Agile Programme Roles and Responsibilities

To go with my typical programme organisation I thought I’d describe the roles and responsibilities I expect on an Agile programme. Remember I’m interested in software delivery so I’m talking about programmes that have software development at the core. Non-software programmes would have a different mix of roles.

Some roles in an programme correspond to the roles in an project.  The scale of responsibility is larger and emphasis on coordination greater but the nature of the roles is broadly similar. The Agile Programme Manager, Programme Product Owner and Technical Architect roles fit this mould, corresponding to Agile Project Manager, Product Owner and Technical Lead.

In addition a programme needs some roles that don’t appear at all in a project, in particular Programme Director and Business Change Manager. Again these roles are a result of the wider remit and increased communication necessary in a programme but also because of the focus on organisational transformation.

Programme Organisation Chart

Firstly a recap of the programme organisation. The programme team is in blue and key stakeholder groups in orange.

Large Programme Org Chart

Large Programme Org Chart

The people in the technical teams (product development, integration, infrastructure, and toolsmith) have Agile project roles. The Agile programme roles are in the Programme Board (Agile Programme Manager, Programme Director, Programme Product Owner, Technical Architect) and Business Change workstream (Business Change Manager).

Programme Director

The Programme Director is a senior manager responsible for the overall success of the programme. They are the ‘single wringable neck’ at the programme level. ‘Single wringable neck’ is the way Scrum summarises the product owner responsibilities in Scrum. Although a dubious phrase it indicates the level of responsibility the role holds. The Programme Director certainly has the kind of responsibility in a programme context.

From my perspective the Programme Director is the key actor in ensuring the programme remains aligned to corporate strategy.

Typically the Programme Director is the business sponsor for the subordinate projects. They might also be the Programme Product Owner and could be the Product Owner for the Technical workstreams. It doesn’t have to be that way. For example, my previous experience with Search led one of my Programme Director’s to put me in as the Product Owner for our Search workstream.

MSP actually expects a Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) at the head of a programme although it accepts that some organisations have a Programme Director instead. MSP distinguishes between those roles. Personally I’ve only ever worked with a Programme Director and the ones I’ve worked with seem to have all the responsibilities of an SRO.

Programme Product Owner

The Programme Product Owner is responsible for the entire product being delivered by the programme team. I’ve put the Programme Product Owner as a different role to the Programme Director but the two roles can be held by the same person. Big job but possible. As the size of the programme grows the Programme Director will definitely have to delegate increasing amounts of product responsibility to other people. At some point the two roles split.

MSP doesn’t have the concept of a Programme Product Owner as many programmes are not about building something. Bear in mind my caveat above – I’m talking about a programme wrapped around software development.

Agile Programme Manager

A Programme Manager is responsible for the programme from programme setup (including governance), through the delivery of the capabilities, the realisation of benefits, to programme closure. An Programme Manager has to do all the usual project stuff, e.g. Planning, Monitoring and Control, Change Management, Risk Management, etc, but at the programme level.

The Programme manager must shape the programme team including the sub-ordinate projects. They need to form the various project teams, manage the interdependencies and ensure the projects deliver what they are meant to.

An Agile Programme Manager, in contrast to their more orthodox peers, knows about Lean-Agile, holds the values of the Agile Manifesto and applies the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto. Most importantly they know how to exploit the Agile teams working for them to enable the programme to deliver business benefit. All of this is necessary to ensure the programme adapts to change.

Technical Architect

The senior technical person on the programme is usually a Technical Architect. They have overall responsibility for technical quality of the product including how it is structured, organised, and implemented. I include them in the Programme Board to ensure high level discussions include a technical voice.

Business Change Manager

The Business Change Manager (BCM) is an MSP role. It doesn’t appear in a project, whether Agile or not. That is because a programme is about business change and a project isn’t. Depending on the nature and scale of the programme the team might have more than one BCM.

A BCM’s role is to manage the organisation through transformation resulting from the programme. The programme might create capability but it is up to the BCM to ensure the organisation adopts any resulting product and ultimately whether the organisation achieves the desired benefits.

The nature of the role, including close stakeholder contact, means a BCM is usually from the business. The role can be full or part time, long term or short. Typically I have some BCMs who are full time on the programme for the duration and other BCMs who are short term and possibly part time. This latter type are often local champions recruited just in time to support roll out in their area.

Comparing programme and project roles

The table compares programme roles and the nearest equivalent Agile project roles. I’ve included some of the groups from the Programme Organisation to highlight where they correspond to a role in an Agile project.

Agile Programme/Project Roles
Agile Programme Team Closest Agile Project Role
Sponsoring Group Business Sponsor
Programme Board
Programme Director Product Owner
Business Sponsor
Programme Product Owner Product Owner
Agile Programme Manager Agile Project Manager
Technical Architect Technical Lead
Business Liaison Group
Business Change Manager


Agile Manifesto

Best Management Practice. (2011). Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) [4th Ed.]. London: TSO.