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Scrum role model: how it originated and why it is important

Today, more and more companies are introducing Agile and Scrum, rethinking such popular concepts as a team, project management, product development. However, due to the lack of experience in agile development, managers have more questions than answers.

We found that the topic of accountabilities in agile product development is still open and requires better explanation. Organizations fail to introduce such roles as Scrum Master and\or Product Owner, not because of lack of knowledge (Scrum Guide clearly defines all accountabilities). Still, the misunderstanding of “why” new agile roles emerged in the first place can have some wasteful consequences. So, let’s answer what kind of problems the Scrum role model can solve.

Three periods

The last few decades have seen a remarkable surge in technology. Although the IT era is relatively short compared to other longer historical periods, it shows how yesterday’s popular concepts can be considered the Stone Age. Moreover, rapid change influences product management practices to be in line with modern engineering approaches.

Problems of the 1980s-90s

In addition to the collapse of the USSR, the 1990s became famous for the computer boom. These were glorious times for Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and other innovators.

Cybernetics became very popular in the ’80s. At that time, it served mainly the tasks of the big enterprises (accounting, robotics, data processing etc.) and computations in scientific researches. Only a few software engineers worked on commercial digital products, and their time was precious.

In contrast, the companies specializing in electronics, appliances, and automotive already matured and created huge competitive markets. Moreover, engineers in those companies were well aware of what consumers need, so their products were user-friendly. Our parents still remember Japanese tape recorders with convenient buttons and knobs that performed various functions, speakers that pleased the wide sound range, suitable portable electronic devices.

However, in the 80’s it was not enough to produce analog TVs; there was a need to develop software. Unfortunately, demand for programmers was so sudden that the number of professionals able to meet this market need did not exist.

The IT industry at the time resembled a child learning to walk, overcoming the following obstacles:

  1. Complexity vs. predictability. From the product development perspective, the good old waterfall was the primary choice for IT projects. A “waterfall” project management model produced detailed specifications, divided into stages or “phases”. At the same time, the result appeared only at the end of the project, after fulfilling all requirements. If programmers’ outcomes of long-term work did not satisfy the customer, new “waterfall” project was started. Waterfall gave some sense of predictability and control, even though it was never a perfect fit for complexity.
  2. High costs of software development. Under the high pressure of delivering complex IT solutions, software engineers were often distracted by tiring organizational tasks. The developers had to find out all sorts of details on their own, communicate with different stakeholders at different levels, even deal with estimations, predictions, and other routines, in addition to the main task – to write and test code. Moreover, a limited understanding of technology complexity work played a cruel game with business people, who started to pose even greater pressure. This pressure only increased the amount of time a software engineer spent on development.

With the rapid growth of demand for more programmers, the significant need to increase predictability began the next era in software developers’ lives – the emergence of supporting intermediate roles in IT.

Challenges of the 1990s – 2000s

Thus, the solution to the problem of the ’80s was the emergence of many additional roles in IT that had:
Reduced software development time.

  1. Helped the programmer focus on the main work and not be distracted.
  2. Increased utilization of the IT resources (“IT resources” – a new term coined about this period).
  3. In such context, the now popular professions in the IT industry emerged – IT product manager, business analyst, system analyst, IT project manager, software architect, technical writer, and many others.

The new “layer” of specialists in combination with the old approaches to management (waterfall has not disappeared) gradually caused a new challenge – a misunderstanding of the voice of the end user. Software engineers were interested in one thing: to perform the task “according to technical specifications of architects”, “in compliance with the requirements of business analysts “, ” according to the instructions of IT project manager”.

Developers being isolated from real users produced the software with complicated user interfaces and not usable features (CHAOS report clearly proved it). Application features were not intuitive for regular users, although it could be the other way around. As much as our parents loved remote controls for Japanese tape recorders, they hated creating spreadsheets and formatting text documents on their first PCs.

Third period

With the beginning of the new millennium, the situation began to change radically. Some international players have started competing in the global market for digital products (MS Windows vs. Apple, Photoshop vs. CorelDraw, Google vs. Yahoo). We have quickly discovered that software with better user experience at a lower cost could easily disrupt the digital marketplace.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland foresaw the future of digital product development at the beginning of ’90s. Together, they created an innovative approach. The agile approach for developing a new product emerged in the ’70s (see our article “Self-Managed and Self-Organized Teams: The Beginning“).

Based on empirical evidence, researches, and their own experience, the authors of Scrum concluded that the most effective teams should be cross-functional, up to 10 people, and consist of the following roles:

  • Scrum Master
  • Product Owner
  • Developers (programmers, testers, and other specialists)

Today, this model has helped make billions of dollars, solve big business problems and improve the lives of millions of people.

Why is this model so popular in the era of digitalization? Simplicity, adaptability, and efficiency! The developers have their full-fledged product team, including the Product Owner, representing the customer’s voice, and just one Scrum Master who can solve organizational issues. Yeah, you do not need to think about which of the ten managers to turn to because now there is a Scrum Master who will solve any issue.


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