One of my clients (serving several customers with custom made solutions) decided to introduce Scrum. They grouped people together that worked in the same projects or for the same customers. The result were three Scrum Teams. The next step was challenging. Who should be the ScrumMasters and who should be the Product Owners? Should there be full time ScrumMasters or would it be a better fit if the ScrumMasters were also developers? Who could be a Product Owner? In one team there were several options. Would one candidate be pissed off if the management chose the other guy? In another team there seemed to be no perfect match. Should the second Product Owner candidate of the one team be transferred to the other team although this would mean loosing his experiences with his existing customers?
I introduced the idea that self organization is a powerful tool to solve challenging problem. Here we were: We had Scrum Teams that could self organize and we had a challenging problem (filling the Scrum roles). So it was decided to let the Scrum Teams decide who would be ScrumMaster and Product Owner. This was done in a workshop with all teams. The result was to some extend surprising to the management but they stuck to their commitment to let the teams decide.
I don’t know how good the selected ScrumMasters and Product Owners will manage their jobs. Independent of their future performance I think there are several interesting aspects in this story:
- The teams selected ScrumMasters and Product Owners in an hour or so. When management tried to select the roles it took much longer and provided no result.
- The Product Owners and ScrumMasters were selected by the teams and not assigned by management. I think that will help development team, ScrumMaster and Product Owner to act as ONE team without some kind of boss.
- If problems with the ScrumMasters and Product Owners would occur it should feel naturally for the Scrum Teams to select new persons for the roles.
- The management demonstrated trust into the employees and empowered the teams.
When I mentioned the self selection on Twitter there was doubt that the approach would be suitable for the Product Owner role. I can understand the doubts but like to think along these lines (assuming that there are sufficient Product Owner skills in the Scrum Team):
- If the Scrum Teams selects the person who would be selected by the management anyway, the management demonstrated at least trust into the team.
- If the Scrum Team selects another person, things really become interesting and there is great opportunity to learn something. Why does the team have another opinion than the management? Which opinion is more relevant to the success of the team? Is there a need and the possibility to reach consensus between team and management?
P.S.: I think it is totally valid for the management to assign the Product Owner. But is that really the best option – especially for a mature agile organization?