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Agile Roles and Job Titles

When the Agile world meets the corporate world

22 September 2016

Alex DiPasquale

For many organizations, Agile is a new approach to software development. This means breaking some old habits and creating new ones. While talking to a fellow ScrumMaster and mentor, I mentioned an issue we were having with a tester. “A tester!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t know your team had titles other than ‘development team.’”

I was embarrassed because I knew she was right, but I also think she was being tough on me. While Agile defines three roles — product owner, ScrumMaster, and development team — it does not address job titles, which exist in the corporate world. 

In most information technology organizations, there are business analysts, developers, testers, database administrators, and many more. These job titles serve a valuable purpose for organizations and their employees. Before we explore that, let’s talk about the difference between titles and roles.

Titles versus roles

Simply stated, a title is what you are called, and a role is what you do. Sometimes the title describes the role, but not always. A window washer’s role is to wash windows, but a marketing associate’s role may be to conduct market research, help create marketing materials, or perform many other tasks within the marketing department. 

The same is true with a Scrum Team. A Scrum Team may have a lead developer, developers, tester, and a business analyst but their role on the Scrum Team is to deliver product increments in sprints. 

We don’t have these titles in Agile, but we work for organizations that do

Job titles serve a valuable purpose in organizations. They reflect a person’s place in the corporate hierarchy. Authority, expertise, and scope can all be conveyed through titles. This helps resource managers build teams with a mix of experts and junior and lower-level professionals. Additionally, they help define one’s area of expertise. (I promise you, you do not want me writing code!) Finally, they are used to create a career path within the organization by adding prefixes such as “associate,” “junior,” “senior,” or “lead.”

Is there room for corporate titles on an Agile Team?

As long as we work for organizations that use these titles, the answer is yes. In the context of the Agile Team, we must accept that we are all development team members. In the context of the organizational hierarchy, these titles help create a robust and diverse Scrum Team because a tester looks at a user story differently than a business analyst does, a business analyst may have more diverse knowledge than a developer or a tester, and a lead has the expertise to teach the junior . . . just as my mentor did with me.

When leading an Agile Team, the challenge for ScrumMasters is to embrace these titles effectively enough to satisfy organizational needs yet with enough vision to remain Agile.

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: 3.8 (6 ratings)


Aart Wessels, CSM, 9/22/2016 6:26:05 AM
I fully agree. I feel it's a misunderstanding of the concept if one tries to be so strict about these roles, indeed because it makes sense to also refer to people by their title, as well as using their related primary skill-set as such in the team. You'll always have people primarily focussing on development, others primarily on analysis, or testing. Referring to people outside of the team by using their title is common sense. In terms of team building, I'd prevent doing that inside the team, there we just use names, and try not to refer to the titles, just to keep the focus on the team-responsibilities, and prevent a hand-over mentality in the work.
Sead Alispahic, CSM, 10/10/2016 12:48:16 AM
Agile does not define three roles. Agile does not define any roles.
Ryan Babbidge, CSP,CSM, 10/20/2016 10:48:29 AM
Nice article Alex! A large misleading obstacle I face is transforming groups and having over a dozen types of "titles" and teaching how they participate in their Agile role.
Manuel Ilincheta, CSM, 10/21/2016 5:35:19 AM
I've found that having job titles prevent teams/people reach their full potential.
For example:
- people saying: "I'm a tester, so I'm not supposed to be fixing code" people don't learn new skills neither commit with the sprint.
- teams saying: "we are doing this way because the lead developer says so" teams don't work together to find the best technical solution and junior team members don't have a word on decisions.
You want to avoid both situations.
Sead Alispahic, CSM, 11/22/2016 7:29:47 PM
As the author sent me inmail with question, I need to clarify my comment.

Agile does not define any roles, Scrum does.
Brian Jones, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 2/5/2018 8:11:19 AM
Now that my organization is beginning to embrace Agile in a more formal way we are running into this issue. I like the basics of what you lay out here. Thanks.

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