What is an Agile team?
Simple. It's just a random group of people. :) Really?
An agile team is a group of people that have an agile mindset.
But what is really a great agile team? I like all the time to bring into the context this example: If you have a bunch of strawberries and you squeeze them it means that you have a strawberry jam? Of course not, you need some sugar (not that it is good but you need it 😥) some heat and a person to stay near it and chew in it at the right temperature all the time.
So, what is different in case of a great agile team? Nothing. :)
- people chemistry
- people that share the same goals
- having the right support from the management team
- having a culture based on learning activities
- being really self-organised
The agile team is self organised and cross-functional, which is necessary in order to to produce a delightful working increment of product, overcoming project management challenges. They are eager to learn and so their focus is on rapid product development so they can obtain feedback.
As the SCRUM framework suggests in practice, the most effective agile teams range in size from 3 to 9 members. Ideally, agile teams are colocated in a team space. Team members are 100% dedicated to the teams (otherwise, they are not great agile teams). As I like to say they 'SUCCEED' or 'FAIL' together, so if this is the mindset of all the team members they are already on the SUCESS road as a team.
How is it managed?
Agile encourages self-managing teams, where team members decide who will perform the work within the next period deﬁned scope. From proper experience, I can say that the right style of leadership that I use in my companies and the one appropriate with a growth mindset is servant leadership. The leaders support the teams approach in what they do.
Servant leaders (usually they embrace the agile project management principles) should also look at other processes that are lengthy, causing bottlenecks and impeding a team’s or organisation’s agility. The servant leader has the ability to change or remove organisational impediments (could be the culture, other departments, procedures, etc) to support delivery teams.Leaders having servant leadership mindset enable other leaders (because this is what great leaders do) to become more agile and facilitate the team's success:
- Promoting self-awareness
- Helping people grow
- Coaching vs. controlling
- Promoting safety, respect, and trust
- Promoting the energy and intelligence of others
Agile team' practiceAgile teams are on so many levels of maturity, but great agile teams rarely limit their practices to one agile approach.Why?
- Product/project with different contexts, varied mix of team member skills and backgrounds
- The various components of the product under development;
- The scaling, criticality, complexity, and regulatory constraints of the business
Agile frameworks are not customised for the team, they are solely practices and procedures. It is the duty of the team to tailor the practices as a bespoke to their mindset to deliver value on a regular basis. Often, teams practice their own special agile blend.
Cross-functional agile teams produce functional product increments frequently. That is because the teams collectively own the work (they are accountable for it) and together have all of the necessary skills to deliver completed work.
Team members in great agile teams work to collaborate in various ways (such as pairing, swarming, and mobbing) so they do not fall into the trap of waterfall instead of collaborative work.
These are different measurements that usually agile people are using :
- lead time - the total time it takes to deliver an item, measured from the time it is added to the board to the moment it is completed
- cycle time - the time required to process an item
- response time - the time that an item waits until work starts). Teams measure cycle time to see bottlenecks and delays, not necessarily inside the team
Great agile teams
Agile projects beneﬁt from project team structures that improve collaboration within and among the teams.
Collaboration between team members boost productivity and facilitate innovative problem solving:
- Dedicated people
- Focus and productivity
- Small team, fewer than 9 people
- Cross-functional team members
Deliver finished value
Provide feedback from inside the team and from others, such as the product owner
- Remote teams
Improved team dynamics
Successful agile teams embrace the growth mindset, where people believe they can learn new skills. When the team and the servant leaders believe they can all learn, everyone becomes more capable.
Overcoming Organisational SILOS
Forming agile teams is easy and hard at the same time....depending on the mindset of people in the team. Is nothing wrong to give trust in the beginning or not giving trust at all but this has an impact of how the foundation is built.
Often, siloed organisations create impediments for forming cross-functional agile teams. The team' members need to build the cross-functional teams typically report to different managers and have different metrics by which managers measure their performance.
Usually in organisation with a lot of SILOS a 'Superman' appear somewhere and without even notice is a member of a team because "some manager said so"...and somehow can ruin the entire team.
Still related to SILOS but this time affecting the agile teams
What if you have the skilled people in organisation, but without a growth mindset - they are sufficient and still :) the team isn’t working…
The impact can be big depending on the context (this is why when management at Twitter has changed they fired first 13 engineers that were the best skilled in the company) with breaking:
Coffee and Chat
Sometimes it can be as simple as the team member not understanding the importance of their actions, e.g. not attending sprint ceremonies or working in isolation. Grab a quick coffee and just explain in a relaxed manner the level of importance ceremonies have within an agile environment.
Throughout ceremonies, don’t just listen to superman. If others team members aren’t contributing, ask questions that spark debate, not just an answer. This will build the confidence of the more shy/less experienced team members.
If a team member is late for stand up, they make coffee for the others. Nothing serious but will soon start bringing the team mentality across with personalities opening up based on these .
Some (final) thoughts
Having the right agile team covers. a long road to success
Unfortunately, it is one of the hardest things to build. Fortunately, with the right mindset, culture and approach you can build it, so this depends on you!
This article is part of a bigger topic called Agile Project Management.