Agile Role Transitions: Keep Austin Agile 2018 Activity Summary

By: Brian O'Fallon | Jun 06, 2018 |  Agile Transformation,  Article,  Leadership,  Product Owner,  Scrum,  ScrumMaster,  Team

Agile Roles are well defined in any foundational training for Scrum or Kanban. However, it’s not always clear who will be filling those roles as an organization begins using its chosen framework. Organizations are already fully staffed to their current way of developing software, and it stands to reason that most of the folks who will be working in the new paradigm will be transitioning from an old role to a new one.

At Keep Austin Agile 2018, I presented a talk called “So You Made Your Project Managers into ScrumMasters: Roles Transitions When Becoming Agile”. This talk went over common role transitions that occur during an Agile transformation and some of the challenges that come with these transitions.

The audience and I then thought through the various activities that happen during software development in traditional development frameworks, and who was responsible for those activities. Next, we migrated those same activities over to the new Scrum roles. We looked for patterns, noting where people in those role transitions picked up and lost activities and noted times where these activities might get lost in the shuffle. Finally, we looked at the skills that people in these role transitions might need to acquire.

Here is the collective output from these sessions, along with some of my own observations. Enjoy!


The “Development Team” groups really keyed in on the need to become more self-directed.  Becoming an empowered team is a bold step, and the power to create and execute your own plan comes with an equal dose of accountability. People crave this kind of autonomy, but it can take a while to adjust.

There are some keen insights in the skills area. As cross-functional teams are created, the clear code base ownership of component teams becomes more diffused. Also, there was good focus on the skills needed to become a productive member of a more independent team.

Start Doing:

  • Self-motivation
  • Be more accountable
  • Relative estimation
  • Meet Daily
  • Be a facilitator
  • Be responsible for a solution without approval from the Dev Manager
  • Learn Agile
  • Make Decisions
  • Being accountable
  • Committing to completing work
  • Take ownership of tasks
  • Take more accountability
  • Incremental/Iterative process
  • Commit to complete

Stop Doing:

  • Waterfall process

Skills That May Get Lost in Translation:

  • Enterprise Architects
  • Platform Ownership

Skills That Individuals May Have to Acquire:

  • Proactive communication
  • Becoming cross-functional (while being less focused on personal velocity)
  • Adopting practices that reduce technical debt


The ScrumMasters in our workshop had a commendable focus on supporting their teams and promoting the Scrum process, and on acquiring the soft skills needed to help the people involved. Amongst the activities they anticipated they would stop doing, the ScrumMasters focused on managing to a plan and being the person in control.

Interestingly, the ScrumMasters were concerned about the loss of focus on budgeting, dates, and documentation. I encourage them to find the opportunity to team up with their Product Owners and learn portfolio planning practices to understand dates and budgets in their new world.

Start Doing:

  • Creating and defending a sustainable pace
  • Protecting the sprint
  • Motivate EMPs
  • Making Process Decisions
  • Motivation Skills
  • Start coaching
  • Learning about ScrumMaster
  • Servant leadership/Facilitation/Coaching
  • Manage teams at a micro-level
  • Forward planning or “micro-planning”
  • Set clear expectations up to stakeholders
  • Manage teams at a micro level
  • Coaching devs on sizing
  • Serve your team–remove roadblocks, etc
  • Facilitation skills
  • Motivation skills
  • Be a cheerleader
  • Mentoring new dev members
  • Motivating team

Stop Doing:

  • Load balancing
  • Controlling the work being done
  • Micro-managing
  • Budgets
  • Stop being a “ScrumNanny”
  • Controlling everything
  • Robust schedules
  • Updating project plan
  • Creating a project plan
  • Knowing everything

Skills That May Get Lost in Translation:

  • People management
  • Proactive
  • Documentation
  • Managing budget
  • Making delivery dates
  • Making giant, meaningless documents
  • Tracing accountability
  • Scope Definitions
  • Powerpoint

Skills That Individuals May Have to Acquire:

  • Stakeholder management
  • Soft leading teams
  • Collaboration
  • Coaching
  • Coaching
  • People skills
  • Learn to be a servant leaders
  • Influencing
  • Get comfy with ambiguity
  • Leading by influence

Product Owners

The Product Owners understood their market and felt the weight of their new responsibilities to set the direction for the team. There were great mentions of gathering up incoming requests, handling external communications, and negotiating priorities. As for their interactions with the team, there was a focus on creating stability.  

