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I’m looking for a little advice…. let me start at the beginning….

My Organisation is very traditional and our organisation structure a little strange. Our web team are part of the marketing department (which includes content, social media, support & development) and are responsible for all public facing websites. IT are their own department are responsible for back end systems. In the past few years the lines between these two sections have become blurred with a web based backend CRM system that plugs into the public facing website.

Last summer we changed the development team model to an Agile methodology and we’ve seen big gains in performance and efficiency. I am part of the Development team but had been working (sub consciously as a Product Owner) with IT implementing their new web based system so I am now the Product Owner for the web team. We have a scrum master & 3 developers and we all report to the Web Team Manager.

Now onto the problems… I am acting as Product owner for all software products (regardless of which department is responsible for them) which means I have to operate on an organisational perspective rather than any single product. While the Dev team report to the Web Team Manager, ultimately they work on all web based systems we have. Our manager has placed herself into the Dev team as a pseudo-tester which they feel enables them to attend stand-ups & retro’s and the dev team feel they cannot be open in their retro as a result. They also act as the point of contact with the organisation on all changes to our websites thus making them the customer also. Our backlog refinements are now the same people, the Scrum Master, Web Team Manager and myself s Product Owner. In our sprint demo’s we demo to the manager as they are technically the customer. On a more operational basis, Dev team members request their holidays through the Web Team Manager, but they always check with me first, then make their request and then the Web Team Manager contacts me to see if request is ok.

So my questions are:

  • As a Product Owner, should some of these Line level tasks be routed to me instead or is it best to focus on the product?

  • As a Product Owner, should I be the person dealing with all customers within the Organisation on new pieces of work?

  • Is it appropriate for the Web Team Manager to assume the many hats that they have?
  • Given our somewhat unusual Organisational structure, what feedback would you give on how our structure is setup and what changes would you recommend to bring clarity on responsibility for developing and maintaining our software?
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    Hi PJM, welcome to PMSE! I believe your problem is somehow common on companies adopting agile methodologies. To make your question more useful and obtain more answers, I'd suggest to have a "generic" summary explaining your problem (where other people could identify with the same situation) before entering into the details of your specific situation. – Tiago Cardoso Feb 2 at 11:12
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It sounds like there are three challenges you are encountering, and they are possibly all separate solutions.

1) The manager as part of the team is disruptive to the success of the team.

A lot of leaders simply don't understand the impact their hierarchical difference has on others. It is unfortunate that your scrum master hasn't noticed, but if you're in the retrospectives, there is nothing that stops you from raising the concern. Alternately, you can ask someone from another place in the organization that the manager trusts to have the conversation with them.

Now, I can't count the number of times a manager comes into a room and says "you all trust me, right?" or "anyone have a problem with me being here?" Again, many leaders don't understand the impact that hierarchical differences can have. In some teams, we're run experiments with the manager there for a few sprints and not there for a few sprints to show the impact.

2) Scrum doesn't promote middle-men

From what you are describing, the manager is not acting as the customer, they are acting as a middle-man. You aren't supposed to have middle-men. The closest thing you have in Scrum is the Product Owner, who acts as an ambassador and advocate, but that is very different than a middle-man. The whole scrum team should engage with the real customers whenever possible. The fact that you are doing the review with the manager suggests that isn't happening.

3) Wearing Multiple Hats is really hard

This is true for anyone, not just the manager. Different roles intentionally have tension with one another. Having tension with yourself is very difficult if not impossible and unbelievably stressful. In the worst cases, the person will just use whichever hat drives their own personal goals the best, which is damaging to the team. In the best cases, the person will try to effectively balance them and end up exhausted and stressed out.

Bonus:

Your team members go through a lot of steps to request time off. It's probably a much more complicated issue than can be easily explored through StackExchange but most companies are moving toward 1 verification at most with many finding that being able to adapt to employees taking vacation at will makes them far more resilient.

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