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?
It’s not an easy task and takes a lot of time and coaching:

  • You need individuals competent for the job at hand (see also the agile team as cross-disciplinary). In this way you can trust them and their work, and avoid the need for control & direction from above.If they don’t have all the skills, provide trainings also on-the-job.
  • They need to work as a team rather than as a group of individuals. Teamwork is needed, the team members trust and respect each other and are ready to go the extra mile to help each other resolve issues.
    This is the part most difficult to get: it means time to let them grow together and promptly acting when one of the member does not act so (for example when someone does not believe in collective code ownership).
  • Team members need to be focused and interested in their work. This is a generic skill to have and foster, not only for agile teams. It requires some organisational and senior management help.
  • The team members need to work together for a reasonable duration; changing its composition every now and then doesn’t help. Continuity is essential for the team. But teams are not static too. Whenever there is a change in the team, you need to re-check all the steps above.

As said, self-organised teams still require mentoring and coaching, some direction and control. It is not a free for all. Direction and control are about what values to be achieved, and not about how the work should be done. It is not about losing all of the power, but it is about letting go of some details and focusing more on results.

It’s the agile manager that shall direct teams and individuals towards the value in a combined effort with senior management and the organisation.

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