Many sources of stress on projects come from forgetting what our roles are. Scrum championed a simple set of roles with the development team, the Scrum Master, and the Product Owner. The first problem is the people affected by agile projects who fall into any of these categories, many of which are important. The second problem comes from forgetting that the only roles with authority, the Scrum Master and the Product Owner are the least important people on the whole project.
When creating something of value, the first people we care about are those who will get value from the product we create. I call these Consumers. These are the users and those who are affected by the work of the users. For a call center application, it would be the customer service representative as well as the person calling who has to wait for the service rep to look up information in the slow system.
Without caring about the Consumers, the product has no value.
The second category are those whose work goes into creating the product. It may be people who create layouts and graphics, people who develop the application, people who examine the application to make sure it performs as needed and people who train the consumers in using the application. I call these people the Creators.
Without the Creators, there will be no product.
But in order to create the product, someone usually has to put money on the line. I call this the Sponsor(s). The sponsor is the person who can really decide that, “yes, we will let five people work on this for a year”. If the Creators work for free, they are also the Sponsors. Otherwise, the sponsor is the person who signs their paycheck.
Without the Sponsor, the Creators will starve.
It’s worth noting that many Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Architects and Project Managers fall into none of these roles. The product owner is seldom an actual Consumer of the product, and in very few cases does he pay the salary of the Creators. Instead, he talks to the Consumers and helps the Creators understand what to create. In the same way, a good Scrum Master can ask good questions of the Creators that will help them avoid impediments and work better.
I call everyone who doesn’t Consume the product, Create the product or Pay for the product a Helper. When you facilitate a meeting, write a report or take the requirements from the Consumers to the Creator, you are helping. If you’re doing your job right.
The funny thing is this: Most people with authority in most organizations have Helper roles. But nothing is worse than a “Helper” you don’t need, but who insists that you do what they say.
I am a Helper, and this makes me nervous. If everybody is a Helper, nothing gets done. At best, I can make others better able to do their job. At worst, I distract from real progress.
Helpers must be humble