Struggling to Align Your Innovation Goals With Your Business Needs? It All Starts With Your Team

Innovation is inherently risky — and it can be an even greater risk when your team isn’t functioning at an optimal level to achieve your goals. In fact, if you keep falling short of meeting your innovation goals, chances are…it’s time to analyze your team structure.

That’s because there’s one pervasive truth about collaboration that crosses all industries and purposes: teams function best when clear roles and responsibilities are established. That’s because people function best when they are given true ownership over a task. Autonomy on teams creates a culture of pride in one’s work, leading to higher quality performance and smoother processes.

However, when teams don’t have clearly established roles and responsibilities, crossover confusion can result in delayed deliverables and unfinished tasks. When there isn’t a chain of responsibility, work is more likely to fall through the cracks and team members are less likely to put in their best work because they already know they won’t be held accountable. Not only will the business value you’re supposed to deliver suffer, but this can also cause issues with both respect and trust on a team — two essential ingredients for effective collaboration.

But how can you create a high-functioning team from scratch? What’s the best way to establish clear roles and responsibilities? To answer these questions, let’s look at one of the highest functioning examples of collaboration out there: Scrum teams.

How Scrum Improves Team Communication and Efficiency

Primarily used in software development, Scrum is an agile process framework designed to help teams complete complex work as efficiently and effectively as possible. When practicing Scrum, teams are divided into set roles and follow a set process that involves two-week focused “sprints” and various “ceremonies.”

The goal of the ceremonies — which include a daily “stand up” meeting to discuss issues and report progress, as well as a “retrospective” after each iteration to discuss what worked and what didn’t — is to create a culture of less documentation and more communication. Forcing this optimal level of communication daily creates built in trust and honesty. By getting everyone on the team together to talk about what they’re working on at least once per day, teams can reduce risk and increase efficiency. Since every team member is responsible for set tasks, it’s impossible to hide from accountability.

However, the practice of Scrum and the advantages of conducting regular ceremonies won’t be effective without the correct leadership structure in place. Let’s consider how three core roles on a Scrum team work together to own the process and guide productivity: the technical lead, the ScrumMaster and the product owner.

  • Product Owner: This team member owns the “what” — specifically the shippable product increments, and eventually, the final product. They are ultimately responsible for what the team delivers. As the liaison between the stakeholders and the team, the product owner needs to have keen critical thinking and problem-solving skills to envision the big picture of the project and a path to achieve the final product through incremental progress.
  • Technical Lead: This team member owns the “how.” Specifically, they own the build of the product throughout the development process. As the leader of a development group, the technical lead is responsible for guiding the team members through technical decisions.
  • ScrumMaster: This team member owns the process itself, or the “by what means” the product is built. As the main facilitator for each of the Scrum ceremonies, the ScrumMaster is responsible for ensuring the team stays focused on track. However, more than just a “master of ceremonies,” the ScrumMaster is essential for empowering the team and establishing accountability, while also maintaining realistic timelines.

Each of these designated roles and responsibilities own a portion of the process, combining to form a leadership structure that promotes productivity, team autonomy and active communication.

Building a Better Team for Better Project Management

Though the Scrum process and team structure is most commonly used in software development, the principles are easily applied to any industry — especially when innovation is at stake. With so many risks and unknowns involved in innovative work, creating a team environment where each piece of the process is clearly owned allows you to focus further on end game: driving business value.

Further, a team built on trust, communication and respect will be more capable of handling those inevitable unknowns, including big hiccups that may even necessitate pivoting priorities. Establishing a solid, yet agile team with clear leadership and a consistent chain of responsibility will better allow progress to continue, regardless of what challenges you face.

Susannah Mitchell

Susannah Mitchell

Susannah Parnin Mitchell is a product owner, ScrumMaster and business analyst for Ascendle. Recently re-located to New England, I've re-entered the exciting and fast-paced world of technology and application/software development. At Ascendle, I work with clients to manage complex software builds via proven Agile process.

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