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Here at the office our Scrum roles are a bit mixed up, so I would appreciate any advice on how to improve it.

We are a small team of 4 developers (one of which is a de facto scrum master) and we also have a line manager and a Product Owner. The line manager simultaneously embraces Scrum and has a hard time "letting go"; he has the Product Backlog in his head and also prioritizes it. A previous attempt to take it out of his head only lead to a short lived up-to-date Product Backlog in Pivotaltracker.com – politically speaking he was de programmer who built the current system 7 years ago. The Product Owner has been in the company for about 2 years and seems to have a clear vision of the product, but he is underpowered by our line manager (who in fact is held responsible for this and other projects). Other than this, our implementation of Scrum is “by the book”.

What do you think are disadvantages of this structure we find ourselves into? What could be improved? How would you improve?

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The line manager simultaneously embraces Scrum and has a hard time "letting go"; he has the Product Backlog in his head and also prioritizes it.

I'm assuming that your line manager is filling the role of Scrum Master. In this example, he's not embracing traditional Scrum roles.

One of the key aspects of any agile methodology is high visibility. That means that the work products are visible to the customer on a regular basis (as seen through frequent releases of potentially-shippable products), but also that internal status and metrics are visible to the team. The product backlog and it's current state should not be in anyone's head, but visible to the entire team (and some would even argue to the customer as well, if they desire it).

Also, the Product Owner is supposed to be the owner of the Product Backlog. It's the job of the Product Owner to write user stories, prioritize those stories in the Product Backlog, and ensure that stories are properly completed (verified and validated).

The Product Owner has been in the company for about 2 years and seems to have a clear vision of the product, but he is underpowered by our line manager (who in fact is held responsible for this and other projects).

Your Product Owner needs to have the ability to speak for the customer, otherwise, this role is pointless. Having a clear vision is important, but if he can't act on this vision and create and prioritize stories in order to allow software to achieve maximal value, then he can't fulfill the responsibilities of the Product Owner.

What do you think are disadvantages of this structure we find ourselves into? What could be improved? How would you improve?

The disdvantages are that you aren't utilizing your people. It's pointless to have a visionary or champion if they can't do anything to act on their visions or goals. It all comes back to the bottom line - what are you paying these people to do and are they able to do it? It sounds like they aren't able to fulfill their responsibilities, so something needs to be fixed.

The only way to improve is to reevaluate roles and make sure everyone knows their responsibilities to the project and product. You should also focus on product and process quality rather than following a process to-the-letter. Perhaps by-the-book Scrum isn't what you need, so tailor the process to fit how your team and organization works.

Other than this, our implementation of Scrum is “by the book”.

Following up on my last thought, any "by-the-book" process implementations worry me. Scrum is a framework for project management. There are concrete implementation described, and success stories, but those are for particular teams within particular organizations working on particular projects. Scrum is a perfectly fine framework, as long as you tailor it to meet the needs of your team within your organization working on your project.

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Well, I am actually filling the role as Scrum Master as I am the only one developer with some experience in the methodology - we are MUCH better now than before, people across the company see value in our work and how we work (thanks to Scrum!). The problem lies in the mix of responsibilities. The line manager "is" the Product Backlog and the official Product Owner merly an end-user representative (with plenty of domain knowledge). To me, it all seems to boil down to the fear the line manager has of becoming redundant. Should I be doing something different? What do you think? –  Pomario Aug 30 '11 at 13:48
    
What are the responsibilities of the line manager within your organization? If he's not the Product Owner, he should not be doing anything with the Product Backlog, other than to work with the team to estimate the tasks on it and assign tasks to a sprint. It's OK for him to be responsible for managerial roles (in fact, in my current job, my manager and software lead are two different people - my manager reports software status to the software lead, but signs the software lead's time card), but within the Scrum framework, he has no responsibilities to work with the product backlog. –  Thomas Owens Aug 30 '11 at 13:52
    
By being a small organization, the line manager is in fact the IT director (responsible for software development and maintenance of the whole IT). He has the domain knowledge as he was the original developer of the system we are currently re-writing. So it really is his responsibility to prioritize and get this system in production. Therefore I say the line manager is the "de facto" Product Owner. Whereas the official Product Owner knows the end user and her needs (but is not really doing a PO role). I am somewhat confused on how the roles within our organization matches to Scrum... –  Pomario Aug 30 '11 at 15:10
    
@Pomario By definition, the Product Owner is the voice of the customer. In Scrum (and other methodologies, both agile and traditional), tasks are prioritizied based on value added to the customer. The Product Owner is the one who best knows this information. If you don't understand the customer, how can you identify which tasks will add the most value? You can't. Therefore, the IT director should probably be taking on something closer to the role of Scrum Master and working to remove blocking issues and letting the development team get the job done. –  Thomas Owens Aug 30 '11 at 15:14
    
My understanding is that in this company (unfortunately) our line manager is the "de facto" Product Owner (maintains the backlog in his head and prioritizes), I am the "de facto" Scrum Master (as I coach the team in both Scrum and estimations) and there is a third sad-guy that is a "user representative" which we call Product Owner for convenience. Truth is we are all picking on each other’s slack. I might be short-sighted, but it seems that there is little I can do to change this culture. Comments? –  Pomario Aug 30 '11 at 17:07
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It doesn't sound to me like you have your Scrum roles mixed up. It sounds like you have one individual who is unsure what his role is and is nullifying someone else's role in the process of trying to demonstrate his continued worth.

Sit down, as a team, and figure out what you need from your team leader. Do you need him to be a technical guru? Or a domain guru? Or do you need someone who will be a "bottleneck ninja," removing every problem that slows down the development team? Or if you need none of these, as a fully mature Agile team, do you need to reintegrate him back into development?

Involve him in this conversation. See what he wants from the situation. It might be that he'd prefer to get back to development. It might be that he's filling the role of Product Owner because he doesn't feel that the current PO is good enough.

Honest communication is always key in these situations.

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@Thomas Owens has identified your problems and given solutions, but I'd like to add a few more suggestions.

The 4 team members need to commit to PivotTracker or whatever you prefer. If the line manager wants everthing in his head, that's his perogotive, but the rest of you need to put it in writing. I sit in a lot of meetings and force managers to slow down because I'm taking notes. Take responsibility as a team to getting organized.

The Product Owner has to be able to stand up for clients and not let the technologists take advantage because they know more about programming. The Product Owner may not know as much about the clients as your line manager. That's a shame and an indication they cannot do their job and someone else is picking up the slack. There are situations where someone built the application and maybe had a lot of contact with clients/users and is oppertating with outdated information and assumptions. Seven years ago, most users weren't interested in a Facebook interface. Times have changed. Your team may need to make an effort to get the client's needs from the Project Owner if he/she is being over-shadowed by the line manager for the wrong reasons.

Stakeholders complain less when you are taking care of their clients. Make that a priortity and work around your disfunctional leaders.

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The line manager ... has the Product Backlog in his head and also prioritizes it.

consider printing a large poster of this and placing it on the wall right where your SCRUmanager can clearly see it: Manifesto for Half-Arsed Agile Software Development ...while the items on the left sound nice in theory, we’re an enterprise company, and there’s no way we’re letting go of the items on the right.

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