We are often asked why Disciplined Agile (DA) has a team lead role instead of Scrum master or project manager. The answer is three-fold: different types of teams require different types of leaders, leadership responsibilities vary based on the type of team they are leading, and DA strives to be agnostic wherever possible. Let's explore the implications of this strategy.
Team lead is what is known as a meta role. What we mean by this is that there are different types of team lead depending on the situation, as depicted in Figure 1. Think of team lead as a place holder for a more specific type of lead. So, a scrum master is a team lead of a Scrum team, a project leader is a team lead of a project team, a sales manager is a team lead of a sales team. At times, the team will choose to stick with the name “team lead” for the role due to their way of working best fitting that description.
Figure 1. Types of team leads.
As I said above, there are three reasons for taking this approach with the team lead role:
- Different teams require different types of leads. A Scrum team needs a scrum master, or better yet a senior scrum master, as team leader. Similarly, a project team needs a project manager or project leader. A finance team or a sales team need a function manager such as a chief financial officer or a sales manager respectively as the team lead. Each type of team needs a team lead that is fit for purpose. Because all these teams (and many more) are part of Disciplined Agile, we cannot prescribe a single type of team lead.
- Leadership responsibilities will vary across teams. The responsibilities of team leads will vary depending on the type of team they lead. For example, when leading a team a project manager takes on different responsibilities compared to a scrum master. Similarly, a sales manager leading a team would have responsibilities around educating business leaders on the sales strategy that a project leader typically wouldn't have.
- Being agnostic. Let’s imagine for a moment that it made sense to have a single set of responsibilities for the team lead role. Which one should it be? Adopting the scrum master role would only fit Scrum teams. Similarly, adopting the project manager role would only fit project teams. In the end, either choice ends limiting the applicability of the Disciplined Agile tool kit. Remember that DA is a hybrid approach that opens your options by combining great ideas from a wide range of sources: some agile, some lean, and some traditional. Ultimately, leading teams appropriately to a better way of working.
The end result is that you may see some DA teams with a senior scrum master as the team lead, some DA teams with a project leader as a team lead, some DA teams with a functional leader in the role of team lead, and some teams with someone who is simply the team lead. Just like your way of working (WoW) should be fit for purpose, so should your approach to roles and responsibilities.