Process ownership does not come into its own sufficiently in an agile transformation

Agile working is here to stay! More and more organisations are trying to implement agile working practices. With this, organisations hope to anticipate changes in the market faster. Employees even warm to it because they are promised more autonomy. No more interference from management, but the agile team decides what to deliver and how to do it. This also means that agile teams themselves determine the changes in the end-to-end processes. Who still keeps an eye on the coherence of processes?

Are you not doing this? Then poor coordination between agile teams creates bottlenecks in the process and thus in the handling of customer activities. So working agile can just cause longer waiting times for the customer. So who in an agile organisation ensures that requested process improvements are assessed in the context of all other changes requested in the end-to-end process?

A move towards an agile organisation shifts responsibilities

Who takes care of assessing process improvements depends on how organisations deploy agile working. For instance, you have organisations that call themselves agile when the project managers have completed a Product Owner course. For those organisations, the traditional way of process ownership remains largely intact. However, when an organisation fully implements the agile way of working from team level to management level, it does have a major impact on the responsibility within the organisation over the end-to-end processes. We will assume in this article that an agile team works according to Scrum, as this is by far the most widely used agile methodology these days.

In a nutshell, in the Scrum working methodology, the responsibilities of the project manager are taken over by the Product Owner and partly by the Scrum Master. Whereas a project manager often already has a defined end result in mind, the Product Owner is tasked with pursuing a certain customer value. Think, for example, of improving the digital user experience of a product or service. Based on his/her own vision and feedback from the business and end users, the Product Owner decides WHAT will be delivered, in WHICH order interim deliverables will be made and WHO is needed in the agile team for this. The WAY in which this is realised is also determined by the entire agile team itself. In large agile organisations, there is often a Product Manager hanging above the Product Owners who interprets the vision that Product Owners need. This working methodology gives an agile team a lot of mandate to demand changes in the processes they work in.

Agile working tempts teams to sub-optimise

The consequence of the mandate in agile working is that agile teams focus their attention on the processes for which the team alone is responsible. For example, when in the HR domain, one agile team makes changes to the processes around employee inflow, while other agile teams do the same for the processes around throughput and outflow at the same time. This causes the agile teams to disrupt each other and creates bottlenecks in the end-to-end process. Only this disruption falls outside the agile team's field of vision. The agile teams forget to look for an optimum in the overall production process and the connection with other teams that is needed to achieve this.

An agile team is often organised around a domain of products or services, to generate as much customer value there as possible. In order to continuously improve the product or service, agile teams continuously ask for pieces to be changed in the end-to-end process. Think of processes around administration and manage information provision and ICT and quality and risk. If this is limited to a few agile teams, the process owner can still manage these changes himself by staying in constant dialogue with the agile teams.

If an organisation has many agile teams then this situation is no longer sustainable. As with a traditional organisational structure, the change requests in the processes will increase in multiples and those with process ownership will be forced to set up tight governance to approve changes. And let this be the last thing you want in an agile organisation where agile teams need to make process changes as agile as possible to meet the changing needs of end users. This is also inconsistent with the concept of an agile team in which the Product Owner and the team members themselves decide which changes should be made and when.

Don't forget process ownership in your agile organisation

This highlights the importance that process ownership must also be properly secured in agile organisations. This is a role responsible for managing an end-to-end process across the organisational structure and thus across teams. This role involves agile teams in the continuous improvement of an overall process and is responsible for process development and process implementation. In other words: a facilitator with a mandate.

In agile organisations, System Architects have a prominent role at team and management level to monitor the consistency in required system changes. Together with a Product Manager, or directly with the Product Owners, the System Architect monitors the cohesion between the items on the agile teams' backlogs. Why doesn't a so-called 'Process Owner' sit at this table? Because the System Architect only deals with the components in the system and processes related to them. End-to-end processes are about the entire process of serving a customer and the people, resources and behaviour required to do so. So having only a System Architect at the table falls short.

Therefore, ensure that process ownership remains well positioned in an agile organisation by means of a Process Owner. This can be a staff function that works agile itself, but at the bottom line, the Process Owner, like the System Architect, determines the set-up and coherence of his or her domain. As a result, the Process Owner influences the consistency in the backlogs of all agile teams involved. The presence of a Process Owner forces agile teams to consider the impact that their work has on the end-to-end processes. So don't let process ownership lose its right in an agile transformation and appoint a Process Owner in your organisation and give them a 'seat at the table'!

More information

For more information, please contact Willem-Jan Vos ( on +31 (6) 53 11 23 24 or Ivo Heijtel ( on +31 (6) 51 63 73 11.