Robin Sharma describes a new paradigm of leadership in his book, “The Leader Who Had No Title”. Does this leadership paradigm have any relevance in the world of Scrum? What role does “leadership without title” play in Agile project management and Scrum?
Let’s start with a common understanding of what leadership is. Though there are so many various definitions of leadership, I love the definition of leadership by Dr. John Maxwell, which says, “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” Now if leadership is influence, what does a “leader without a title” mean? It means that a true leader leads not because of the title or authority bestowed upon the leader by the position held, but by the influence the leader is able to have on the rest of the stakeholders in a way that helps the project succeed.
The various roles for Scrum to succeed are the team, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, management, and the organization.
As part of the team, each team member in Scrum is expected to self-organize and take collective ownership of the Sprint goal and Sprint Backlog. They should fight impediment during the sprint and in retrospective. As leaders who have no title, this requires each of them to first of all influence themselves to step up and take ownership of the sprint, work at sprint planning, take responsibility for all tasks as against being assigned tasks, and to constantly improve. This also requires them to influence others, to feel empowered to say no to unreasonable scope of work and unreasonable timelines. As we all know, this helps in improving work life balance.
How about the Scrum Master (SM)? The expectation is that a SM fully understands the mechanisms that drive Scrum towards high productivity and is able to expand Scrum in the organization. The SM is not the manager of the team, and so has no authority that a title brings. As a leader who has no title, who cannot use authority from the title, a SM influences the team through encouraging them, supporting them and serving them, removing impediments, and supporting the team to be more productive in any way SM can. The SM spends one on one time with team members, coach and mentor them, plan training and skill development for them. Most importantly the SM builds the culture in the team of each team member being a self organizing leader. The SM is a leader who builds other leaders.
Coming to the Product Owner (PO), the PO is responsible for maximizing return on investment (ROI) by identifying product features, translating these into a prioritized list, deciding which should be at the top of the list for the next Sprint, and continually re-prioritizing and refining the list. The title of PO does not allow the PO to demand that more of the backlog should be delivered in a sprint or a release. As a leader who has no title, as one who cannot use authority from the title, the PO has to influence the team, build trusting relationship with the team, listen to all stakeholders and provide support and motivation to the team.
The immediate management of the Scrum team also has an important role to play. For successful Scrum, the management not be afraid to "let go" and should aggressively help teams remove obstacles. This again highlights that the management should not exert authority of their title, but lead and influence as if they had no title. As a result, they leave the team alone during the sprint, they aggressively remove impediments that the team or SM cannot remove themselves, and they challenge the team to move beyond mediocrity.
And what is the expectation from the organization towards successful Scrum? It is expected to be an organization that fully understands the mechanisms that drive a product forward in an agile environment. Again the organization exercises leadership without authority by being an organization who dares “let go”, an organization where managers change from management to leadership, an organization which aggressively remove impediments so that teams can increase their velocity, and an organization that accepts the challenge of the organizational dysfunctions that will surface as long as Scrum is kept pure.
Each and every one in the Scrum world needs to lead in their own role. Each needs to have an entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of responsibility of being a co-owner of the business and project, doing their part, irrespective of their title or authority, to do what it takes bring about project success. The “command and control” mode of managing projects will not work in the Scrum world.
For successful Scrum, each and every role such as the team, the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, the management, and the organization, have to lead by influence and not by positional authority. They have to lead as leaders without a title.
Why is Scrum So Hard? By Jens Ostergaard
The Scrum Primer. By Pete Deemer, Gabrielle Benefield, Craig Larman, Bas Vodde
The Business Analyst – A Leader without the title!. By Sanjay Dugar
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In this Project Challenges series I will be presenting project challenges faced by participants of my training programs, along with my recommendation of how to handle such a challenge. I invite readers to share their recommendations and thoughts by commenting on the post.
Our clients asked us to prove ourselves and come up with a proof of concept for a challenge they were facing within 30 days, without access to client and detailed requirements. We were given a one line statement of work.
Communicate to the client before accepting the project that you want to succeed in this assignment, and to succeed in this requires both them and you to work together.
Let the client know their roles, responsibilities, deliverables and target dates, and agree on these before signing off on the completion date of 30 days. The deliverables would include sign-off requirements, any other reviews required by them along with target dates.
Tell them that if they are not able to deliver as per agreed timelines, the project time and/or cost will be at risk, and will increase. Also tell them that the status of the deliverables of the project team and the client will be reported every week highlighting delays, risks and impacts, if any.
Then religiously do this status reporting, and escalating till project completion!