developers.
Everyone must be engaged in the project and enjoy ownership and responsibility. When hiring, look for self-starters who like to take initiative.
Team member responsibilities
- Direct ownership of a user story or specific tasks
- Self-management, including evaluating own performance and estimating timelines
- Planning and executing a Sprint (in collaboration with Product owner)
- Direct involvement in the whole process: planning, execution, and review
For most Agile teams, the “regular” members are included in every stage of the process from planning to review.
They aren’t working ants doing the bidding of their queen.
Typically, the team members have specific technical expertise and valuable knowledge. So they’re well-suited to estimating the actual workload of potential features or user stories and weighing in on critical decisions.
Involving everyone is a key aspect of Agile project management.
Stakeholders: the 12th player on the field
In traditional development, you finish and test a product internally. It’s a long process with countless reviews before you ever show the product to a client.
When you go Agile, stakeholders (customers or internal users) become a direct part of the development process. From start to finish.
The product owner communicates directly with stakeholders to create a vision and long-term goals. They’re also consulted before planning any new iterations or Sprints.
And stakeholders are a part of every product increment review – to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
They decide if a Sprint was a success or not. If the features aren’t easy enough to use, it’s back to the drawing board.
- Clearly communicating their needs to product owner (guiding the Sprint backlog and user stories)
- Reviewing product iterations to see if it matches their expectations
- Being responsive and engaged so questions are answered fast and reviews have quick turnarounds
A stakeholder register can help you outline and communicate who your stakeholders are and what you need from them for the project to be a success.
3 further Agile roles to include in the Agile process
In a startup with one product, you probably don’t need any more roles.
But larger companies with complex projects may need to involve more people or teams. In particular, the three roles below can be helpful.
An Agile coach is responsible for teaching the Agile principles and method to your company at large. They’ll help your teams shorten their learning curve and avoid potential pitfalls.
In 2019, 29.7% of Agile coaches and Scrum masters fulfilled both roles in their organization.
If you hire an experienced Scrum master, you can make one of their key responsibilities teaching others how to use the framework.
Two birds with one stone. (Three birds, if they do active development too.)
The majority of Agile software projects involve 3 or more Scrum teams working together.
An integrator is responsible for an entire product or larger project with multiple separate teams and sections. Their job is to integrate the different pieces into a cohesive product.
The role is only necessary when multiple different teams are working on separate smaller projects.
Integrators must also optimize collaboration between the teams. Ensuring that everyone works towards the organization’s larger goals.
Many companies also have independent testing or auditing teams that test any new product or code before it goes live, especially in the software industry.
This can be a great failsafe for catching anything your Agile teams may have missed during their Sprint before you bring the client into the retrospective.
In certain industries, these testing individuals or teams are known as “red teams” because they pressure test the proposed solutions.
In manufacturing and production companies, the person is usually called a Quality Assurance (QA) specialist. But despite the different title, the intent is the same — to prevent mistakes and defects from getting to the customer.
A team can only be Agile with the right foundation of people, tools, and processes. Educating your team on Agile roles is only one part of that puzzle.
With monday.com’s Agile planning template, you can easily plan iterations, assign ownership of user stories, and set deadlines or estimations.
Take it for a spin. Set your next Sprint up in a few minutes, and see how fast your team can work.