January 2021 Archives

Percentage of people in special roles

In large-scale product development organization, %(people in special roles) is a good indicator for the degree of self-organization in teams.

Special roles in this measure are outside teams. There is no special role inside teams, as everybody takes the role of team member. Sometimes, the team may define "special roles" inside it, e.g. interface towards other teams. I consider this as their working agreement, because the team has the full authority to decide and change as they wish. The impact of having those internal "special roles" on their self-organization is a separate topic we may explore in the future. In this article, we focus on special roles outside teams.

Please be noted that %(people in special roles) is essentially the same as %(people in teams), as %(people in teams) + %(people in special roles) = 100%.

Its value in LeSS organizations

LeSS organizational design leads to low value in this measure. This is in line with the LeSS principle "More with LeSS" - the less (fewer) roles, the more responsible teams. Let's look at LeSS organization and LeSS Huge organization respectively.

1. LeSS organization

%people in special roles - LeSS org.jpg

Assume that

  • there is no undone department, which is the preferred case
  • there are 5 teams, 7 people in each, that is 35 people in teams
  • there are 1 PO, 3 SMs and 1 manager, that is 5 people in special roles

Then, %(people in special roles) = 5/(35+5) = 12.5%.

2. LeSS Huge organization

%people in special roles - LeSS Huge org.jpg

Assume that

  • there is no undone department, and no support as it is done by normal feature team
  • there are 20 teams, 7 people in each, that is 140 people in teams
  • there are 5 POs (PO team consisting of 1 overall PO and 4 APOs), 10 SMs (competence & coaching), 5 managers, that is 20 people in special roles

Then, %(people in special roles) = 20/(140+20) = 12.5%.

There is usually still undone department and support in LeSS Huge organization, and we consider them as people in special roles too, then its value is often higher in LeSS Huge organization.

Its impact on self-organization

Why "More with LeSS" - fewer roles leading to more responsible teams?

There are mutual effects between special roles and self-organization. Having more people in special roles outside teams leads to lower degree of self-organization in teams, which in return leads to more people in special roles. This is shown in the below diagram as a reinforcing loop. It could be either a virtuous cycle of leading to ever higher degree of self-organization in teams and ever fewer people in special roles, or a vicious cycle of leading to ever lower degree of self-organization in teams and ever more people in special roles.

%people in special roles 1.jpg

If we elaborate on the links in both directions, we get the below diagram. Having fewer people in special roles opens up more space for teams to self-organize, leading to higher degree of self-organization in teams. This in turn decreases the need for special roles, leading to fewer people in special roles.

%people in special roles 2.jpg

Of course, there are other factors too. We add a couple of more variables in the below diagram.

  • Job safety: when job safety is low, even if the need for special roles is little, people would still fight hard to keep their special roles so as to keep the job.
  • Coaching effectiveness: when coaching effectiveness is low, even if much space has been created for teams, they would still be unable to reach high degree of self-organization.

%people in special roles 3.jpg

By now, we have explained why %(people in special roles) would be a good indicator for the degree of self-organization in teams.

Its reality and goal

In reality, many large-scale organizations have a much higher value in this measure. Besides those in LeSS organizations, they may have more of the below special roles.

  • business analyst, including those in the name of team PO
  • project manager, including those in the name of SM
  • technical leader or architect
  • team leader, in addition to SM and manager
  • etc.

What these special roles are doing largely belongs to the scope of self-organizing teams. The most helpful way to proceed is for them to join feature teams, as team members. In fact, this is what is going to happen in LeSS adoptions - simplify the organization to scale up.

Are we going to further reduce special roles after adopting LeSS? In LeSS organizations, self-organizing teams are the basic building block, while special roles are mainly in two kinds.

  1. PO for product vision and direction. If we consider shared vision, it is possible that vision is co-created by teams and product community. See more in Shared vision on product.
  2. SM and manager for team and organizational capability improvement, as coaches and facilitators. Even with team maturing, it is very likely that they still benefit from having some coaches and facilitators around every now and then, if not all the time.

Therefore, the goal is to have low - perhaps not zero - %(people in special roles) outside teams, and have high degree of self-organization in teams.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2021 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2020 is the previous archive.

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