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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 new to Kanban often have questions about how it works in practice. What are the Kanban team roles and responsibilities to help make work effective?  

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

What are Kanban roles?

Because Kanban is one of the many Agile methodology applications and as such, people often compare it to Scrum. In particular, you’ll often hear the question of what is the equivalent role of the Scrum Master within the Kanban framework.

Or even: Does any kind of Kanban master role exist? Is there any kind of Kanban leader roles and responsibilities?

Indeed, the idea of having formal roles within Kanban seems almost strange. Kanban roles are rarely mentioned in discussions or articles on the framework or when discussing Kanban project management as a whole. The reality is, that there is no requirement to have any official roles just because of doing Kanban. However, some teams opt for applying the roles that make sense for their processes.

In such cases, the two Kanban roles you will most likely come across are – 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 crucial. We will discuss this point at the end of this article. In the meantime, let’s explore these two key Kanban team roles and Kanban team structure in more detail. 

kanban team roles
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1. 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 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 typically performed the SDM role. Over time, project manager roles focused more on service delivery. 

This left Kanban team members needing 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 critical tasks and responsibilities

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

  1. Optimize workflow efficiency by effectively spotting and eliminating blockers and bottlenecks using the Cumulative Flow Diagram
  2. Lead the daily stand-up / Kanban meeting. Typically using the Kanban board as a reference, the SDM gathers the team and talks through the tasks 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 a task has been on the board long, the SDM investigates and communicates the reasons behind the delays.
  3. Ensure smooth, punctual delivery.

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

  • 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 function or even rotate this Kanban role between team members. 

2. Service Request Manager: Definition, responsibilities, and tasks

The Service Request Manager (SRM) understands and interprets 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:

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

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

This Kanban role suits empathetic people who find building relationships with customers and project team members easy since effective communication is also essential for success.

kanban team roles
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Are these Kanban team roles mandatory? 

No. If you are new to Kanban, you may be tempted to start setting up these roles immediately. However, it’s worth noting that these Kanban team roles are not mandatory. Lacking these roles will not necessarily lead to failure. Let’s explore why that is. 

Kanban team roles of Service Delivery Manager and Service Request Manager 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 these two roles exist and can be filled successfully, yet they are not strictly necessary to use Kanban successfully. 

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

Should you get outside help?

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 who to choose to fill these specific roles.

Roles in Kanban teams often develop over time and in unofficial capacities as your team gets used to the Kanban methodology and Agile environment. In our clients’ experience, 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. 

Here is how our product team manages the process with Kanban – 52 Sprints later.

Ready to start using Kanban for your projects?

Knowing how to use Kanban to improve your workflow is vital for success. We hope this blog has helped introduce 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 Teamhood’s flexible Kanban by following the link below or continue exploring the Kanban resource library to get more familiar with the approach.

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