There were a few puzzling comments. Market research was called out as something that might get lost. That is certainly not the intent here. Feedback loops with the market are especially important now that the teams will be releasing more frequently. This might reflect a concern about time management. New Product Owners often feel slammed when new responsibilities are put on their plates and the old responsibilities are slow to disappear.

Start Doing:

  • Business expertise in the product
  • Manage expectations to leadership
  • Breaking down complex projects
  • Communicate status externally
  • Keeping stakeholders informed
  • Convey product vision & goals
  • Relentless prioritization
  • Negotiating trades

Stop Doing:

  • Stop weekly status meetings
  • Stop increasing and decreasing burn rates on a dime
  • Status meetings
  • Dictating timelines
  • Interruptions
  • Stop schedule builds
  • Status reports

Skills That May Get Lost in Translation:

  • Market research

Skills That Individuals May Have to Acquire:

  • Planning skills
  • When is the product “Done”
  • When will the product be delivered
  • Agile training
  • Cross-functional mindset
  • Coaching skills


We were fortunate to have great representation from managers at the workshop. Their focus is clearly on setting up the ecosystem that will allow Scrum to thrive. This was demonstrated by things they were going to actively do, like pay attention to technical debt or be catalysts for change, and the things they were going to stop doing to create space for the teams to self-organize, like stop micromanaging tasks, plans, and development approaches.

More so than any other group, managers had many items they feared might get lost. Managers felt a lot of ownership for delivery, and they voiced concerns that this new process might not adequately fill the void if they stepped out.

Potential gaps were identified at almost every step of the process, from initial estimation to planning, execution, and ultimate delivery. Dependency and risk management were mentioned more than once. To clarify, managers often times have great abilities in these areas, and they have much to teach to their individual engineers, ScrumMasters, and Product Owners. But the emphasis should be on teaching, not taking control. Indeed, the one item called out as a new skill to be learned was “coaching and support”.

Many managers find that as they step out of the day-to-day execution management, they finally have time to mentor and develop their people and to set high-level departmental direction.

Start Doing:

  • Negotiating for tech debt, refactoring
  • Removing systemic impediments
  • Start managing scope instead of attempting to keep it fixed
  • Start being flexible with time frames
  • Move to Agile Test
  • Start creating an environment for self-directing teams
  • Be a catalyst leader
  • More training on how to operate as a self-managed team
  • Facilitation
  • More fully empowering team

Stop Doing:

  • Financials responsibilities
  • Stop scheduling every task to an end date move to sprints
  • Managing business objectives
  • Financial reporting
  • Stop managing team at a micro level
  • Stop using “middle-men” for decision-making
  • Stop managing the team at a micro level
  • Production validation process
  • UAT Testing
  • Creating detailed project plans
  • Being an expert leader
  • Ability to control development practices
  • Managing tasks
  • Stop directing
  • Stop managing to a date

Skills That May Get Lost in Translation:

  • Process driven
  • Vendor Management
  • Setting scope
  • Communication planning
  • Identify interdependencies
  • Help people get better
  • Scope changes
  • Estimating work
  • Be accountable to the organizations for completing work
  • Inter-project dependencies
  • Risk Management
  • Risk Management
  • Communication planning and execution

Skills That Individuals May Have to Acquire:

  • Improve coaching and support


Sometimes, Agile training just isn’t enough to help employees fully transition into their new roles. Schedule a free, 2-hour Agility Roadmap Workshop with an expert to help you understand the best next steps for your organization and how Agile Velocity can help your people feel better in their new roles.

Contact Agile Velocity to schedule your free Agility Roadmap Workshop.

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