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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Agile Teams

What is an Agile team and how to form it correctly?

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Agile fans believe that teamwork is essential to delivering great products and services. A true team in Agile development is not just a random group of people conducting daily meetings to coordinate their work. It’s not just a group of developers who meet to do sprint planning weekly.

People that follow Agile prefer co-located teams. However, business realities sometimes require distributing Agile teams across geographies.

How do you know whether your team is on the path to Agile success? What is the structure of an Agile development team? What about its typical characteristics? Finally, how to create a great Agile team from scratch? Let's read on!

Agile teams structure

What is an Agile Team?

An Agile team is a group of employees (sometimes – freelancers and contractors) responsible for executing projects. This team is usually located in one place. Its members are often totally dedicated to one project during its timeline, with no obligations to other projects.

Agile development teams involve individuals required to produce the end product. These teams are usually cross-functional. The roles of team members depend on the project’s needs and the type of framework.

In Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) a cross-functional team includes 5-11 people who determine, build, test, and deliver an increment of value in a short period. Communication quality diminishes as team size increases. That is why Agile companies prefer collections of smaller teams.

Characteristics of Agile team members

There are seven traits that any successful Agile team shares:

  • T-Shaped. Individuals who are T-shaped understand most project aspects at a basic level (the horizontal line at the top of the “T”) while having strong expertise in one area of specialization (the vertical line in the center).
  • Cross-functional. Team members who are cross-functional are more likely to demonstrate skills outside of traditional disciplines. This will let them participate in almost any kind of project, increasing an Agile team’s velocity.
  • Curiosity. An ideal Agile team will constantly ask “What if?” You will not get continuous improvement from an Agile team that lacks curiosity. Such a team does not break things just for the sake of breaking. They are genuinely interested in the results of experiments.
  • Adaptable. Agile teams can apply their skills in multiple situations. They are like chameleons who move from one environment to the next with little disruption in output. Agile team members often demonstrate a well-developed understanding of the professional environment that suits them best of all. It assists them in finding the most productive spot in whatever situation they’re in.
  • Entrepreneurial. Agile teams need to take initiative for forming campaigns and projects based on the stated business value visible in the backlog. The entrepreneurial spirit directs them toward groundbreaking ways of thinking that can optimize the team’s processes and output.

The principle of Agile teams’ work

As everyone knows, Agile project management is an alternative to traditional project management. Agile allows breaking goals down into independent products that can be developed, released, and iterated upon.

Kanban and Scrum are the main models of Agile project management. They both offer convenient online boards for visualizing tasks in columns of to-do, in progress, and done.

Here’re the common characteristics of an Agile workflow:

  • Sprints – short spans that help Agile teams to plan, develop, review, and release products. They can be considered projects within the projects.
  • Daily Stand Up – a daily meeting in which the participants discuss what work was done yesterday and what they are doing today. Any questions that come up are also discussed.
  • Regular reviews and retrospectives – these Agile ceremonies are also critical. Reviews by managers occur before tasks get completed and after the sprint is over.

The Agile workflow requires a coordinated team with short task spans and demanding schedules. Agile roles should be circumscribed enough to let people involved know what they ought to be doing at all times, yet flexible enough to allow them to take the initiative and exceed expectations.

What are Agile Team Roles?

Agile team roles

The most common roles in an Agile team are the following:

Team lead

The most vivid example is Scrum where the role of a team lead is performed by a Scrum Master. Their key responsibility is to facilitate the team.

Scrum Masters are responsible for choosing the right resources for the team. They ensure that team members are protected from office politics and can do their work unhindered.

Product owner

The role of a Product owner can be considered a project sponsor on a non-Agile project. This person typically represents the interests of the customers/stakeholder. They own the product that the Agile team is making or changing.

Team member

In Agile, everyone who is involved in programming or software development is typically a team member. However, do not forget that Agile branches out of the IT sector. that is why a team member can mean anyone who does something valuable to bring to the team that will help to get the deliverables completed.

Tester

In Agile IT, software testing is still a big sphere of Agile teams’ work. In non-software teams, you may also need someone who can work as a tester. Testing is critical as Agile projects are delivered incrementally.

