What Happens When We Have Partial Assignments for Product Owners and Scrum Masters?
It might seem obvious, and it is, that if we don’t set up the role of Product Owner and Scrum Master for success then you can expect the problems the roles was intended to address will remain:
- Without a Product Owner ensuring that there is a single prioritized view of the work, team members will build more of the wrong thing, and the on the people will build less due to interruptions as a result of priority switching
- Without a Scrum Master working toward the development of a high performing team, the there will be no one to focus on how the team members work together to deliver more and so limited improvement in the apparent capacity of the team.
The result is that you end up with an agile (Scrum) implementation that doesn’t provide the benefits you are looking for.
Most agile implementations are not as black and white as this. Reality is that organization do want to go agile but sometimes do not see how they can get there without also cutting a few corners. The selection of the role of Product Owner and Scrum Masters is one of those places that people often cut corners usually by saying that Scrum Masters and Product Owners will be part time either by doubling up the teams they need to support or by indicating that they will only use 50% of their capacity to fulfill the role.
The impacts of this type of approach, assuming that the people selected are trying hard to fulfill the roles include:
- Impacts the transformation to agile (Scrum):
- You will see a slower adoption of agile: Being part time means that it will take longer to “get there”.
- No true change: In some cases you will see no true change as being part time means that people will focus either on areas they are comfortable or the easy stuff. From example:
- A dual role Scrum Master and developer, will default to solving development issues, and avoid the messy but necessary soft work required to create a high performing team.
- A dual role Product Owner and manager will default to being an “order (from stakeholders) taker” and “order (to the team) giver” of the backlog and avoid the real work of being proactive about determining the most important thing and being the voice of the customer.
- You will see more resistance to change. The message “we want you to be agile, but we are not going to staff the job properly by fully staffing key roles” will result in the rest of the organization treating this change in a similar way. After all, if the leadership is unable to make this happen then why should we?
- There can be a reduction in performance as you now have lost capacity as the assigned Product Owners and Scrum Masters try to support the change by doing their role; setting up and attending new meetings (daily standup, planning, review, and retrospective), and creating and managing new artifacts (backlog, user stories, etc.). The result is that the Product Owner and Scrum Master are not working directly on the delivery of value; and so the fear of lost capacity has actually become a reality.
If you don’t establish the role well, you risk having all the overhead of agile (Scrum) and none of the benefits.
Practically speaking the usual impact will be a serious slow down in receiving the expected benefits of your agile (Scrum) transformation in most cases. This makes sense. With agile we are putting in place a new system to deliver value. That system is made up of a series of interlocking parts. When you do not completely supply the parts, you can expect there to be an impact on your new system of delivery.