There’s a wide variety of roles that product people play in their organization. Along with common roles such as product management and business analysis, a new role that is starting to become more prevalent is delivery lead.
Because the role is fairly new, I thought it would be helpful to examine the role, identify its key responsibilities and explore different perspectives on the role.
Is delivery lead a new role, or a new name for an existing one?
Let me explain.
A little over a year ago I had the opportunity to start a new gig. The role was labeled delivery lead.I hadn’t heard the term before so I asked the client when they said delivery lead, what they meant.
I don’t remember exactly how the client explained the role, and it doesn’t really matter. What’s more meaningful is to describe what the role became. It has turned out to be product owner/ business analyst/scrum master/project manager.
When I look at the delivery leads for the other teams my team interacts with, they seem to be mixing the same roles, but in different proportions.
When I look at the expectations that leadership has of the role, at least the one that is implied by what they expect delivery leads to do, it looks an awful lot like a new name for scrum master in an organization that is still heavily project management focused.
In reading through the resources I share below, I think it’s fair to assume that different organizations interpret the delivery lead role differently. Atomic uses delivery leads to act as a combination of scrum master and account manager. Capital One chose to go away from the term scrum master because that term bothered teams that didn’t explicitly use scrum.
In other words, delivery lead is a new role in that it offers a different mix of responsibilities from older roles. It also can be a new name for existing roles for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps it may be more helpful to look at what delivery leads actually do.
What are a delivery lead’s responsibilities?
The short answer: whatever needs to be done to help a product team deliver the desired outcome and fill any gaps that exist.
The even shorter and trite answer: It depends.
The more nuanced answer is that the responsibilities of a delivery lead vary by the structure of the organization in which it exists, the temperament and skills of the person filing that role, and the responsibilities of other members of a product team.
Let’s say your team does internal product development and you’ve been assigned a “product owner” (who already has a full time job). The delivery lead often fills the product ownership gap. The way you choose to fill that gap defines your responsibilities.
When you expect the product owner to behave the way the Scrum Guide indicates you’re going to have to do a lot of shuttle diplomacy and harping on the product owner to do the job. If instead you just expect the assigned product owner to make key decisions, you end up doing all the day to day product owner responsibilities. You also may need to do a lot of the business analysis necessary to understand key business processes, rules and data relevant to the problem you’re trying to solve. You become the de facto product person on the team. The path you choose depends a great deal on your skills and how you prefer to work.
Let’s say your team is new to working together and your organization uses an agile way of working. Then you’ll find yourself working on team dynamics, process, and obstacle removal. You’re a scrum master.
Let’s say you do client work and the delivery lead is expected to be the main interface between your team and the client. Then you’ll probably do some day to day product ownership activities, but you also have to keep up with tracking cost, time, and a whole lot of communication with your client.
You won’t see delivery leads making the type of “strategic” decisions about what problems to solve or products to deliver that often comes with product management. The role is most often focused solely on a specific team and is interested in positioning them to deliver on an identified outcome.
The true nature of the delivery lead role is context specific. Here are some examples of how the role has shaped out in different contexts.
Different perspectives on the delivery lead
The Delivery Lead: A New Type of Maker
Atomic Object saw the delivery lead position as a way to enhance the experience of their clients and teams and build better software in the process. Brittany Hunter was one of the first people to hold the delivery lead position at Atomic Object. She describes the role there and how Atomic Object got to that point.
Her broad definition is that delivery leads are responsible for collaborating on and co-creating products with our designers, developers, and clients in the areas of communication, project and product management, and high-level product architecture. It’s their job to be the client’s proxy for the team when the client isn’t available. They make sure the team is unblocked, and they keep everybody in sync, marching towards the product goal.
Peter Lee’s tips for new Agile Delivery Leads
Campaign Monitor views delivery leads as the people who are “responsible for creating amazing agile teams”. The role is considered part agile coach and part project manager. Because there are so many opinions around what people in these roles do, Peter Lee wanted to share his view of this role as well as some tips for people who are starting out as a delivery lead.
Modern Day Delivery Lead: The project manager has new clothes
When Ryan Wareham posted a job ad for a “Programme Delivery Lead” he was surprised by the results. He got a wide array of resumes, but none of them was actually what he was looking for. Ryan decided to take a more definitive pass at describing what a delivery lead is at 11:FS. He views them as someone more focussed on the outcome of the product and the team than the method and corporate governance. Somebody more coach than manager.
Scrum Master vs Agile Delivery Lead – What’s in a Name?
Christina Murto & Marie Dingess explain Capital One’s decision to roll out a new agile job title – the Agile Delivery Lead. That decision generated quite a bit of lively discussion on LinkedIn and Medium and made some question whether Capital One was shifting away from an agile mindset. The pilot that led to this job title change was driven by our desire to continuously adapt and improve – this time on a job role that was established over a decade ago.
We replaced the Scrum Master role with the Agile Delivery Lead role
Some of the more vocal critics of Capital One’s move to Agile Delivery Lead reside in the Scrum community. Willem-Jan Ageling shares his view about the move as well as the original article (different than the one listed above) that Capital One wrote to explain their move.
What’s your experience with the delivery lead role?
So what’s the relevance of the delivery lead role to product people? In some situations the role is someone that you will interact with a great deal. In other cases, product people find themselves filling delivery lead role and trying to continue doing product work alongside aspects of project management and even account management.
Do you have any experience as a delivery lead or working with one? Share your experiences in the comments.