On more specialized products or in larger teams the following roles can be also found:

Architects

Their role is to ensure that the product fits its purpose and looks natural within the rest of the enterprise architecture.

Tech experts or specialists in other domain areas

They can not be with the team all the time. Instead, they can join the team when needed to support it.

No matter what roles your Agile team includes, it’s worth documenting them in a roles and responsibilities document.

Key responsibilities of Agile teams

The responsibilities in Agile vary based on team type. For example, technology-focused and business-focused teams have different responsibilities. Let’s define them for all kinds of teams:

  • Collaborating with the PO to prepare and refine user stories and acceptance criteria.
  • Conducting research, design, prototyping, and other exploration activities.
  • Estimating the size and complexity of the work.
  • Defining the technical design in the area of concern in accordance with the architectural guides.
  • Implementing changes in small batches.
  • Participating in PI Planning and creating iteration plans.
  • Developing team PI objectives and iteration goals.
  • Testing the work products defined by their features.
  • Deploying the work products to staging and production.
  • Creating the automation necessary to build the continuous delivery pipeline.
  • Supporting operational business solutions.
  • Improving all team processes.

An Agile team

Now you know the common facts about Agile teams. Let’s learn more about the types of Agile development teams.

Types of Agile Teams

Here is the list of main Agile team structures that you may apply when forming your own teams.

1. Generalist Agile team

In a generalist Agile team, every team member can select any task at any time. This team structure works better with individuals who are good in different roles and on a well-understood project. However, this model requires attracting multi-passionate and dedicated people who can turn their hands to anything.

When you have a small Agile team, your projects do not require too much in the way of specialist expertise and you’ve got passionate people, then this can be a great self-motivated team.

2. Specialist Agile team

In this kind of Agile team, everyone has a different skill set. Individuals doing the roles in a specialist team are skilled in such areas as software development, testing, and data analysis. However, the lack of predictability is what can make your work with this team difficult.

Specialist teams perform more successfully with larger team sizes — (more than 20 people).

3. Transitioning Agile team

Moving to a new way of working is a learning curve. These kinds of teams are on-demand when a company is transitioning to an Agile method (for example, Scrum).

4. Parallel Agile team

In a parallel team, everyone changes jobs per sprint. Team members write code, then their colleagues test it. This model is good for cross-training.

There are easier ways to build your team, but if you have reason to do it like this then by all means give it a go.

5. Agile product sub-team

This structure can be often found in larger organizations. This is where an Agile team is a self-contained unit of a larger team. It is responsible for a specific area of work, but the overall deliverable is made up of several sub-areas.

All teams work together, each in a particular area. They all contribute to the bigger picture. Agile product sub-teams work well when such a methodology as Scrum is in use over the whole company.

What are the possible challenges for Agile project management teams?

1. Poor team structure

The lack of Agile culture is the main reason why teams don’t feel that agile. If your Agile methodology doesn’t work – perhaps, it is high time to optimize your team structure.

2. Team size

The second challenge relates to the wrong size of an Agile team. When it is too big (more than 20 team members), it’s helpful to break the team into several teams.

What you’ll need to do is to split the deliverables to let each teamwork on something discrete. You can achieve it with user stories and backlog refinement.

How to build a high-performing Agile team

If you’re creating or optimizing an Agile team, focus on the following things:

  • Find the right team balance.
  • Normalize failures.
  • Open up communication lines.

Conclusion

The only thing worth mentioning here is that if you want your next project to be successful, you might consider the Agile software development approach.

Agile specializes in collaboration and meeting the needs of your customers. To use the Agile philosophy effectively, you’ll need to build a team that will be adaptable, engaged, and communicative.

Creating an Agile team can be a challenge, but if you have everything that it takes to manage this team, you will definitely succeed!

Pavel Kukhnavets

Pavel is a Content Marketing Manager at Hygger.io & Welldoneby.com, a project management tool loved both by tech and non-tech people. Pavel writes about the world of Agile project management, covering such topics as popular methodologies, frameworks, techniques, innovative tools, and much more that affect the overall efficiency and productivity of product teams.