An Agile Team is not just a random group of people or business analysts meeting regularly to create plans for the teams. Agile experts believe that great Agile teams embrace teamwork and consider it essential to deliver great software or a great product. After all, nothing is more rewarding than sharing the experience of building a product that brings the team together.
Definition: What is an Agile Team?
An Agile team is a multi-functional group that has everything required to create a product. The members of these teams are dedicated to their tasks or projects and do not move between or across teams as the demand increases or decreases.
This team shares accountability for the product they are working on, regardless of the results. They are also expected to acquire and hone expertise in the technical and business aspects involved in the project. This includes programming, testing, designing, and decision making, among others.
Their responsibilities involve:
- Identifying new opportunities
- Continuously looking for improvement
- Challenging existing ideas to improve them
- Creating a platform for effective communication and smooth workflow
How Do You Form an Agile Team?
Before we describe what constitutes an Agile team, we must understand that they aren’t like other, ‘normal’ teams (this isn’t to say that Agile team members are abnormal). They are a bunch of people across functions who are continuously bouncing new ideas off each other and are busy challenging that status quo – all in a dedicated effort to come up with the best possible version of a working product.
So, if you find yourself in an Agile team at work, tasked with testing a new product update, be prepared for three things:
- You’ll have to contend with a lot more opinions and a lot more feedback than you expected.
- You’ll have to be okay with living next to the drawing board, because you’ll be revisiting process improvements continuously.
- Nothing about an Agile team goes ‘by the book’.
You’ll start off trying to solve one problem, and you’ll find two additional issues along the journey. So, get used to creating new opportunities for improvement every single day.
With this in mind, here’s how you form an Agile team:
Understand Your Business Capabilities
When we talk about business capabilities, it refers to “what your business can do”. It is crucial to understand this correctly because there’s a big difference between what your business can do and what you think it can do. Once you have the clarity required, map your business capabilities to the project/case/product requirements. It is at this stage that you’ll encounter gaps, if any. If so, you then need to find ways to fill the void while sticking to the established project timelines.
Align Them with Technical Architecture
Once you’ve figured out whether you have the business capabilities to develop the new product, the next step is to identify if you have the technical architecture for the same. This means finding out if your business has the existing technology required to develop the new product well. ‘Technology’ could mean anything and everything here – software and hardware requirements, network storage facilities like cloud computing, etc. If you do, great. All you need to do, then, is map them with the relevant business capabilities.
Map Them with Organizational Architecture
Simply put – identify if you have the roles, processes, and people within these roles and functions to work on your new product, business process, etc. This will help you identify all the members that need to be a part of your central dedicated team working on it.
And there you have it – this is how your cross-functional Agile Team comes about!
Agile Team Qualities:
Team Spirit and High-Performing Teams
The only way to be a high-performing Agile team is if all members clearly understand the value of team effort. Every team member needs to realize that they are responsible for the development and delivery of the product at hand. With this in mind, they should also build an atmosphere of respect and continuous improvement.
Whether it’s developing software or setting up processes, an Agile team and its formation hinges on the factor of respect between team members. Everyone should value what the other brings to the table, which will help every single person to feel respected and recognized. This is a critical factor in preventing burnout as well.
Agile Teams are Cross-Functional
This shouldn’t come as a surprise because you need individuals from various teams to come together and give their feedback about your product. This applies to every organization, even if you’re not a typical ‘IT’ company dealing with products.
Let’s say you’re a ridesharing platform that operates mainly through an app. If you’re working on an app update, you need multiple perspectives. Product and Tech need to fix earlier glitches. Design will look for feedback on the latest app layout. Marketing will tell you what features to highlight because they are the ones that sell it to the end-consumer.
As you can see, when multiple teams come and work together, you’ll create magic by fixing bugs you never thought you’d encounter. This leads to more enthusiasm among team members, which is a welcome bonus for working so closely together.
