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Are Scrum Team Members Compatible with Line Organization?

4 December 2013

Mirko Kleiner

Scrum changes the working culture of team members, or, as Henrik Kniberg (at Spotify) has said, "Scrum teams are designed to feel like a mini-startup." But is this compatible with traditional line organization?

All companies I know that run Scrum still have a line organization. The idea of a line organization is to link organizational units, with the help of managing relations, to a hierarchical organization system. In other words, all ScrumMasters are part of a ScrumMaster line, developers part of a developer line, etc. But today there are a lot of organizational types known, and hybrid implementations are possible too. Don't take the models in following graphic to seriously, but they do show up "modern" implementations:

But isn't that hierarchical thinking incompatible with the self-organized, multifunctional approach of Scrum? Do we really need a managing role in which someone has the last word and decides about strategy, salary, etc?

Maybe we can find a solution worth thinking about, as in Henrik's quote about a mini-startup. How would we organize a mini-startup, where all employees are company owners? I personally like to be part of a team, where all are equal partners, similar to a Scrum team. Of course the roles have to be shared; somebody has to take over the product owner hat, another the ScrumMaster hat, etc. Depending on personal interests, these could be fixed or rotating roles. Critical decisions could be taken as team (well known in Scrum as team commitment). The basis for a decision would be worked out within the team as well, as we do with a user story. Planning meetings would help to structure our tasks in this mini-startup, and we would set team goals the for next timeboxed sprint and review the results -- and we would also continuously improve ourselves through retrospectives.

If our mini-startup gets bigger, we could split the team in two to minimize overhead. From my point of view, three things would be important during scaling:
  • The product owner would be working with both teams.
  • New team members would be equal partners.
  • The team would build "guilds" based on topics.
Now you'd say the product owner is becoming the manager of this mini-startup, but that isn't true. He's still an equal partner; he just has another focus. Decisions are still taken by the team or by team representatives, depending on the topic. The more we scale the organization, the more important the guilds would become; these would be the glue that would keep independent teams together to exchange best practices and take decisions within the topic. For example, working out strategy would be the job of the product owner(s), while breaking it down would be done in the teams. . . .

Wouldn't that be a more compatible company organization for Scrum teams? Or how would you design your ideal Agile organization?

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4 (3 ratings)


Glen Wang, CSM, 12/4/2013 9:13:28 PM
This is a real question. Every organization need figure out his own way.
Phillip Stiby, CSM, 12/10/2013 8:10:44 AM
When you have a good team with a scrum master with a level of power or a good development manager who shields the team from the political bureaucracy the corporate diagrams are as valuable the paper its written on.

When real executives understand the real value of middle management they adopt a model not unlike that of Valve sofwtare:

When it comes down to it having a ladder ultimately becomes a separation layer between those that do and those that don't and the focus shifts from doing whats best for everyone to whats best for me.

The first organisation I worked for became one of the UK's top companies and top employers and was effectively as flat as Valve Inc.

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