How to Define Role Clarity in Your Agile Organization

When establishing your Agile framework, there will often be times when you will need to reconcile how roles should interact with each other. This will especially be the case with roles OUTSIDE of your framework such as with senior leadership and operations.

To assist in finding role clarity, a “needs-based exercise” was developed to identify what is actually needed from a role instead of making assumptions based on past history, tainted relationships, stubborn silos, or old processes.

Here is how the exercise works:

Determine the roles in question and invite them to a meeting. Depending on the size of the group, you may need to select 5-7 representatives for each role. Also, plan for a solid hour or two.

Two different colors of post-it notes.
Markers or pens.
Whiteboard or wall.

Step #1 – Ask the group “What do you think (or assume) the other role needs from you?” Have each role capture their answers on the same color post-it. For example, a product owner may write “I believe leadership needs to hear what progress is being made on my product.” A leader may write “I assume product owners would like mentoring or guidance based on my experience.”

Step #2 – Ask the group “What do you actually need from the other role?” Have each role capture their answers on the other post-it. For example, a product owner may write “I need leadership to provide a compelling strategic vision to help guide my roadmap” and a leader may write “I need product owners to spend most of their time discovering what our customers need.”

Step #3 – Go around the room and have everyone read their responses. Focus on one role at a time and hear the “assumes” and “actuals” for each role. As they are reading, begin grouping the responses on the whiteboard or wall. Group matching responses for a role together.

Step #4 – Find the overlap. When assumptions and actual expectations match, you have found a natural affinity between the two roles.

Step #5 – Discuss the outliers. If an assumption was made about a role but does not align to an actual need, have the group discuss it. Was something missed or was the assumption false? If false, remove it from consideration.

Step #6 – Tweak your framework or expectations accordingly. The results of the exercise should be tangible work products and activities for each role to be added or changed.

I have facilitated this session between product owners and senior leadership, developers and testers, and developers and technical operations and the results are always enlightening and was especially beneficial in finding assumptions being made between product owners and leadership.

If there is any role ambiguity in your organization, give this a try.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “How to Define Role Clarity in Your Agile Organization

  1. Len –

    One of the roles that I have seen that requires clarification in many companies doing Scrum is that of the Functional Manager. It is not very well defined, and the people in those roles are sometimes conflicted as to how involved they should be. It is even more difficult for those managers that were managers of the same group back in the waterfall – command and control – days.

    • So true Randy…challenging for some to adjust their leadership style when working with “self-organizing” teams. Much easier for teams as they can just go to the Scrum guide and learn what is expected of their role.