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Soft Skills in Scrum Teams. A survey of the most valued to have by Product Owners and Scrum Masters

Authors:

Abstract

Software development requires professionals with knowledge and experience on many different methodologies, tools, and techniques. However, the so-called soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, teamwork, problem solving and customer orientation to name just a few, are as important as, or even more important than, traditional qualifications and technical skills. Members of scrum teams, particularly the ones performing the roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master, are not exempt of having these kind of skills because of the distinctive duties and responsibilities of these roles in a Scrum team. In this paper we report a field study in which we interviewed 25 experienced Scrum practitioners from software companies in Uruguay to know their points of view about what are the soft skills they consider the most valued to have by the Product Owner and the Scrum Master of a Scrum team. As a result, Communication skills, Customer orientation, and Teamwork appear as the most valued soft skills Product Owner should have, while Commitment, Communication skills, Interpersonal skills, Planning skills, and Teamwork are considered the most valued ones for the Scrum Master.
Soft Skills in Scrum Teams
A survey of the most valued to have by Product Owners and Scrum Masters
Gerardo Matturro
Software Engineering Department
Universidad ORT Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay
matturro@uni.ort.edu.uy
Carina Fontán
Software Engineering Department
Universidad ORT Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay
cpfontan@gmail.com
Florencia Raschetti
Software Engineering Department
Universidad ORT Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay
florencia.raschetti@gmail.com
AbstractSoftware development requires professionals with
knowledge and experience on many different methodologies,
tools, and techniques. However, the so-called soft skills, such as
interpersonal skills, teamwork, problem solving and customer
orientation to name just a few, are as important as, or even more
important than, traditional qualifications and technical skills.
Members of scrum teams, particularly the ones performing the
roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master, are not exempt of
having these kind of skills because of the distinctive duties and
responsibilities of these roles in a Scrum team. In this paper we
report a field study in which we interviewed 25 experienced
Scrum practitioners from software companies in Uruguay to
know their points of view about what are the soft skills they
consider the most valued to have by the Product Owner and the
Scrum Master of a Scrum team. As a result, Communication
skills, Customer orientation, and Teamwork appear as the most
valued soft skills Product Owner should have, while
Commitment, Communication skills, Interpersonal skills,
Planning skills, and Teamwork are considered the most valued
ones for the Scrum Master.
Keywords- soft skills; scrum; product owner; scrum master
I. INTRODUCTION
Software development is a highly technical activity that
requires people performing diverse roles in software projects,
and with knowledge and experience on many different
methodologies, tools, and techniques.
However, as people in software projects have to work
together in order to achieve project goals, other kind of skills
and abilities are also needed, related to the execution of project
tasks such as interacting and communicating with teammates
and stakeholders, managing time, negotiating with customers,
writing reports, presenting project advances, problem solving,
and decision making, among others alike.
These skills are examples of a broad compendium of
several components like attitude, abilities, habits and practices
that are combined adeptly to maximize one’s work
effectiveness [1], and they are considered as important as, or
even more important than, traditional qualifications and
technical skills for personal and professional success [2].
This kind of skills are known in literature as “soft skills”,
"non-technical skills", "people skills", "social skills", "generic
competencies", or "human factors".
According to Capretz, the human factor is a make-or-break
issue that affects most software projects and thus, an
understanding of these factors is important in the context of the
practice of software engineering [3].
In a previous study [4], one of the authors identified 17 soft
skills that are usually demanded by software companies in
Uruguay when hiring new professionals to work in software
projects.
During recent years, several software companies in
Uruguay have been adopting agile methodologies, particularly
Scrum, for managing their software development projects.
Agile software development is carried out through the
collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.
Thus, agile teams depend greatly on efficient communication,
taking responsibility, initiative, time management, and
leadership [5], examples of the above mentioned soft skills.
As explained in [6], Scrum development efforts consist of
one or more Scrum teams, each made up of three roles: Product
Owner, ScrumMaster, and the Development Team. Of these
roles, in this paper we will concentrate on the two of them that
are unique and distinctive: Product Owner and Scrum Master.
The data used in the previous study reported in [4] was
collected from job ads published in a major national newspaper
of Uruguay, and from the database maintained by the Graduate
Office of Universidad ORT Uruguay, that receives jobs ads
directly from software companies looking for new staff.
In this paper, our purpose is to deepen that previous study
to have the "insider" voices of Scrum practitioners about what
are the soft skills they consider most valued to have by Scrum
team members. Specifically, we wanted to have the separate
perspectives of product owners, scrum masters, and team
members of Scrum teams about what are the soft skills they
consider of most value to have by their teammates, being either
the Product Owner or the Scrum Master.
