Iteration Lead

Iteration Lead2018-03-15T11:03:58+00:00


It’s just as important for Iteration Leads to understand what their role isn’t as to understand what it is.

Most of all, the Iteration Lead isn’t a project manager.

  • The Iteration Lead isn’t ‘in charge’.
    • No one is. An Agile team is truly self-organising & self-managing.
  • The Iteration Lead doesn’t give orders.
    • No one does.
    • The Iteration Lead can advise or suggest or persuade…
      • And they should be selected for their depth of experience & ability to persuade.
    • … but then so should everyone else.
  • It isn’t ‘their’ team or iteration or release.
  • The Iteration Lead doesn’t ‘manage’ anyone.
    • Though they do administer things – facilities, boards, metrics, etc.
  • The Iteration Lead isn’t accountable for the team’s or the release’s success.
    • That’s the team itself.

In short, the Iteration Lead has similar authority to a project manager, but only because their team gives it to them. It is authority based on legitimacy (i.e., the team’s belief in them), not power (assigned by an external body such as a governance body or the organisation as a whole). If there is a single word that summarises their role, it is not command or control or even manage but steer.

Key responsibilities

The overriding responsibility of the Iteration Lead is to create and maintain an environment for success.

Their ability to carrying out this responsibility relies on:


Championing an Agile approach

  • Maintaining the Agile ideals.
  • Coaching the team in Agile principles and disciplines.
  • Being an authority on Agile processes, concepts, techniques, etc.
  • Promoting good team, managerial & technical practices.
  • Creating or acquiring special facilities, tools, etc.

Facilitating the team’s work

  • Creating an environment for team self-organisation.
  • Screening the team from interruption & distraction.
  • Facilitating the release & iteration processes.
  • Eliminating obstacles.
  • Maintaining an overall perspective on the team’s capacity & resourcing.
  • Managing collaboration with external resources, SMEs & authorities.
  • Challenging complacency & negativity.

Managing the team’s progress

  • Maintaining tracking tools (story board, burn chart, etc.).
  • Monitoring team performance.
    • Velocity, burn rates, etc.
  • Coaching individual team members.
  • Managing risks, issues, dependencies, changes, impediments, improvements & other development challenges.
  • Challenging the team’s complacency & negativity.
  • Driving continuous improvement.

Managing ceremonies & events

  • Ensuring that Agile ceremonies are carried out properly.
    • Scheduling & participation.
    • Preparation, facilitation, follow-up.
    • Daily Stand-Up, Showcases, Retrospectives.
  • Managing planning meetings.
    • Preparation, facilitation, follow-up.
    • Iteration planning, Backlog refinement.

Key knowledge & skills

The Iteration Lead needs many diverse skills:


  • Communications planning.
  • Written & verbal communications
  • Stakeholder management.


  • Team-building.
  • Decision-making.
  • Timeboxing.
  • Conflict management.


  • Backlog management.
  • Agile metrics, progress, etc.
    • Burn-down, velocity, etc.
  • Requirements of external functions.
    • HR, finance, PMO, etc.


  • Managing Agile ceremonies.
    • Preparing, facilitation, following-up.
    • Ensuring all voices are heard.
  • Supporting decision-making.

Continuous improvement

  • Managing lessons learned.
  • Impediments Board.

Agile coaching

  • Experience of story-writing, planning poker & other Agile tasks.
  • Expertise in coaching itself.

What do Iteration Leads do each day?

What does an Iteration Lead do each day? Quite a lot…

Before each iteration
  • Supporting story-writing.
  • Supporting the team’s self-organisation.
  • Identifying and managing risks, issues & other development challenges.
  • Ensuring that the relevant results from Iteration 0 (tests, data, etc.) are set up & distributed for this individual iteration.
  • Checking the team’s tools, standards (e.g., Definition of Done), procedures, environment & facilities are right for the  up-coming iteration.
  • Confirming that all stories & tasks included in the iteration have been fully refined, estimated & prioritised, and that the Backlog is full up to date.
  • As far as is helpful & realistic, scheduling iteration workshops, ceremonies & other events.
  • Checking alignment & links with changed stakeholders & External Team members.
  • Setting up the story/task board.

During each iteration
  • Planning & facilitating.
    • Facilitating the Iteration Planning workshop.
    • Facilitating Daily Stand-Up Meetings.
    • Arranging & facilitating Showcases.
  • Ensuring that the team follows the agreed standards, processes and approach.
  • Tracking.
    • Monitoring team performance.
      • Walking the floor (‘Gemba walks’).
      • Velocity, burn rates, etc.
    • Capturing, tracking & managing risks, dependencies & changes.
  • Facilitating work.
    • Keeping the team focused on their work.
    • Maintaining the team’s awareness of:
      • Product Vision.
      • Release & iteration goals.
    • Eliminating impediments & implementing improvements.
    • Mediating & managing team conflicts.
    • Providing an extra pair of hands where needed.
  • Managing the team’s relationships.
    • Mediating between the team & the Product Owner.
    • Providing an interface to the outside world.
    • Identifying & resolving external issues & obstacles.
  • Administration.
    • Maintaining tracking tools (Story/Task Board, Burn Chart, Impediment Board, etc.).
    • Preparing, analysing & acting upon Agile metrics.
    • Liaising with HR, finance, PMO, etc.
    • Coaching individual team members.

At the end of each iteration
  • Arranging & facilitating Retrospectives.
  • Collecting & analysing inputs for Retrospective.
  • Facilitating Retrospective.
  • Restoring the work environment to its ‘normal’ condition.

Between iterations
  • Managing impediments and improvements.
    • Including working with outside groups to implement changes.
    • Gathering feedback on the team’s performance.
  • Managing team development.
  • Collaborate with Product Owner to ensure that the Backlog is defined fully enough to support planning of the next few iterations.
  • Continuous discussions & alignment with stakeholders & the Extended Team.
  • Communicating with other Agile leads & coaches.
    • Including communicating innovations & experience.

The right person for the job

Although an Iteration Lead is not at all the same thing as a project manager, that’s a good skill-set to start from.

And so is being captain of a football team.

Here is a summary of the professional and personal attributes an Iteration Lead needs.

Professional characteristicsPersonal characteristics
The Iteration Lead needs to be:

  • Passionate about Agile.
  • Widely experienced in doing Agile.
    • And successful too.
  • Highly articulate about Agile.
  • A role model for other Agilists.
    • Especially newcomers.

NB: The above are not all the same thing and are not often found together.

  • Influential.
    • Within the team.
    • With external functions & stakeholders.
As an individual, the Iteration Lead needs to be:

  • A personable and creative servant-leader.
  • Diligent at identifying & clearing obstacles & realising opportunities for improvement.
  • Attentive to detail.
  • Comfortable with responsibility & accountability.
  • Driven to succeed – but only by doing what is right.
    • The best product, the best way.

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