Agile Teams Contain Two Specialty Roles
Agile teams typically contain two specialty roles – a Product Owner and a Scrum Master. If you’re the product owner, it is your job to ensure that every step in the product development is happening as per the vision of the company and roadmap laid out to achieve the same.
You also need to keep yourself abreast of all the latest updates or developments because you’ll have to answer questions from both your team members and higher management. You will also clearly communicate User Stories (work divisions) to and accept the same from the team.
If you’re a Scrum Master, you’re responsible for ensuring significant value with every product/process update. To achieve this, you have to eliminate every possible obstacle in your team’s way. All of this while ensuring that your team reaches every project milestone within the set deadline – keeping it Agile with a capital A!
Agile Teams Have Well-Defined Responsibilities
Despite continuous efforts to keep your Agile team is a well-oiled machine, conflict, if unchecked, can quickly derail your team’s efforts. The most effective way to minimize conflict is to define each team member’s roles and responsibilities clearly. This makes the workflow within the team more efficient because there’s no overlap or imbalance in terms of work distribution. Everyone knows what they’re accountable for and the deadline within which they must deliver.
Agile Teams are Organized Around Value
With Agile teams, it’s all about creating and delivering value to your stakeholders and customers in your products and services. In an Agile team, the focus is always on how the current product update has more value (instead of just being ‘better’) than its previous iteration. It’s less about what each team member does than it is about what value they created.
For example – did they resolve the earlier glitches that were reported earlier? Were they able to accommodate new functionality to make the customer experience easier? Agile team members focus more on events like this instead of just ticking things off a checklist.
Agile Teams Typically Blend Agile Methods
When you’re talking about increasing the value of your product, it’s evident that there’s no single tried-and-tested method that might work for you. An Agile team and its formation entail understanding multiple perspectives and working with multiple feedback.
Similarly, it’s also natural to blend Agile methods to achieve your objectives. Depending on the task at hand, you might choose to combine the best of both Scrum and Kanban to enhance the value of the project you’re working on. Remember, in an Agile team, it’s all about creating value, but within set deadlines.
Agile Teams Are on the Train
When we talk about trains concerning Agile teams, we are referring to Agile Release Trains (ARTs). Just like an actual train has a final destination to reach while stopping at multiple stations along the way, an Agile team is also a train of sorts.
The contributions that your cross-functional team members make are the passengers or luggage that your train picks up along the journey. The project/product/update that you’re working towards delivering is the final destination that your ‘train’ reaches. An Agile Release Train is a schedule that all team members follow in order to stay on track with the product being delivered on time.
An Agile team and its formation can get into multiple pitfalls if the process isn’t handled thoughtfully. The smaller the team, the easier it is to define roles and responsibilities. If it’s a large team, workflows and tasks can become very ambiguous.
It’s always better to keep the strength of your Agile team within three to ten members. This is because smaller teams promote better collaboration among their members. It’s also worth noting that every team member should be aligned to its vision and the task at hand. They should also bring a varied skill-set that doesn’t overlap too much with other team members’ specialties. Most importantly, members of an Agile team cannot, under any circumstances, be members of another team.
Collaboration and Culture
No team can call itself an Agile team without a shared commitment to meeting the organization’s vision while not compromising on value. Each team member should be fully committed to delivering the overall team goals, no matter what. When it comes to dependencies in other teams, every Agile team member should continuously meet the project goals and eliminate hurdles that come in the way. There should also be a culture of trust and respect so that it’s easier for members of an Agile team to work on feedback more effectively. Constantly communicating will lead to better decisions being made across the board daily.
As you might have gathered from the above article, Agile teams are characterized by communication, collaboration, trust, respect, and a commitment to the company’s vision. A high-performing team needs to have all these attributes, which are very hard to come by. So, it’s always recommended to give time to your team members and have patience with them, as fostering a culture of trust and respect takes considerable time. But you can always start to grow an Agile team by sowing the seeds of motivation, commitment, and performance among its members.