The remainder of this article is organized as follows. In
Section II we give an overview of the three Scrum roles. In
Section III, and since software engineering research in Uruguay
is scarce, we will give a brief overview of Uruguay and its
software industry. In Section IV we present the research
questions posed for this study, while in Section V we describe
the data collection process followed. In Section VI we present
the analysis of the collected data and we answer the research
42
DOI reference number: 10.18293/SEKE2015-026
questions. In Section VII we compare the points of view of
product owners, scrum masters and team members of Scrum
teams regarding the most valued soft skills to perform the
distinctive roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master. Finally,
in Section VIII we present our conclusions and further work.
II. SCRUM ROLES
Mainly based on [6], what follows is a brief description of
the three roles defined in the Scrum framework:
A. Product owner
The product owner is the empowered central point of
product leadership. He/she is the single authority responsible
for deciding which features and functionality to build and the
order in which to build them.
The product owner holds the product vision, and must
understand the needs and priorities of the organizational
stakeholders, the customers, and the users well enough to act as
their voice. In this respect the product owner acts as a product
manager, facilitating communication between the team and the
stakeholders to ensure that the right solution is developed.
B. ScrumMaster
The ScrumMaster helps everyone involved understand and
embrace the Scrum values, principles, and practices. He/she
acts as a coach, providing process leadership and helping the
Scrum team and the rest of the organization develop their own
high performance, organization-specific Scrum approach.
As a facilitator, the ScrumMaster helps the team resolve
issues and makes improvements to its use of Scrum, and is also
responsible for protecting the team from outside interference
and takes a leadership role in removing impediments that
inhibit team productivity. He/she also facilitates regular team
meetings to ensure that the team progress to its path to "done".
C. Development Team
Traditional software development approaches discuss
various job types, such as architect, programmer, tester,
database administrator, UI designer, and so on. Scrum defines
the role of a development team, which is simply a diverse,
cross-functional collection of these types of people who are
responsible for designing, building, and testing the desired
product.
III. URUGUAY AND ITS SOFTWARE INDUSTRY
With a population of 3.2 million people, Uruguay has
positioned itself in recent years as a leading exporter of
software in Latin America. In 2013, exports of software and
related services reached 300 million dollars, and CEOs of
leading companies expect to reach 1 billion dollars by 2020.
The main foreign markets are the United States, Argentina,
Brazil, Spain, and Canada. At present, there are about 250
companies that produce software, that employs about 4500
professional, and the unemployment rate in this industrial
sector is almost zero.
IV. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
We posed two groups of research questions for this study,
as depicted below:
RQ. A: What are the most valued soft skills a Product
Owner must have, from the point of view of:
o A1: a Product Owner, A2: a Scrum Master,
A3: a development team member
RQ: B: What are the most valued soft skills a Scrum
Master must have, from the point of view of:
o B1: a Product Owner, B2: a Scrum Master,
B3: a development team member
Table I shows the cross relationship between these six
research questions about Product Owner and Scrum Master.
TABLE I. RELATIONSHIP OF RESEARCH QUESTIONS
About...
Product Owner Scrum Master
Point of view
of...
Product Owner A1 B1
Scrum Master A2 B2
Team Member A3 B3
V. DATA COLLECTION
To collect data for this study, we interviewed 25 software
engineering practitioners with working experience in Scrum,
from 8 software development companies in Uruguay. These 8
companies were selected from the set of companies that posted
the job ads used in the previous study mentioned above. Of
these companies, 6 declared to use Scrum as an agile
methodology and the other two a hybrid of iterative and agile
methodologies. Regarding the years in the Uruguayan market,
the youngest company is 4 years old, while the older is 23
years old, with an average of 10 years. With respect to the
quantity of employees directly involved in software
engineering tasks, the smallest company has 5 people, and the
biggest one has 390, with an average of 40 people.
As mentioned above, the software engineering
professionals interviewed for this work have working
experience in Scrum. Four of them have experience as a
Product Owner, seven as a Scrum Master, and the other
fourteen have experience only as a member of a Scrum team.
In Table II we show the interviewees' minimum, maximum,
and average years of experience in performing their respective
roles as part of Scrum teams.
TABLE II. INTERVIEWEES EXPERIENCE WITH SCRUM (YEARS)
Role
Min.
Max.
Avg.
