Enterprise Agility: The LeSS Framework Key Players - dummies

Enterprise Agility: The LeSS Framework Key Players

By Doug Rose

Unlike some of the other enterprise agile frameworks, LeSS is careful to keep a shallow organizational chart. It doesn’t add a bunch of new roles and layers to the development process. However, it does specify a few key players.

Starting at the top: The head of product

Organizations that use LeSS commonly have a product manager, referred to as the “head of the product group,” who serves the product owner of all the teams. Although this person is positioned at the top of the LeSS organizational chart, she plays a supporting role, visiting the teams to find out about their challenges, helping teams remove obstacles, and facilitating their improvement.

LeSS discourages matrix management — a management approach that has employees reporting to two or more managers, as explained in the sidebar, “Operating in the matrix.” Each product group should have only one “manager” — the head of the product group — to whom all team members report.

Meeting the LeSS product owner

In team Scrum, the role of the product owner is one of most difficult. This one person sets direction and feeds the team the highest value work. The product owner also represents the customer and is the person ultimately responsible for ensuring that the product delivers the highest value to the customer.

LeSS upsizes this product owner role and gives it greater importance. Instead of coordinating with just one team, the product owner works with two or more teams, and must communicate and coordinate with customers and the head of product.

The product owner must manage the following five key relationships:

  • Product owner and development teams
  • Product owner and customers
  • Developers and customers
  • Product owner and higher management
  • Product owner and Scrum Master

Working with the development team

The product owner has two primary responsibilities in regard to the development team:

  • Prioritization: After analyzing information related to profit drivers, strategic customers, business risks, and other factors, the product owner prioritizes items in the product backlog.
  • Clarification: To a lesser degree, the product owner clarifies items in the product backlog. “To a lesser degree,” means this is a shared responsibility between the product owner and the teams. They work together to clarify features and functionality.

The product owner also ensures that what the teams build “hit the mark” and finds out what the teams need and how to meet those needs to remove any obstacles that may be hindering their efforts.

Teaming up with the customer

The product owner maintains a close relationship with the customer to deliver to the customer-centric solutions that meet their needs in a timely manner. She needs to know their goals and understand their key challenges and, when appropriate, challenge the customer if she envisions something beyond what the customer wants.

Facilitating communication between teams and customers

Ideally, customers and developers collaborate on solutions that best meet the customer’s needs. The product owner must encourage and facilitate this open communication between the two. As their knowledge of the customer and product grows, developers often come up with interesting new ideas on their own. In many ways they understand the internals of the product better than anyone else. These teams will come up with the best ideas if they have an overall understanding of the customer’s expectations.

Collaborating with higher management

Although product owners are expected to maintain a productive relationship with higher management (portfolio managers and C-level executives and so on), it’s really a two-way street that requires more from higher management than from the product owner:

The product owner must understand and appreciate higher management’s concerns for return on investment and market share and increase visibility into product development status.

Higher management should respect the fact that the product owner’s primary responsibility is to ensure product quality and customer satisfaction. For example, executives must not be pulling product owners and teams offline to attend to their pet projects. Higher management is also responsible for ensuring that the product owner has the information and resources to do her job.

Coordinating with the Scrum Master

The relationship between the product owner and the Scrum Master is one of student and teacher. Scrum Masters are expected to be aware of the product owner’s challenges and concerns and provide helpful guidance while also educating the product owner about LeSS. The ultimate goal is to increase the product owner’s knowledge and influence behaviors that facilitate product development in the LeSS framework.

Getting to know the LeSS Scrum Master

Scrum has no consensus on the role of the Scrum Master. Some teams think of their Scrum Masters as administrators, trainers, and facilitators who make sure the team has the computers, software, training, and other resources it needs. Scrum Masters may also schedule meetings or show the product owner how to add items to the backlog. The Scrum Master does her job and then gets out of the way, allowing the team to manage itself. The Scrum Master has no real authority to push the team in any direction.

Other Scrum Masters may take on a more managerial or team leadership role; they may push the team to meet deadlines or require status reports. Many of these Scrum Masters transitioned to the teams from management.

In LeSS, Scrum Masters do both. In fact, good Scrum Masters dial up and down their areas of responsibility. They dial up more authority when the team needs direction and then dial it down when the team is ready to self-manage.

Scrum master
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The Scrum Master’s focus over time.

Good Scrum Masters are hard to come by, because they require knowledge and skills that are incredibly diverse. Scrum Masters must be skilled at management, training, and analysis. They need to be quick learners. And they must be able to step back and let the teams manage themselves. It’s a little like being a good parent. Some of these skill sets aren’t always compatible with traditional roles; for example, strong managers are often reluctant to let go of the reins.

If you can’t find a Jack or Jill of all trades, consider creating a small Scrum Master community of practice populated with those in your organization who represent the breadth of skills needed to be a good Scrum Master. Each Scrum Master can be responsible for her own teams, but seek support and guidance from others when her skill set is a poor match for a certain challenge. Consider adding people to your pool who have the following skills:

  • Training or coaching
  • Management
  • Systems thinking
  • Development practices