What are some Agile Jobs?
Agile jobs are more common than ever but unless you already work in an Agile organization it may be hard to know what they are. The goal of this article is to provide an high-level overview of some common Agile roles and to create an ongoing discussion where you can share and learn from others working in Agile jobs.
Alright, let’s talk now about agile roles within an organization and you’ll see we have the enterprise roles. The program roles, the portfolio roles in the team role. Now at a startup you may only have those team roles, but at a very large organization you may have all of these roles. So let’s take a look at the enterprise level. You’ll have the enterprise owner, potentially this is the CEO, Chief Executive officer.
You’ll have an enterprise architect and this is the person, the developer, if you will, who is over the structure and the systems of the entire organization. So, how things actually work. Their main goal is what we call architectural runway, the ability for the downstream teams, the portfolio, program, and teams themselves to deliver the functionality needed. So, the underlying structures that the customer-facing code will be built on or will utilize to achieve those business results.
Enterprise Delivery Manager
This is the person who, at the corporate level, makes sure that the trains run on time, that the releases are coordinated in meaningful ways across the organization, that the value we’re delivering makes sense, and it is measured and on time.
Then a concept analyst, a word hear about analysts across organizations: Analysts are not typically in your theoretical Agile roles. If you look at the 2020 Scrum guide, the roles on a team are going to be Product Owner, Scrum Master, and the Development Team, but in most large organizations you’re also going to have analysts embedded at each of these levels within each of these teams, and those analysts provide a liaison between the development team and the business stakeholders who are asking for or delivering that product road map. So, it’s sort of like a translator between the people doing the coding or building the product and the people in the lines of business who are requesting that those products or services be built and you’ll see their different analysts at every level.
At a portfolio, you have a portfolio leader, so going with our insurance example, let’s say there is someone who is the portfolio leader for health insurance, and then you’d have the Portfolio Architect this person make sure that all the systems, structures, and subsystems that are needed are in place to allow this organization to provide health insurance benefits and products and services to the customers, and that they work well.
Portfolio Delivery Manager
The portfolio delivery manager is just a scaled-down version of the enterprise delivery Manager. They make sure in our example that all the health insurance trains run on time.
We have a scope analyst or a portfolio analyst that would make sure that all the issues at that health insurance level are defined that the acceptance criteria is rock solid, that all the dependencies are identified, that the language used in the issue type itself closely matches what the line of business stakeholders need, all the questions that the development teams are going to need to be answered down the road are actually baked into that issue type.
Portfolio Designer [User Experience – UX and User Interaction – UI]
Now we get into the user experience area where we’re beginning to create a look and feel for health insurance across our entire organization. What the buttons look like, what the forms look like, how they are filled out to make sure there’s a consistent experience for our users across every health insurance product, both on the website, on our mobile device, and on a tablet or other device.
Program Manager / Product Manager
Moving down to the program, we have a Program Manager or potentially a Product Manager. This person may be over, again extending our health insurance example: This program manager may be over health insurance for pets, which would be a fantastic role! If somebody asked you at a dinner party what you did for a living and you said, “I’m the product manager or program manager for pet health insurance.” that would definitely be a conversation starter.
The Systems Architect would make sure that all our pet insurance products and services were plugged into the portfolio and that everything we needed was available. There may be some special pieces of code or some special questions on the application that need to be differentiated. For example on traditional human health insurance. We don’t have to choose what breed of human we are. We don’t have to choose if we are a Yorkie or a Cocker Spaniel. Whereas in pet health insurance that may be critical information and so the System’s Architect is going to make sure that capability, as far as our architectural runway, is available for the teams to take advantage of.
Program Delivery Manager
Our pet health insurance Delivery Manager is going to make sure that all those pet health insurance trains run on time. Think about this for a minute. If we had a team who was delivering mobile applications and then we had another team that was delivering desktop applications and our mobile team was ready to release the mobile application for new customers who wanted cat insurance, and our desktop team was ready to deliver applications for only existing customers who needed dog insurance… Well, our Program Delivery Manager has dropped the ball because that does not combine to be releasable. We would need at minimum one type of animal across both mobile and desktop.
The Program Analyst is helping to make sure all the acceptance criteria is rock solid at this level and that the teams and the program level executives all know. What is in that? What needs to be in that? They’re talking the same language again. They’re almost a translator between the people who are developing the work, entering the code or building the products and services that we need, and the line of business stakeholders.
You can imagine there would be a lot of extra things that we would need to design for pet insurance that don’t exist on the people health insurance. We might have plenty of icons of hearts and EKG’s, but we probably don’t have a whole lot of a stethoscope and a dog or cat in a lab coat, and we may need those paw prints or other icons and boxes and look and feel items to complete that cohesive experience. So this is going to need to be designed at that program level.
This is someone who is going to test all the software that the teams are doing and kind of coordinate to make sure that the teams are testing and releasing such things that make sense so that we test the dog insurance application on mobile on desktop and on all those devices that have been introduced since this conversation began. Maybe there’s a new Apple iGlass or there’s going to be a new Apple Watch size with the screen a little bit different or shaped like a ‘T’ and all of that the test coordinator is going to make sure that the teams are testing all the things that we deem necessary.
The team, you may be familiar with the roles, but they’re going to be some additional ones here. The Product Owner is at the team level in Scaled Agile, but it may be omitted if your company is going to a true LeSS or product scaling model.
You will have a Development Lead in most cases, and while all animals are created equal, if you’ve read animal farm, some animals are more equal than others. Almost every team in an enterprise organization is going to have one developer, That kind of the Buck stops with them. They are the tip of the spear when it comes to the work of the development team.
Scrum Master / Kanban Coach
You’ll have a Scrum Master or Kanban Coach that works with that team, ideally exclusively, but at enterprise level often Scrum Masters and Kanban Coaches are stretched across four or more teams.
You’ll have a Business Analyst, and this is the last line of defense to make sure that those acceptance criteria at the team user story level is completely rock solid, that all the dependencies have been analyzed all the way up and across any teams that are working and leveraging this work.
The design lead is going to be making sure that the design that was created by the Program Designer is implemented by the development team. Many times the Design Lead is both a UX UI professional and a bit of a front end developer so they can make that blurry handoff between design and development.
Testing Lead / Quality Assurance / Quality Engineer
And then finally you’ll have someone on the team who is typically the belly button for testing that one person who is kind of the accountable party to make sure that all the user stories are tested prior to being submitted to the Product Owner or Program Manager for acceptance.
Lots of opportunities
So, there are a lot of roles across an Agile Organization, and depending on the size you can, from right to left: the right hand side with the team is going to be that smallest unit. At a very, very small startup you may only have team roles, but as the organization scales some of the work starts to shift left and the bigger chunks of work are picked up by these scaling teams.
Research these roles as a starting point on determining the next step within your career path! Now, I’m asking you to give back a bit by sharing your knowledge and experience…
Agile Role Discussion
In the Comments section below please share your insights by answering one or more of these questions:
- What team-level role is the most misunderstood and why?
- What non-team role is most interesting to you and why?
- What is your current role and what are your next steps?