Product Owner 1 2 1.5
Scrum Master 0.75 4.5 3.1
Team Member 0.5 4.5 2.9
During the interviews, we gave the interviewees the list of
the soft skills identified in [4] along with a conceptual
definition of each skill.
43
To answer the six research questions, we requested the
interviewees to select from that list the soft skills that he/she
considers the most valued to have by a Product Owner (A’s
questions) and by a Scrum Master (B’s questions).
VI. DATA ANALYSIS
With the data obtained from the 25 interviewees, the
answers to the research questions posed for this study are as
follow:
A. The most valued soft skills a Product Owner must have.
To answer the research questions A1, A2, and A3, we asked
separately to product owners, scrum masters and team
members to select the soft skills considered most valued to
perform the role of Product Owner.
From the perspective of the four product owners
interviewed, the top five soft skills considered most valued to
have by a Product Owner (RQ. A1) are shown in Table III.
TABLE III. TOP FIVE SOFT SKILLS FOR PO (PO’S POINTS OF VIEW)
Soft skills
%
Communication skills 4 100
Customer orientation 4 100
Interpersonal skills 3 75
Teamwork 3 75
Analytic, problem-solving 2 50
From the perspective of the seven Scrum masters
interviewed, the top five soft skills considered most valued to
have by a Product Owner (RQ. A2) are shown in Table VI.
TABLE IV. TOP FIVE SOFT SKILLS FOR PO (SM’S POINT OF VIEW)
Soft skills
%
Communication skills 7 100
Customer orientation 7 100
Planning skills 7 100
Teamwork 7 100
Commitment, responsibility 6 85.7
Finally, from the point of view of the 14 team members
interviewed, the top five soft skills considered most valued to
have by a Product Owner (RQ. A3) are shown in Table V.
TABLE V. TOP FIVE SOFT SKILLS FOR PO (TM’S POINTS OF VIEW)
Soft skills
%
Communication skills 14 100.0
Commitment, responsibility 10 71.4
Teamwork 9 64.3
Customer orientation 8 57.1
Motivation 8 57.1
B. The most valued soft skills a ScrumMaster must have
To answer the research questions B1, B2, and B3, we asked
separately to product owners, scrum masters and team
members to select the soft skills considered most valued to
perform the role of Scrum Master.
From the point of view of the four product owners
interviewed, the top five soft skills considered most valued to
have by a Scrum Master (RQ. B1) are shown in Table VI.
TABLE VI. TOP FIVE SOFT SKILLS FOR PO (SMS POINTS OF VIEW)
Soft skills
%
Communication skills 4 100
Interpersonal skills 4 100
Commitment, responsibility 3 75
Organizational skills 3 75
Planning skills 3 75
From the perspective of the seven Scrum masters
interviewed, the top six soft skills considered most valued to
have by a Scrum Master (RQ. B2) are shown in Table VII.
TABLE VII. TOP FIVE SOFT SKILLS FOR SM (PO’S POINTS OF VIEWS)
Soft skills Times selected %
Communication skills 7 100
Interpersonal skills 7 100
Motivation 7 100
Teamwork 7 100
Commitment, responsibility,
Planning skills
6 (each one) 85.7
Finally, from the point of view of the 14 team members
interviewed, the top five soft skills considered most valued to
have by a Scrum Master (RQ. B3) are shown in Table VIII.
TABLE VIII. TOP FIVE SOFT SKILLS FOR SM (TM’S POINTS OF VIEWS)
Soft skills
%
Communication skills 13 92.9
Interpersonal skills 12 85.7
Leadership 12 85.7
Commitment, resposibility 10 71.4
Planning skills 10 71.4
VII. COMPARING THE POINTS OF VIEW OF PO, SM AND TM
Based on the data shown in Table III to VIII, we found
interesting to compare the points of view of product owners,
scrum masters and team members with regard of the most
valued soft skills for a Product Owner and for a Scrum Master.
In the next two sub-sections we show the results of these
comparisons.
44
A. Comparing the points of view of product owners, scrum
masters and team members about the most valued soft
skills a Product Owner must have.
For this comparison, we put together the data shown in
Table III (point of view of product owners, PO), Table IV
(point of view of scrum masters, SM) and Table V (point of
view of team members, TM).
TABLE IX. PRODUCT OWNER: POINTS OF VIEWS OF PO, SM AND TM
Soft skills
PO
SM
TM
Analytic, problem-solving X
Commitment, responsibility X X
Communication skills X X X
Customer orientation X X X
Interpersonal skills X
Motivation X
Planning skills X
Teamwork X X X
Table XI shows the eight soft skills that appears in those
tables and, grayed, the ones that are in common from the three
perspectives.
