Explore Jan 22, 2020

Scrum Master vs Agile Delivery Lead - What’s in a Name?

By Christina Murto & Marie Dingess - Capital One Agile Coaches

Last summer, Capital One made some waves in the Agile community with the news that it had rolled out a new Agile job title - the Agile Delivery Lead.  This generated some lively discussions on LinkedIn and Medium.  Some people asked why Capital One would create a new Agile job title and wondering if we were shifting our focus away from an Agile mindset. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

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. Read on to see why we made the decision to transform this role...


How the Scrum Master Role Has Been Evolving at Capital One

Change is constant, not just here at Capital One, but in the world we live in. As Agile Coaches who spent years working with software delivery teams, we became passionate advocates for the Scrum Master role. In 2015, several years into our Agile journey, we looked back at how far we’d come; as well as towards the future and the changes we still needed to make as part of our continuing technology transformation. We could clearly see that our Scrum Master role would be a key contributor to success on that journey.

When we started our Agile transformation, we focused on the basics of the role - facilitating Scrum events, removing impediments for teams, and becoming change agents in the organization. Three plus years into our Agile transformation, we saw in 2015 that Scrum Masters who understood and helped teams navigate dependencies and complex delivery challenges were far more effective in their roles. We also found that Scrum Masters who had experience in multiple Lean-Agile methods were blending practices based on their team’s unique needs, allowing teams to adapt to changes in their delivery ecosystems.


Themes for Success in Agile Roles

During this original analysis work in 2015 we weren’t seeking to create new job titles. But we took many of the observations and feedback from our local area and joined forces with Agile leaders across Capital One Tech to uncover common themes. 

Key career development themes that we discovered were: 

  • Coaching others on Lean-Agile principles and practices.
  • Optimizing the flow of work within and across teams.
  • The right amount of technical context to speak the team’s language, leverage productivity & collaboration tools, and understand technical dependencies.

In 2016-2017, we worked with Agile Leaders across Capital One to create enterprise goals reflecting these common themes and created communications and training to support these changes.

A Bold Recommendation

In 2018, we recognized that there was still confusion with engineers, leaders, and even Scrum Masters about what we wanted from the role and why. 

Our hypothesis was that the organization needed to see the changes we were seeking to implement as truly different and not just suggested enhancements or development tips. The experiment we decided to try was a bold one - create new job titles and descriptions based on the foundations our Agile Leadership group had aligned on. 

What’s in a Name?

We wanted to continue to promote experimentation and adaption so we chose to use “Agile” in the new title as more encompassing of this mindset while agnostic to methodology.  We wanted “Delivery” in the title to be clear that delivering value to our customers is at the core of what our teams do and our Agilists’ focus should always be on improving this delivery.  We decided to include the word “Lead” in the title because as Agilists we are leading change and modeling transformational leadership for the organization.


Pilot Measurements

Since Capital One continues to look for top talent to join our organization, we want to set the right expectations for candidates and help hiring managers and recruiters find the best candidates aligning to our needs.  One of our pilot’s success criteria was a measure of how many candidates converted to hires. 

We wanted to make sure that we continued to consider how the change was impacting those in the new roles, so we included a post change survey as well as monitoring of other existing Tech surveys.

Capital One associate Greer Gibson, whose area transitioned to the Agile Delivery Lead role in mid-2019, had this to say about her experience with the changes:

My first thought was that it (the role change) would just be a surface level change in title only. (The Communications about the role changes) allowed others to see our role in a broader context...not just associated with the well known ceremonies aligned with the Scrum Master name. The Communications reinforced a lot of what many of us were already doing; the reimaging enhanced people's perceptions by providing a strong title, job description, and a clearly defined career path allowing others to view us as leaders and game changers on the team, not just facilitators. Personally, I have sought opportunities in my organization to take on work that has led me to a role that fits within one of my areas of passion. I really appreciate the value in seeing a true mapping of career paths!
- Greer Gibson

Pilot to Growing Adoption

The pilot was launched in one area of the Tech Division in April 2018. As we shared the pilot plan and progress with other areas of Capital One, we found many areas of the organization were eagerly awaiting the pilot results.

By the fall of 2018, we had completed the pilot and shared our initial metrics which showed positive lift in our key participant experiences. In soliciting feedback on the value of the changes, one of our portfolio leaders, Jim Goode, mentioned how he’s seen the changes impact his areas:

The shift to "Agile Delivery Lead" has greatly enhanced the value proposition of the role for teams and individual associates alike by creating more emphasis on optimizing delivery flow through whatever methodology is best for the situation vs. being more locked in on scrum. It's been especially helpful for staffing and setting expectations at the program and portfolio levels as we focus more and more on enterprise platform solutions.
- Jim Goode

We continued to partner heavily with HR/Recruiting and Leadership both in the initial pilot group and with other areas of our organization who wanted to make the role change. Our HR Recruiting partner, Justin Ingram highlighted the impacts of the new roles in recruiting:

When we looked at the data at the beginning of 2019, the consistency and standardization that we enacted within our interview process showcased this as a great decision. Our Apply to Hire rate doubled and our hiring managers were seeing higher quality talent across the board.
- Justin Ingram

Due to this success, over half of all of our Scrum Master roles have converted into the Agile Delivery Lead job families in 2019.


What’s Next?

As Agilists, we continue to support and coach the evolution of our other roles, and lean into our modern engineering practices along with UX and Product Management.  Whatever the local focus, we’ll continue to evolve our Agile roles so that we recruit, develop, and recognize those Agilists who bring value to their teams and organizations and enable us to deliver value to our customers.

Stay tuned as we continue to share more about our journey here and at industry meet-ups and conferences.

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: © 2020 Capital One. Opinions are those of the individual author. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are property of their respective owners.