By Kevin Korterud
I experienced my first agile project nearly a decade ago. At the time, agile was still an emerging concept. I remember thinking there were all sorts of activities going on that I had never seen on any of my projects. People were standing up for meetings, marker boards were filled with things called “stories” and delivery moved forward under the framework of a “sprint.”
At the center of this whirl of frenetic activity was a person who the team called a “scrum master.” At first, I thought this person was a project manager. But they were doing things that were outside of the traditional project management realm.
Since that first experience, agile has matured and continued to grow in popularity. This trend prompted me to examine the evolving role of the scrum master in complex agile delivery environments. Here are my observations:
1. Agile Delivery is Becoming Mature
Agile delivery teams used to function within isolated pockets. But, as the use of agile—as well as the size and complexity of solutions being delivered—grew, new methods, such as SAFe®, were developed to help orchestrate agile delivery across an organization.
With agile becoming more common in organizations as a delivery method, the overall need for scrum masters’ general process advice diminishes. Agile teams over time—as well as with the support of enterprise framework methods—will become more self-sufficient, which reduces the need for some of the current activities performed by scrum masters.
2. Higher Engagement and Direct Accountability
One of the guiding principles for scrum masters is that they are not supposed to intervene with the team and are not responsible for delivery outcomes.
While a focus on process advice was essential during the early days of agile, today’s larger and more complex solutions demand that delivery quality issues be identified as soon as possible. In addition, there is also a need to ensure on a more frequent basis that the solution being created will yield the desired business outcomes.
Given its proximity to agile delivery teams, the scrum master role is positioned to leverage a higher level of engagement and accountability. In addition to traditional agile process advice, scrum masters should also serve as a durable checkpoint for both delivery quality and alignment to business outcomes.
These checkpoint activities would include reviewing user story quality, monitoring non-functional requirements and checking solution designs against business needs. As other roles in agile delivery possess some form of delivery accountability, the scrum master must also become more engaged and accountable in order to remain relevant.
3. Emerging Project Managers Becoming Scrum Masters
While scrum masters are not meant to be project managers, that notion is preventing project managers from becoming scrum masters, especially earlier in their career. Emerging project managers invariably have some form of solution delivery experience. They know what makes for sound requirements (especially non-functional), designs, testing, quality and implementation plans.
As the level of complexity and scale increases with agile delivery, so does the need for some form of delivery oversight at the agile team level. With the scrum master position in their repertoire, teams would have developed competencies and know-how for scaled agile delivery, release train engineer, program manager, etc.
Scrum masters have played an essential role in the growth and adoption of agile as a practical means of delivery. Their direct interactions with agile delivery teams create a unique opportunity to expand their influence in generating valuable outcomes for end-users, consumers, customers, employees or suppliers. To do so, they need to further extend themselves— both in terms of skills and engagement—to remain relevant in today’s complex delivery environment.
How do you feel the scrum master role has evolved? Are newly minted project managers the scrum masters of tomorrow?
Leaders exert influence for success
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By Peter Tarhanidis
Whenever I’m in a leadership role I try to be sensitive to the level of influence I gain, retain and lose. Influence is a precious commodity for a leader. And it can be disastrous if you lose your team or if tensions arise that reduce one’s effectiveness to achieve a goal.
I recall one of my client assignments where the goal was to ensure a successful integration of a complex merger and acquisition. The team had slipped on dates, missed key meetings and there were no formalized milestones.
I set up casual meetings to discuss with each member what would motivate them to participate. One clear signal was that management had changed the acquisition date several times. This disengaged the team due to false starts that took time away from other priorities.
During the sponsor review, I reported there was a communication breakdown and that no one shared this effort as a priority. At that point, the sponsor could have used his position of power to pressure everyone to do their part. However, the sponsor did not want to come off as autocratic.
Instead, he asked if I would be willing to find an alternative approach to get the team’s buy in.
I realized my influence was low, but I wanted to help improve the outcome for this team. So I talked again with each team member to negotiate a common approach with the goal to be integration-ready without having an exact date.
Ultimately, our goal was to have all milestones met while a smaller core team could later remain to implement the integration when management announced the final date.
A leader uses influence as part of the process to communicate ideas, gain approval and motivate colleagues to implement the concepts through changes to the organization.
