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Why Managing Shared Responsibilities Is Key to Scrum Success

28 August 2017

Vijay Magdum

Scrum is the most widely accepted and proven framework in Agile. According to the 2016 State of Scrum Report by Scrum Alliance, 89% of surveyed Agile users follow the Scrum approach.

Scrum has defined three major roles: ScrumMaster (SM), product owner (PO), and development team member (DT). Each role has a defined set of responsibilities. In the practical implementation of Scrum, it is important to share some responsibilities among these roles. Rightly shared responsibilities result in the successful implementation of Scrum practices.

Let’s understand this by using a mathematical model.

Responsibility model in a Venn diagram

If stakeholders restrict themselves to the scope of their own responsibilities, then gaps develop around the clarity of the sprint scope. Such gaps might be related to the functional requirements or technical implementation. We can understand this by using a Venn diagram.

Let’s take a look at the area enclosed within the circle, which is the set of responsibilities of the respective role. The area of the triangle is the scope of the particular sprint.

In practice, there will be activities that will require shared responsibilities among the SM, PO, and DT. If all of them adhere to their respective ideal responsibilities, it will lead to gaps in the functional or technical aspects of the sprint goal.

Sometimes these gaps might lead to ambiguities for these stakeholders, which can hinder sprint goal achievement; or even if the goal is achieved, the functionality, quality, and delivery might be hampered in the long term.

Below are some common examples of responsibility overlap.
Example Responsibility of SM Responsibility of PO Responsibility of DT
Estimating stories The SM should be aware of team capacity. He guides the team to pick stories per the capacity. The PO plans the backlog, considering stories in the sprint. She tries to push stories into the sprint but also should be aware of the team's velocity. The team needs to estimate accurately.
Estimation is relative in Agile; if the team starts to estimate wrongly, that will hamper backlog.
Writing functional stories   The PO writes stories and pushes them to development. These stories are used by testers to test scenarios, business stakeholders to understand scope, etc. Hence the PO should write stories considering the needs of all stakeholders. The DT starts development as per the requirements in the story.
They need to be clear on the approach both functionally and technically.
Defining the technical approach   The PO should extend herself to the technical approach as well. It helps to understand the team's capacity and velocity. Ultimately, the PO can prioritize the backlog with the help of this knowledge. The team defines the technical approach for the requirement. Every team member should have a clear understanding of the functional requirement and technical approach.
Following Agile ceremonies The SM takes care of the team's adherence to Agile ceremonies. If the team is not following these, the SM will need to take appropriate steps. The PO is required in some ceremonies; hence the PO and SM should align with the team. The PO is part of some Agile ceremonies. To get better results from them, the PO's active participation is often needed. Ideally, the team is self-organized. In practice, the team should also align with the PO and SM. In some cases, the team will need input from the SM. In the forming and norming stages, for example, the team might not be fully in the Agile mindset, and hence the SM can mentor and guide the team to achieve that.

How to mitigate the gaps

To avoid gap formation, the three stakeholders must understand and enter into shared responsibilities, in addition to their own.

The key to achieving the sprint goal or ensuring the overall project’s success is to understand and take responsibility for these overlaps. Stakeholders must be aware of overlapping zones and manage them without ego clashes.

An Agile framework is truly a mindset. Everyone should understand and manage both their own and their shared responsibilities. The stakeholders must manage overlaps in responsibilities in such a way that gaps are filled. This ultimately requires the mindset of mutual understanding , as well as good communication, among the three stakeholders, which will help to achieve the sprint goal and project vision successfully. The team’s work will be rewarded with customer satisfaction.

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 (10 ratings)


Tim Baffa, CSM, 8/28/2017 10:02:03 AM
I was hoping to learn where there may be overlapping Scrum responsibilities by role, but didn't really find any in the article. In fact, there were some surprising statements that I believe run counter to Scrum.

- Estimation is performed by the Dev Team, and does not "overlap" with any other Scrum roles. The author mixes Sprint Planning considerations with Relative Estimation, two separate and distinct practices.

- The PO does not "push" stories to the Development Team. Per the Scrum Guide: "The number of items selected from the Product Backlog for the Sprint is solely up to the Development Team." This is after the PO and Dev Team collaborate around the Sprint Goal. The author states incorrectly that the PO "hands off" stories to the Dev Team. The PO and Dev Team need to collaborate and mutually refine Product Backlog Items (PBI's).

- Still unsure how the PO has any shared responsibility around defining the technical approach. It may be beneficial for the PO to gain some understanding of technical stories/solutions, but this is solely the responsibility of the Dev Team.

- The PO is not involved in "some" Scrum ceremonies - they are involved in every Scrum ceremony - even as a "fly on the wall" during the team's Daily Scrum. The 4th Agile Principle states: "Business people and developers must work
together daily throughout the project." Being a PO is NOT a part-time job.
Vijay Magdum, CSPO, 8/28/2017 1:34:31 PM
Thanks a lot, Tim. Your comment is very insightful.

This article is not attempting to list out or define the exact responsibilities that need to be overlapping, This is an attempt to highlight
1. there can be some responsibilities which can be shared or needs to be shared to bring in more clarity among the stakeholders and this will contribute to success.
2. another attempt I tried to make here is to view this from mathematical model and demonstrate

3. Overlaps of these shared responsibilities can be in two, three roles, or it can be specific to a single role (SM &PO, SM & DT, or DT & PO). Which need to be understood and figure out by the team. So, in different context, we can bring in different examples.

4. I am aware, examples taken here are not matching with ideal scrum (Ex. PO tried to push stories. In an ideal way, DT is one who actually pics up stories as per the headroom available)
Examples taken here are more from the practical implementation PoV.

Thanks a lot Tim for your views.

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