Scrum: Changes Your Approach to Team Leadership

Posted by  David Warnink

The Scrum methodology, inspired by the formation of the same name used in rugby, changes the approach to team leadership. There is no typical hierarchy with a designated leader; instead, businesses use a leaderless organization style. The leadership comes from within the team, rather than one person.

The Scrum Alliance reports 87 percent of teams improved their quality of life with this method. Teams being able to function without a particular leader play a part in this satisfaction rating, but changing the way team leadership works brings additional benefits. So, how does this work? What are the benefits? Here are my thoughts on how I think scrum works well in working together.

The Scrum Master Is Not a Leader

Usually, scrum teams have a Scrum Master colleague. This person should act as a guide and facilitator, rather than a manager. This person empowers and facilitates a team, and keeps the team aligned with the company's direction. This means to “sharing” goals instead “telling” it to the team and by leveraging everybody’s personal skills and knowledge to unleash a team’s full potential and working on a shared common goal.

The leader role in itself is not gone, but changes in nature. He/she will actively facilitate scrum teams to ensure that any obstacles that hamper the achievement of sprint objectives will be minimized or disappear.

Benefits of Leaderless Team Organization

Self-organizing teams in Scrum use daily meetings and a specific set of questions to keep on track. The members play off each other's strengths and weaknesses, and decisions get handled as a team. Using this agile framework brings a lot of advantages.

Scrum uses a product backlog to detail and prioritize all the work required for the project. Typically, high-business-value pieces sit at the top of the list. The team works on this backlog piece by piece through sprints. Since you develop the most important aspects of the product first, you speed up your delivery time. Some industries face major market disruptions. If you get halfway through a traditional project framework and the users' needs shift, you have to scrap the entire project.

Another advantage compared to waterfall, is that each sprint delivers a ready product, easing frequent stakeholder feedback.

In Scrum, you work the new feedback into the product backlog. The team determines the best way to get back on track with development to minimize delays. You hold short daily meetings in Scrum, with each team member reporting what they worked on for the sprint, what they're planning on working on, and whether anything stops them from moving forward. Open, frequent communication makes it simple to know exactly what's going on. The Scrum board, sprint backlog and product backlog also give great detail into the overall status of the project.

Scrum removes the designated leader from the equation, so everyone on the team is accountable for their work. This accountability helps to drive ownership of the project since the team members play a critical role. They are no longer nameless employees behind a manager. Now they are responsible for the success or failure of the project. Everything, from the amount of tasks left in a sprint to the development done on an individual level is visible for everyone. So, there is a strong collaborative environment with the team leveraging their strengths to do their best with the project. When they do an excellent job, they receive the acknowledgment rather than a leader who didn't write a single line of code.

And let’s not forget: By connecting the team in each sprint with their customer, the work becomes much more rewarding and fun! Each member has a better sense of the purpose of what has just been delivered. There is nothing wrong with making the work more fun!

Everyone has a project stake in the Scrum methodology. Teams and individuals build leadership potential within themselves, organizations get project buy-in from front-line developers and products get to market faster. This framework encourages and stimulates a high-performance culture to help employees become better because they do not only make your work environment pleasant, but they also fuel a company's sustained growth. This is something I strive for in providing good leadership and direction.

David Warnink

David Warnink is Head of Benelux R&D. He is responsible for building and establishing a professional and open work environment in Unit4 through implementation of a common agile way of working and stimulating re-use of software and cross-product people development. This all contributes to maximizing product value for our customers.