In many cases, success increases as a leaders exert influence over others to find a shared purpose.
Tell me, which creates your best outcomes as a leader: influencing others through power or through negotiation?
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By Peter Tarhanidis
It is not unusual for project leaders to fill a variety of leadership roles over the course of the many unique initiatives we take on.
As I transition from one client, program, employer or team to another, my personal challenge is to quickly work out the best leadership role to play in my new environment. Therefore, I find it helpful to have some knowledge of leadership theory and research.
Leaders must understand the role they fill in relation to staff and management. That typically falls into three categories, as defined by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada:
Interpersonal: A leader who is either organizing the firm or a department, or acting as an intermediary. He or she is the figurehead, leader or liaison.
Informational: A leader that gathers, communicates and shares information with internal and external stakeholders. He or she is the mentor, disseminator, and spokesman.
Decisional: A leader that governs and has to make decisions, manage conflict and negotiate accords. He or she is the entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.
During one of my recent transitions, I thought I was a decisional leader, but I was expected to play an informational role. When I acted on information rather than sharing it and gaining consensus toward a common goal, my team was very confused. That’s why it’s so important to know the role you’re expected to fill.
When you start a new effort, how do you determine what role you’re expected to play? How has that contributed to your success?
By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Because human resources is so process-oriented, it’s easy to overlook its need for project and program management.
The human resources department’s projects may not be customer-facing and highly visible, but it is very likely that they will make your work life easier! They might be focused on integrating or retrofitting an HR information system, changing an organization-wide benefits provider, developing a new employee handbook or designing and releasing an employee satisfaction survey.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on several HR projects. Though they weren’t product launches delivering external customer value, they were critical to internal business operations. Because they are so essential to internal success, if you’re the person responsible for enterprise roadmapping, you must ensure HR projects are part of the way forward.
One human resources area that benefits exceptionally well from stellar project management is organizational design. Don’t pass up the chance to work on an organization redesign project—you’ll be teaming up with not only human resources, but also with service designers, team managers and executive leadership.
There are many stages to an organizational design project. Organizational design projects have a lot of moving parts. Early on, it can be easy to get stuck in the research and design parts, constantly reviewing and revising. Later, ensuring companywide adoption can seem like a never-ending slog. A project manager can be a boon during these critical phases by keeping the focus on smaller, incremental milestones, and communicating when that milestone progress is made. This keeps the project moving forward, the momentum continuing even though the results of the final goal may be nebulous and still too far away.
In the end, you’ll deliver a model that will become the operating structure for the entire organization—helping all of its employees navigate through a changing business environment. And maybe even disruptive changes that pose grave threats to the organization.
What types of human resources projects have you led? Where else do you thinking project management could be beneficial for human resources?
by Peter Tarhanidis
I’ve served in various leadership roles throughout my career. In one role, I worked with engineers to build and deliver a technical roadmap of solutions. In another, I was charged with coordinating team efforts to ensure a post-merger integration would be successful.
All of my leadership roles ultimately taught me there’s no-one-size-fits-all style for how to head up a team. Instead, the situation and structure of the team determines the right approach.
Traditional teams are comprised of a sole leader in charge of several team members with set job descriptions and specialized skills, each with individual tasks and accountability. The leader in this environment serves as the chief motivator, the coach and mentor, and the culture enforcer. He or she is also the primary role model—and therefore expected to set a strong example.
But, this traditional team setup is not always the norm.
Take self-managed teams, for example. On these teams, the roles are interchangeable, the team is accountable as one unit, the work is interdependent, the job roles are flexible and the team is multi-skilled, according to Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development, written by Robert M. Lussier, a professor of business management at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.
On a self-managed team, each person’s capabilities support the team’s overall effectiveness. While these teams do need to have their efforts coordinated, they spread leadership accountability across the group.
Members each initiate and coordinate team efforts without relying on an individual leader’s direction, according to Expertise Coordination over Distance: Shared Leadership in Dispersed New Product Development Teams by Miriam Muethel and Martin Hoegl.
Effective leaders adjust their style to the needs of varied situations and the capability of their followers. Their styles are not automatic. Instead, they get to know their team members and ensure their teams are set up to succeed.
How do you pick the right leadership style to use with your teams?