Chapter 11 – Agile PM

11.5. Agile Teams

Agile software development, as an example, was founded as a way to help team members work together more efficiently and companionably. In fact, three of the twelve founding principles of the methodology focus on building better teams:

  • It was believed the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.  However, there is a trend to using virtual Agile team which is equally effective.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly (Beck et al., 2001).

Self-Organizing Teams

The term “self-organizing teams” is especially important to Agile. Nitin Mittal (2013), writing for Scrum Alliance, describes a self-organizing team as a “group of motivated individuals, who work together toward a goal, have the ability and authority to take decisions, and readily adapt to changing demands”.

But that doesn’t mean Agile teams have no leaders. On the contrary, the Agile development process relies on the team leader (known as the ScrumMaster in Scrum) to guide the team, ideally by achieving “a subtle balance between command and influence” (Cohn, 2010). Sometimes that means moving problematic team members to new roles, where they can be more effective, or possibly adding a new team member who has the right personality to interact with the problematic team member. In a blog for Mountain Goat Software, Mike Cohn (2010) puts it like this:

There is more to leading a self-organizing team than buying pizza and getting out of the way. Leaders influence teams in subtle and indirect ways. It is impossible for a leader to accurately predict how a team will respond to a change, whether that change is a different team composition, new standards of performance, a vicarious selection system, or so on. Leaders do not have all the answers. What they do have is the ability to agitate teams (and the organization itself) toward becoming more agile.

Human Resources and Self-Organizing Teams

Self-organizing teams tend to make decisions among themselves who will do what on the project.  This team has cross functional skills.  There are typically no designated roles or job titles.  The team takes on different tasks as needed and the nature of the work.  They are all responsible for the outcome of the project.  So, how would HR fit in?

Despite the structure of the organization, what the team is proposing to complete, HR is still responsible, along with the Project Manager to recruit and select the team based on the skill sets required for the project.  There are still questions that need answered to help the team organize.  Human Resources Specialists could be involved in a meeting/workshop to help the team self-organize.

Questions to be answered by the Self-Organizing Team:

  1. Who is going to be responsible for getting feedback, and for giving feedback?
  2. Who is responsible to ensure the team is learning and growing?
  3. Who is responsible to ensure the team is following a learning culture?
  4. Is it necessary to have HR involved in the team?  At the beginning of the project?  During the project?  At Closure of the project?
  5. How will the self-organizing team handle feedback all on their own?

HR in Focus: Self-Organizing Teams

Depending on how the questions above are answered, the team may choose to involve Human Resources related to some of the functions:

  1. Help the team learn about their own strengths and weaknesses through assessments and personality tests.
  2. Be a champion of the project and assist in motivation of the team; and train the team in how to motivate each other.
  3. Help the team identify gaps in the team or their weak points, and how they can improve.
  4. Train the team in how to provide feedback through small talk, team events, fun activities, listening to each other, conduct retrospectives.
  5. Support the team in providing 360 degree feedback and peer reviews, or teach them to use these tools for themselves.

The self-organizing team can move forward with skills and learning and decide who will perform each function.  Moving into the project, HR remains an important part of the project in a hands off manner by encouraging and supporting a culture of feedback.  At any time, the team needs more support, Human Resources steps in to help with communication, re-training, or to help the team make constructive changes.  In some cases, an Human Resources Specialist may become part of the self-organizing team.