Iteration Managers and Scrum Masters: The Nurofen to Your Talent Shortage Headache
When Chris Martin sang “Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard,” I am absolutely certain that he was singing about Australia’s tech talent shortage. And as someone whose full-time job is talent acquisition and consulting with technology leaders who are building their tech teams, I can tell you Chris is right… finding and retaining developers is HARD. And while the ‘War for Talent’ is causing headaches, companies are deploying interesting and innovative strategies to combat these challenges. One trend I am seeing is the rise of the Iteration Manager.
With Software Engineers becoming harder to secure (and retain), we are seeing an increasing amount of companies hiring more Iteration Managers and Scrum Masters.
This is for two reasons:
- With a talent shortage making Developers more scarce than toilet paper in March 2020, there is an even stronger emphasis on ensuring that the right work is being done in the most efficient manner.
- A lot of companies previously had their Software Engineers fulfilling the role of the Iteration Manager but now more than ever, companies are needing their technical talent focussed on coding and not diluting their role with the other important tasks that sit around it.
And before we dive into the details, I know that some people reading this might already have Iteration Managers in their teams. And to this, I’d say:
- Go you! But you may be surprised to know that many companies do not, which means their Developers and Product Managers are being pulled into fulfilling the responsibilities.
- Could you hire more to improve your Iteration Manager to Developer ratio? It is a point to ponder if it means driving more efficiency and effective work in this talent short market.
But let’s take a step back…
What is an Iteration Manager?
‘Iteration Manager’ is something I say approximately 80 times a day. What I didn’t realise until I researched for this article is that the term ‘Iteration Manager’ was actually first coined in Thoughtworks’ Chicago office which is a fun little fact to keep in your back pocket for trivia.
You might have heard a few different descriptions for an Iteration Manager. In the simplest of terms, think of an Iteration Manager as:
- A more technical Project Manager (sort of)
- A broader term to describe a Scrum Master (minus the requirement of championing Scrum practices internally)
“If you think of a symphony orchestra, think of the Iteration Manager as the conductor. We don’t play an instrument, but we are there as an enabler to ensure they have the right tools, skills and capacity to deliver the desired outcomes.”
An Iteration Manager’s KPI is… delivery – helping the development team to work as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Their day-to-day responsibilities include:
- Building, promoting and organising a high-performing, engaged and energetic agile team
- Driving the delivery of product functionality in a timely manner, ensuring that the delivery of the team meets expectations
- Acting as a key interface between the team and various stakeholders, including but not limited to Product Managers, Business Stakeholders and executive teams
- Capturing detailed requirements from Product Managers and converting them into development tickets and living documents
- Driving agile practices within the team and across the company
- Supporting squads to engage in continuous improvement activities within each Sprint / Cycle
- Ensuring there are frequent reviews of technical debt
- Identifying and defining opportunities for improvement in the development process
- Capturing metrics that enable the team to reflect and self-improve including burn-down, lead time, deployment frequency, change / fail percentage and WIPs
So how exactly will an Iteration Manager solve your problems?
If you’ve ever had a splitting headache, you’ll know firsthand that Nurofen won’t cure the headache. What it will do is provide some much-needed relief.
So, if you’ll allow me to thrash this Nurofen metaphor further… an Iteration Manager will not cure you from the headache of attracting and retaining developers. What it will do is ensure that your team of Software Engineers are entirely focused on their core function… building, and they are doing it in a way that is of most value and importance to the business outcomes.
“There is a lot of admin work that is required to run an agile tech team like ensuring we have all the ceremonies in place and keeping track and tabs of the team to make sure they are progressing. An IM takes on this workload which allows the team to do what they do best; an Engineer is engineering, the QA is doing the quality assurance.”
– Barbara dos Santos (Senior Vice President Program and Iteration Management, CitrusAd)
Tell me more about this rise of Iteration Managers you speak of…
As I write this:
- Iteration Managers & SCRUM Masters: 5,327 openings on LinkedIn
- Software Engineer: 11,638 openings on LinkedIn
So quick math: Let’s assume that your Iteration Manager runs a maximum of three Scrum teams with 2-5 Developers per Scrum team depending on the organisation size, project, product requirements and other factors. This means that you’d have a maximum ratio of 15 developers to 1 Iteration Manager/Scrum Master.
Keeping this in mind, we’d theoretically expect to see 1,746 Iteration Manager/Scrum Master job openings to be proportionate with the 11,638 Software Engineer job openings. But instead, we are seeing the demand for Scrum Masters and Iteration Managers sitting at a whopping three times that amount.
Anecdotally, we are seeing this trend at Hunt & Co. HQ as well with the vast majority of our clients being tech scaleups.
When is your tech team ready for their next (or first) Iteration Manager?
Okay, so now that we are all on the same page that Iteration Managers are the unsung heroes… how do you know when it’s the right time to hire your next Iteration Manager?
If you don’t have an Iteration Manager – here are some signs you need one:
- Stress or burnout symptoms in your team. Particularly the team members that take on the load of Iteration Manager-like tasks.
- Balls are being dropped – if your QA is getting a backlog of QA tickets, it could be because their focus is being pulled elsewhere.
If you do have Iteration Managers, here’s some signs you need to add more to the team:
- Ratios are out of balance. While the maximum is three teams per Iteration Manager, Barbara recommends no more than two teams per Iteration Manager to get the most value (and we tend to agree!)
- You have some serious Software Engineer hires forecasted in the next 6-12 months. If you are about to bring on a considerable amount of technical talent, now is the time to absolutely do the foundational work. You need to get your processes very well-aligned so that when the new technical talent starts, the processes are established and the training material has been created. This means that the technical team members can hit the ground running reducing potential issues and increasing how quickly they can start delivering value for your company!
With all organisations struggling with the challenge of attracting and retaining developers in a talent short market, Iteration Managers can ensure that the developers in the building are working most effectively and efficiently to deliver and that the development team is entirely focused on coding and not having their focus pulled by the other important tasks that sit around it.
With all of this in mind, are you looking to hire an Iteration Manager this quarter?