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I recently received an email from a senior manager detailing agile roles and responsibilities within the organisation which effectively had the management team driving the entire scrum process and signing off every stage. “Let’s introduce stage gates!”, “If the QA manager isn’t the one to define testing tasks and sign off quality, how can we be sure that we have a quality product?”

He is right, of course, and indeed this is a going concern frequently heard in meeting rooms up and down the country by many a nervous executive with customers and support teams banging at their door.

There is, of course, an answer to all of this which is clearly stated in scrum; but therein lies a cautionary tale. If you state the answer outright, the effect isn’t what you’d expect – a sigh of relief, immediate confidence in your ability – quite the difference. The expression returning your gaze is one of incredulity, bewilderment and confusion. You may, in fact, have far less credibility at that very point, than you did before you uttered the response.

“Definition of Done?”, “What does that mean?”, “How would that fix the quality issue?”, “If the manager isn’t in charge, who is accountable?”, “Who do we shoot when things go wrong?”, and a little later, after further discussion, “If a developer doesn’t stick to the definition of done, they will be instantly disciplined.”

You see, this is the problem with scrum. It is a complete cultural change for some, a revolution for many. The old world is dead. We’re replaced by a new and refreshing environment where the team is in charge and the managers have to step aside.

Organisations are run by managers at all levels, the powerhouses of industry. Imagine telling them that they are no longer needed to make all the decisions; that they have to sit on the side-lines. Hear the utterance of horror. It sounds like pure anarchy but worse still, what about their jobs and careers? For some, they don’t believe their teams are capable enough to run the show; after all that’s why they’re there and earn the big bucks.

Now although I say this with great pride, I have to let you know that I am a manager and have a history of introducing Scrum and managing change within organisations. This is no mean feat and requires a steely determination when you think about how you’ll need to convince the positions of power within the organisation about the need to introduce this change. The ones that are likely to feel most threatened and dis-empowered by such a change.

So, to return to the original story, here’s how the rest of the conversation developed.

Yes, “The Definition of Done”. This defines the requirements which the scrum team needs to satisfy within each sprint, for each story, to conclude that the work is effective Done, good to go, to an acceptable level of quality.

This is how it works.

The Product Owner and Scrum Master work together with the team to ensure that the Definition of Done is adhered to. The Definition of Done should have input from the specialist authorities or managers.

Examples of what is Done within a sprint is the definition of tasks that may ensure the production of detailed scope, designs, unit tests, test cases and reviews of these tasks, for instance code and test case reviews, as well as accurate and detailed documentation.

The scrum team collectively, as a self-managing team, ensures that every story addresses the requirements for Done and the Product Owner, who is a member of this closely-knit team, confirms when each story and sprint is Done. Done during the Sprint, and Done at the Sprint Review.

And what of the management team? Well the good news is that they still have a part to play in this new and exciting world.

The QA manager will want to ensure that quality is reflected throughout the work carried out by the scrum team. So will the Development manager, and those responsible for documentation, analysis and so on. These managers define the strategy for quality, consistency and predictability. They want to be sure that no matter what scrum teams are operational, no matter the requirements of the product, there is one consistent approach to the work which should bring about a high quality, successful and predictable conclusion.

Best (or good, sound) practices determine what must be done. Quality may include a certain level of test coverage both in the code and in quality assurance.  Should regression, functional, stress, load and automation testing be included? Managers operating strategically will help define these. Are the skills in place for the scrum teams to perform? The corresponding managers should enable the development of their resources to ensure they have the necessary skills to perform sufficiently within scrum teams.

Fundamentally, the management team must work with their teams to motivate them and develop a culture which promotes collaborative working with scrum principles, and an open, trusting environment.


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