The agile team as self organising

We have already seen the usual roles in agile teams and we mentioned that an agile best practice is to build a team that is self-organizing.

But what does it mean exactly?
That the team has the ability and the authority to take decisions and implement them.

Concretely:

  • They volunteer for their work during each planning
  • They estimate their work
  • They pull their work and don’t wait for their leader to assign work. This ensures a greater sense of ownership and commitment.
  • They manage their work (re-allocation, re-estimation, re-factoring, …)
  • They understand the requirements and can ask anytime to clarify their doubts
  • They continuously enhance their own skills, provide feedback and recommend ideas and improvements.
  • An agile team does not ask the steering group to make decisions. Instead, it informs the steering group which decisions have been made that week.

Self-organised teams are faster to adapt to changes, acts more efficiently, like a compact team and their members glue and communicate more together.

How do you bring a team to be self-organizing?
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The agile team as cross-disciplinary

We have already seen the usual roles in agile teams and we mentioned that an agile best practice is to build a team that is cross-functional, sort of self-contained: all needed skills are inside it; a classic example: there is not an external quality assurance team that is testing the product but rather the testers are part of the team.

But why is there stress on the team being multi-disciplinary?

One reason has to do with our need to create customer-centric value: you want to be able to deliver a working product increment that brings some value to your customer.
Include a customer perspective in your team and you will produce something that customers like.
Include a salesperson and you will get something which is sellable.
Include someone from marketing and you will have something which is marketable.
Include a logistics person and you will get something which can be packaged and shipped at low-cost.
And so on.

Another reason is that cross-functional teams are faster.
As you progress towards value, you will discover many impediments and obstacles on your way. A team with a single or very few disciplines will constantly need to go outside of itself and ask for assistance, which will form queues and lower speed. A team with many disciplines, on the other hand, will be able to solve most things by itself.
This paradigm will also require less management, because most decisions can be made inside the teams, and this will help the team eventually to self-organise itself (note that self-organised does not mean self-directed: you still need to give it the right  direction).

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The agile team and its roles

Assign work to teams, not teams to work
— Mary Poppendieck

It takes time for teams to gel and become productive. Therefore the best way when starting a new project is to assign it to a core team that maybe has even already some experience on it (did a similar one, knows the technology, did a previous version, etc.) but most important they already worked with each other. These are permanent teams, with a long-term responsibility for a product or a service.
This is not always possible, maybe you have a green-field project that is completely new and therefore you have assembled a new team or you have always temporary project teams but keep in consideration that there will be time needed to reach a good productivity level, the team will not be very fast at the beginning and will make errors. In this case, if possible, try to put in place some countermeasures, like do before a pre-project assignment or bring the team together for a team event.

The most important foundation of a successful team is the people. Good people with the appropriate combination of traits and skills are needed.
Generally, agile methodologies are not so strict about roles (beside the Scrum framework): many frameworks are empirical and based on a work – test – adapt cycle, therefore the actual method and the roles can be changed by the specific company or project based on their needs and feedback. But these three roles sort of crystallised in the past projects experience and are considered a good foundation.

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