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Agile Is About a Change in Behavior First

Traditional versus Agile roles

25 May 2016

Meetu Singh
InterGlobe Technologies

The role of culture

Culture is defined as "the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society." Regional culture has played a vital role in Agile adoption and has often become a roadblock.

In Asian culture, hierarchy has played an important role, with people attuned to designations, titles, and status. Contrary to the West, where managers were respected because of their knowledge, in the Asian region, managers commanded respect because of their designation and title. In these regions, there was an unspoken respect and regard for authority, giving rise to innumerable challenges in the Agile framework adoption.

There was an initial tendency to refrain from involving teams in the decision-making process. Management did not accept the fact that teams were self-organized and could make their own decisions as to how much work they would deliver in a sprint. An Agile team is meant to be autonomous, empowered, dynamic, self-organizing, and self-managing.

So while our teams are doing all this stuff for themselves, what are the managers doing? Managers view this new way of doing things as a loss of power, because they are now relying on their people to be responsible for and take ownership of projects. Here is a good example of why the mindset is an important factor and why we need to understand the impact that it has on behavior.

The traditional project manager is a leader, a decision maker, a planner who manages the project and his team and is the person accountable to the business for accomplishing the project objectives.1 The role of the ScrumMaster is more of a coaching, facilitation, or a servant leadership role, a role that sits between the project and the customer.

The project manager is the link between the product owner and the team. The team, depending on their experience, will often look for guidance and help in solving issues and blockers. The ScrumMaster needs to steer the development through these issues, to resolve any problems that are blocking the development, and to involve those in the project with the skills and experience to help resolve those problems.2 Such a cultural mindset drives changing roles in Agile. Earlier roles in the industry can be mapped to Agile roles; however, this mapping requires a mindset change. That is how organizations actually move from doing Agile to being Agile.

Changing roles in Agile

The leadership activities of a project manager are taken on by the team coach or ScrumMaster, and many of the technical skills are performed by members of the team through self-organization.3 Requirements analysis occurs, but instead of being performed by specialized business analysts (BAs), it is instead taken on by product owners (many BAs choose to transition to the role of product owner). Application or solution design and development occurs, but instead of being performed by a specialized designer or developer, it is instead performed by Agile developers or a Scrum team member.4 The table below illustrates how traditional roles are mapped to Agile roles; however, the behavioral aspect requires change on the basis of Agile values and principles.
Traditional Role Agile Role Behavior and responsibility in the traditional approach Behavior and responsibility in the Agile approach Impacting factors
Project manager / Project lead Scrum Master
  • Responsible for creation and execution of plan
  • Team motivation and management
  • Issue resolution
  • Facilitator
  • Customer handling
  • Communication and coordination
  • Scope management
  • Quantitative project management
  • Continuous improvement
  • Facilitator or coach
  • Servant leader
  • Remove impediments
  • Communication and coordination with relevant stakeholders
  • Team motivation
  • Agile/Scrum metrics management
Behavior vis a vis adoption of Scrum values and principles
Skill matches; however, behavior is an important aspect of focus
Business analyst, SME, domain expert, or customer representative Product Owner
  • Requirements management and development
  • Requirements change management
  • Requirements gathering and elicitation to capture stated and implied needs
  • Requirements prioritization
  • Functional sizing
  • Functional and system testing
  • Define requirements acceptance criteria
  • Product backlog creation
  • User story prioritization and release planning
  • Epic / theme / user story writing
  • User story sizing
  • Acts as proxy product owner in outsourcing environment
  • Interface with customer side product owner
  • Story grooming
  • User story acceptance criteria
  • Validates the developed solution during sprint demo
Developer / Testers (manual and automation) Scrum team member
  • Responsible for development and testing of assigned unit
  • Performs code review
  • Prepares test cases creation and execution
  • Regression test suit creation and maintenance
  • Defect tracking, resolution and closure
  • Responsible for developing selected user story
  • Code review and unit testing assumed to be handled before delivery
  • Test case creation and execution
  • Sprint level defects tracking, resolution, and closure
Change from the previous roles can be disconcerting at first, particularly if it goes against the training and education that members have received over the years — and, more importantly, against the belief system that the team has built based on their traditional experiences. Moving to Agile requires a paradigm shift, and part of that shift is the acceptance that the project roles have changed (for the better).

While Agile became a proven success in Western countries, its impact on Asian countries was limited at first. A key reason for that was culture, which, though the most ignored part of the Agile framework, was integral to its success.

1 Shahzad Sultan Ali, " A Scrum Master is NOT a Project Manager," LinkedIn Pulse, December 14, 2015,

2 Ibid.

3 "Roles on Agile Teams: From Small to Large Teams," Ambysoft,

4 Ibid.

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.

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