From this comparison results that Communication skills,
Customer orientation, and Teamwork are the three soft skills
that appear as the most valued for a Product Owner, from the
perspectives of product owners, scrum masters and team
members.
B. Comparing the points of view of product owners, scrum
masters and team members about the most valued soft
skills a ScrumMaster must have.
For this comparison, we put together the data shown in
Table VI (point of view of product owners, PO), Table VII
(point of view of scrum masters, SM) and Table VIII (point of
view of team members, TM).
Table X shows the eight soft skills that appears in those
tables and, grayed, the ones that are in common from the three
perspectives.
TABLE X. SCRUMMASTER: POINTS OF VIEWS OF PO, SM AND TM
Soft skills
PO
SM
TM
Commitment, responsibility X X X
Communication skills X X X
Interpersonal skills X X X
Leadership X
Motivation X
Organizational skills X
Planning skills X X X
Teamwork X X X
From this comparison results that Commitment,
responsibility, Communication skills, Interpersonal skills,
Planning skills, and Teamwork are the five soft skills that
appear as the most valued for a Scrum Master, from the
perspectives of product owners, scrum masters and team
members.
VIII. CONCLUSIONS AND FURTHER WORK
In this paper we reported a field study in which we
interviewed 25 software engineering practitioners experienced
in Scrum from 8 software companies in Uruguay to know their
opinions about what are the soft skills they consider the most
valued to have by the people performing the role of Product
Owner or of Scrum Master in a Scrum development team.
Based on the data collected on those interviews, to perform
the specific role of Product Owner of a Scrum development
team, the point of view of product owners, scrum masters and
team members are coincident in that Communication skills,
Customer orientation, and Teamwork are the most valued soft
skills for performing that role.
To perform the role of Scrum Master, the perspectives of
the product owners, scrum masters and team members
interviewed are coincident in that Commitment, responsibility,
Communication skills, Interpersonal skills, Planning skills, and
Teamwork are the most valued soft skills to perform this role.
Findings suggest that there are much more coincidences
than discrepancies between the perspectives of product owners,
scrum masters and team members regarding what are the most
valued soft skills software engineering professionals should
have to better perform those two specific and distinctive roles
defined in the Scrum framework.
As a further work, we are now working with the companies
involved in this study to investigate, among other things: a)
what impact have these soft skills of product owners and scrum
masters in their software projects outcomes, b) what soft skills
are found less developed in their product owners and scrum
masters, and what actions are the best to take in order to
develop those skills to enhance software projects outcomes, c)
whether there are other soft skills, beyond the ones used in this
study, that are important to perform those roles.
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[3] L. F. Capretz, “Bringing the Human Factor to Software Engineering,”
IEEE Softw., vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 102104, 2014.
[4] G. Matturro, “Soft skills in software engineering: A study of its demand
by software companies in Uruguay,” in 6th International Workshop on
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[5] L. Bender, G. Walia, F. Fagerholm, M. Pagels, K. Nygard, and J.
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... Individual engineers [40] Field-study: interviews Identifying soft skills valued by Scrum practitioners [41] Case-study: interviews, observations, face-to-face discussions, and retrospective documentation review ...
... We observed that almost all of the previous studies listed in Table 1 (except for [47]) examined only specific capability aspects in relation to either individual professionals or teams, but not both. There were studies that investigated professional aspects (e.g., [48], [40], [41]). One of our previous studies [47] was the only one that examined capability aspects from the perspective of both individuals and teams. ...
... Some of the studies conducted in other contexts reported that perceptions of software professionals differ based on their role [40], work experience [55] and work environment (ASD methodology [56] and team size [57]). However, a closer inspection of the studies reported in Table 1 reveals that none has analyzed the differences in the perceptions of different demographic groups of practitioners. ...
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This research aims to know if software engineering professionals consider that social and human factors (SHF) influence the productivity of a work team. A survey-based study was conducted among 112 members of software development teams. Empirical results show professionals agree with the SHF in the context of software development influence in the productivity of work teams. It was identified that the 13 SHFs have a weak or moderate correlation with each other. Additionally, the results of the exploratory factorial analysis suggest categorizing the factors into those associated with the individual, those associated with team interaction, and those related to capabilities and experience. This categorization reduced the number of items in the original questionnaire while preserving the variability explained in the latent variables, which will require a shorter response time. Our results broaden the understanding of the SHFs that influence software development team productivity and open up new research opportunities. Measuring the perception of these factors can be used to identify which SHFs should be prioritized in a strategy to improve productivity. In addition, this knowledge can help software organizations appropriately manage their development teams and propose innovative work approaches that have a positive impact on the success of their projects.
