The Agile Project Team
In the first three blogs of this four-part series on Agile, we have:
- Discussed the philosophical shift that must be made in what we value in our organization to become successful Agile adopters.
- Explored several of the most popular agile frameworks an organization may consider in their adoption of Agile and the required organizational change management that must accompany such a transition.
- Identified the differences between “doing Agile” and “being Agile” and the top three challenges an organization faces when adopting Agile.
So how do you bring this all together to “Be Agile?” Agile project teams.
You have been managing project teams for years, so transitioning to an Agile Team should be simple right? The short answer is “No”. While individuals may have innate agility, for an individual to become professionally ‘agile,’ it takes years of practice, intention, and preparation.
Setting Up Your Agile Team
A common mistake is setting up an Agile Scrum team like a Waterfall team. For example, using a project manager to “run” the project is a step in the wrong direction. Successful agile teams are comprised of approximately six (6) to nine (9) individuals who have defined strengths and cross-functional skill sets. Each Agile team member will serve in one of three primary roles on the Agile team:
Scrum Master (1 Person) – is the “Coach” and Servant Leader who encourages strong communication and collaboration across the team. The Scrum Master is responsible for:
- Facilitating progress and an effective work environment by ensuring the team is following Agile principles and practices
- Monitoring and reporting on the teams’ metrics
- Identifying and removing roadblocks and dependencies that may impede progress
- Facilitating iteration or sprint planning
- Supporting an environment where the team pulls work rather than waiting for assignments
Product Owner (1 Person) – “owns” the features and is a key resource to the success of any Agile project team. The Product Owner is responsible for:
- Understanding and continuously reinforcing the project’s vision to ensure the team is successful in meeting the business expectations
- Maintaining and prioritizing the story backlog
- Defining criteria for acceptance, approving all delivered work, and participating in testing/UAT
- Collaborating with the business to ensure the work product being delivered meets their needs
Team Members (4 – 7 People) – represent a group of generalized specialists and may include programmers, developers, testers, architects, system administrators, UI/UX specialists, and DBAs that will comprise this cross-functional Agile team. Team members are responsible for:
maintaining a level of self-organization and responsible for
- Proposing, building, and testing to deliver the highest quality solution possible in each iteration
- Providing innovation in their solution designs
- Making process changes that will eliminate waste while delivering the highest possible value to their customers
7 Characteristics of High-Performing Agile Teams
Now that you understand the team roles, do you have individuals ready to accept the challenges of “being” Agile? Do you have individuals with the right mindset who are ready to embrace the change and help make your transition to Agile a success?
There are certain characteristics you should be looking for in each individual member when you are forming your agile team. Your team members should be:
- Highly Collaborative – a person who will openly and cooperatively work with others to produce better results for the greater good
- Good Communicators –someone who listens as well as they speak and is respectful of and open-minded to others’ input
- Self-Motivated – someone who will always be willing to step up and do whatever needs to be done without anyone having to ask
- Team Focused – a person who understands that a highly collaborative group of individuals working as a team will be more productive, provide better decision making, and generate higher quality results
- Problem Solvers – a good thinker, who identifies issues, seeks input, determines options, and helps determine the most viable solutions
- Adaptive – understands, embraces, and suggests changes for the benefit of a better final work product
- Results Driven – understands goals and continually strives to produce a high-quality, high-value deliverable and are always seeking improvement
Once you’ve formed your Agile team, it’s important to consider co-location. One of the 12 Agile Principles says, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversations.” There should be a sense of urgency within your Agile team and having your resources in the same location allows the team to immediately address problems, change direction, and address blockers. This will mitigate the risk of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and delays often experienced with written communication and even phone calls. Co-location of resources will also build trust amongst the team members and will ultimately encourage and support the continuous collaboration, communication, cooperation, and teamwork necessary for quicker and better decision-making and problem-solving. This will result in a more productive and efficient work environment.
Your team’s stability is also important in building team synergy, improving development velocity, providing predictability in what can be produced within a given time period, creating accountability, improving quality, and creating the value your customers expect. All newly formed Agile teams will follow, to some degree, the four stages of group development (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing) discussed in the Tuckman’s Team Development Model. Each time you change a member, it will cause the team to repeat these phases, resulting in adverse impacts to velocity and consistency, diminished quality for a period, and the loss of predictability of the team’s production. It can also lower the morale of the team as they regress in areas they have already battled through.
Agile Transformation Takes Time
Remember, an Agile transformation is a journey. There is no established timeframe for how long your agile transformation will take and every situation will be different. Newly formed teams will take time to create their own working relationship and to build trust amongst themselves. Keep in mind one of the principles of agile is to encourage self-organizing teams. You must allow the team to find their own way, but also push the team to strive for continuous improvement every day. In the same way, the entire organization and not just the Agile team must be working daily to shift to an Agile mindset for an organization to truly “Be Agile.”
For those of you that are still in the research phase, remember that Agile methodologies, frameworks, techniques, and buzzwords have little effect if they are not built on the foundation of Agile values and principles. We encourage you to read the Agile Manifesto and invite you to explore the Agile principles and values in our eBook, The Agile Imperative: 5 Questions to Guide You to Agile Excellence.
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