R – Does the Scrum process ultimately divest team members from their respective skills?


My organization has been experimenting with the introduction of more "Agile" methods. We've been trying the Scrum approach for a short while, and most of the team has, more or less, adapted to it. I like it as a whole, but I'm concerned about one potentially severe impact of the methodology: as teams are consistently focused on features and backlog items, and testers are more integrated with the overall development process, it seems like skill sets are becoming blurred, and people are sensing less respect for their individual abilities.

Some of our developers are excellent at server-side technologies and optimization of heavy-weight data provisioning. Others have invested a large amount of their careers learning GUI technologies and have developed a fundamental understanding of users and usability in an application. Neither skill set is better than the other, but they are certainly different.

Is this an inevitable result of the Scrum process? Since everyone on the team (as I understand it) contributes to satisfying the next feature/requirement, backlog item, or testing goal at hand, the underlying philosophy seems to be "anyone can do it." This is, in my experience, simply not true. Most engineers (developers, testers, etc.) have a particular skill set they have honed over the years, and the Scrum methodology, in my mind, tends to devalue those very abilities they were previously respected for.

Here's an example for clarification:

If a sudden change of technology occurs on the server-side data provisioning, and every item on the to-do list for the sprint is based on this new change, the GUI developers (who likely haven't had time to become acclimated with the new technology) might not be able to contribute to the sprint. At the very least, they will need to invest time to get ramped up, and then their code will be suspect because of their lack of experience.

I understand the need for rapid development to discourage "role silos" but doesn't this discount one fundamental reality: people develop skills in accordance to necessity, their interests, or their experiences. People seem to be less motivated when they perceive their position is one of "plug-ability" (e.g. we can "plug" anyone in to do this particular task). How does Scrum address this? If it doesn't, has anyone addressed this when adopting the Scrum methodology?

Best Solution

The point of Scrum is for the developers to self-organize. We use scrum where I am, and jobs get passively sorted by a person's focus. We don't do it on purpose with a chart and list, it just happens. We all know who's best at what, or what their main/secondary focuses are. If the 'main' person needs help, they get the person/people with a secondary focus in it to help. We do get plenty of tasks not necessarily in line with whatever our particular focus is, but you always know who to ask for help then.

For your example - I don't know that if you say had 3 server guys and 5 gui guys, that you'd expect to get all the work done in that sprint (if the server guys + some help from the others wasn't enough). The way the sprint is supposed to work is that from a prioritized list, the developers pick what they think they can get done in that 30-day timeframe. If that meant the GUI guys needed 2 days of server-side training in order to help, that's what it'd mean. Unless there were concurrent things also high up the list that they could do instead. The sprint tasks are not supposed to be dictated by management as a psuedo-deadline.

If you have a Safari account, there's an interesting mostly case-study book by one of the guy/s who invented scrum.