Key Kanban Team Roles & Responsibilities

Kanban is an extremely useful project management methodology that helps visualize your workflow, control processes, and optimize results.

However, project managers and others who are new to Kanban often have questions about how it works in practice. What are the various roles and responsibilities involved to help make Kanban work effectively?  

That’s what this article aims to answer, by helping you to understand the tasks and responsibilities of all Kanban team roles. In return, you will be able to use Kanban to do your job better and achieve greater results.

What are Kanban roles?

Because Kanban is most often used as an Agile methodology, people often compare it to Scrum. In particular, you’ll often hear the question of who is the equivalent of the Scrum Master within Kanban? Or even: is there an equivalent to a Scrum Master? Does a kind of Kanban master role exist? Are there any kind of Kanban leader roles and responsibilities?

Indeed, the idea of having formal roles within Kanban seems almost strange. Kanban roles are not mentioned very often in discussions or articles on the methodology or the various Kanban software tools in the market.  

However, there are two key Kanban team roles: Service Delivery Manager and Service Request Manager. Many people regard them as essential to the smooth running of Kanban, whereas others argue that they may not be completely necessary. We will discuss this point at the end of this article. In the meantime, let’s explore these two key Kanban team roles and responsibilities in more detail. 

kanban team roles
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Service Delivery Manager: Definition, responsibilities, and tasks

The Service Delivery Manager (SDM) is responsible for improving workflow efficiency. This role is not the same or directly equivalent to a Scrum Master, although there are some similarities. 

The main goal of the SDM is to ensure a smooth flow of work. This is why the role is also often known as Flow Manager or Flow Master. The SDM helps the project team to focus on increasing the speed of delivery and shortening response times – in other words, increasing productivity and efficiency by focusing on workflow. 

In the early days of Kanban adoption for software development, project managers would typically perform the SDM role. Over time, project manager roles developed more of a focus on service delivery. 

This left Kanban teams in need of someone to oversee the quality of their service delivery. As a result, the SDM developed into a Kanban role separate from the project manager. 

SDM key tasks and responsibilities

To help optimize workflow and service delivery, the SDM is expected to:

  • Optimize workflow efficiency – spotting and eliminating blockers and bottlenecks, and using the Cumulative Flow Diagram effectively. 
  • Lead the daily stand up / Kanban meeting. Typically using the Kanban board as a reference, the SDM gathers the team around and talks through the tasks that are close to completion. They will look to work out how to complete those tasks as soon as possible, for instance by applying extra resources if needed. When there’s a task that’s been on the board for a long time, the SDM investigates and communicates the reasons behind the delays.
  • Ensure smooth, punctual delivery.

In addition to these overarching goals, successful SDMs also usually focus on:

  • Devising continuous improvement initiatives
  • Consulting with task owners if tasks experience longer-than-usual delays
  • Monitoring and managing risks
  • Overseeing and controlling all processes to help ensure smooth delivery
  • Ensuring the team follows these processes and policies

There are no strict rules about how to apply the role of the Service Delivery Manager. You can appoint an existing team member to perform the role or even have this Kanban role rotate between team members. 

Service Request Manager: Definition, responsibilities, and tasks

The Service Request Manager (SRM) is responsible for understanding and interpreting the client’s needs and expectations. In that respect, it is similar to – and sometimes confused with – the role of the product owner in Scrum. 

In this way, the SRM functions primarily as a risk manager and facilitator. They should apply a pre-defined set of criteria around value to rank work items by priority according to the value they offer.

SRM key tasks and responsibilities

To help align expectations and delivery priorities, the SRM is expected to:

  • Order work items from the backlog and facilitate prioritization of what to work on next
  • Own the policies for the system which frames decisions together
  • Improve corporate governance and process consistency
  • Reducing the risks for single individuals on the team

Generally, the SRM role is best suited to someone with the ability to interact with and understand end customers well. Account managers or sales engineers can often do well in this kind of role. This person should have a deep awareness of customer needs and priorities, or the ability to uncover them quickly and easily. 

This is a Kanban role well suited to empathetic people who find it easy to build relationships both with customers and project team members since effective communication is also important for success.

Are these Kanban team roles mandatory? 

If you are new to using Kanban, you may be tempted to start setting up these roles right away. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that these Kanban team roles are not mandatory. Lacking these roles will not necessarily lead to failure. Let’s explore why this is. 

Kanban team roles of Service Delivery Manager and Service Request Manager both developed over time to help organizations transition from a more traditional, rigid team structure to a more Agile, self-organizational mindset. This is one reason why these two roles exist and can be filled very successfully, yet they are not strictly necessary to use Kanban successfully. 

That said, incorporating these roles into your Kanban efforts may well prove useful, and help you to become a more effective Kanban user more quickly. In this case, it is best to introduce these roles over time. 

It is usually not recommended that you hire new people into your organization specifically to fill these rules. In most cases, it is better to involve existing team members who look like they would be well suited to the roles. They will already know your organization, processes, and clients well, and you will have time to assess how well they operate using Kanban before deciding on who to choose to fill these specific roles.

Roles in Kanban teams often develop over time, and often in unofficial capacities as your team gets used to the Kanban methodology and Agile mindset. In the experience of our clients, it is usually best to give your team some weeks – or even months – to get to grips with Kanban before deciding who should become your Service Delivery Manager and Service Request Manager. 

Ready to start using Kanban for your projects?

Knowing how best to use Kanban to improve your workflow is vital for success. It is our hope that this blog has been useful in introducing you to the two most common Kanban team roles, exploring their associated tasks and responsibilities, and offering some thoughts on how to fill them most effectively for your team. 

Find out more about how Teamhood’s flexible Kanban system works, or book a demo to see how it could work for you:

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