Chapter
Customer acquisition is difficult, expensive, and burdened with high levels of uncertainty and frustration. Most customers dread cold calls. So do most salespeople. Few companies have managed to turn Farmers into Hunters. Digital lead generation and social media may provide more promising leads than were possible before. Nevertheless, at some point, someone must bite the bullet, get on the phone, and call potential new customers. Chapter 3 describes how a customer acquisition project can be set up in “the Scrum way” to benefit both customers and salespeople. Customers will appreciate the Scrum team’s calls because they get real value from them. This chapter provides detailed examples of how the Product Backlog can be set up to achieve that. Salespeople will profit both from the Scrum setup as well as from the checklists, tools, and exercises provided here.
Article
Context Previous research found that the performance of a team not only depends on the team personality composition, but also on the interactive effects of team climate. Although investigation on personalities associated with software development has been an active research area over the past decades, there has been very limited research in relation to team climate. Objective Our study investigates the association between the five factor model personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) and the factors related to team climate (team vision, participative safety, support for innovation and task orientation) within the context of agile teams working in a telecom company. Method A survey was used to gather data on personality characteristics and team climate perceptions of 43 members from eight agile teams. The data was initially used for correlation analysis; then, regression models were developed for predicting the personality traits related to team climate perception. Results We observed a statistically significant positive correlation between openness to experience and support for innovation (r = 0.31). Additionally, agreeableness was observed to be positively correlated with overall team climate (r = 0.35). Further, from regression models, we observed that personality traits accounted to less than 15% of the variance in team climate. Conclusion A person's ability to easily get along with team members (agreeableness) has a significant positive influence on the perceived level of team climate. Results from our regression analysis suggest that further data may be needed, and/or there are other human factors, in addition to personality traits, that should also be investigated with regard to their relationship with team climate. Overall, the relationships identified in our study are likely to be applicable to organizations within the telecommunications domain that use scrum methodology for software development.
Conference Paper
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Managers recognize that software development project teams need to be developed and guided. Although technical skills are necessary, non-technical (NT) skills are equally, if not more, necessary for project success. Currently, there are no proven tools to measure the NT skills of software developers or software development teams. Behavioral markers (observable behaviors that have positive or negative impacts on individual or team performance) are beginning to be successfully used by airline and medical industries to measure NT skill performance. The purpose of this research is to develop and validate the behavior marker system tool that can be used by different managers or coaches to measure the NT skills of software development individuals and teams. This paper presents an empirical study conducted at the Software Factory where users of the behavior marker tool rated video clips of software development teams. The initial results show that the behavior marker tool can be reliably used with minimal training.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Software development requires professionals with knowledge and experience on many different methodologies, tools, and techniques. However, the so-called soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, teamwork, problem solving and customer orientation to name just a few, are as important as, or even more important, than traditional qualifications and technical skills. In this paper we review a set of jobs advertisements offering job positions related to software engineering in order to identify what soft skills are most in demand by software companies in Uruguay. We also compare our findings with the ones reported in other recent studies carried out with data from other countries. This comparison shows that evidence exists about a common set of basic soft skills software companies demand when looking for new staff for software engineering activities.
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The human aspects involved in the software development process are vital to a successful completion of a software project. The author advocates for human factor topics to be part of mainstream software engineering education in order to elevate job satisfaction, improve performance, and increase productivity of software engineers. Emphasis should be on providing a practical overview of software engineering processes from a human perspective, offering alternative viewpoints within technically saturated curricula.
THE ACE of soft skills. Attitude, communication and etiquette for success
  • G Ramesh
  • M Ramesh
G. Ramesh and M. Ramesh, THE ACE of soft skills. Attitude, communication and etiquette for success. New Dehli: Dorling Kindersley, 2010.
Comunication skills and soft skills. An integrated approach
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E. Kumar and P. Sreehari, Comunication skills and soft skills. An integrated approach. New Dehli: Dorling Kindersly, 2011.
Essential Scrum: a practical guide to the most popular agile process
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Measurement of the Non-Technical Skills of Software Professionals: An Empirical Investigation
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L. Bender, G. Walia, F. Fagerholm, M. Pagels, K. Nygard, and J. Münch, "Measurement of the Non-Technical Skills of Software Professionals: An Empirical Investigation," in 26th International Conference on Software Engineering & Knowledge Engineering (SEKE 2014), 2014, pp. 478-483.