What is an Agile Team? Definition, Frameworks, and How to Build a Team

in Research   Posted on May 21, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

The agile methodology may have come from the software development world, but it has been widely recognized and adopted by other industries (Poepsel, 2019).  Mission Bell Winery, which focuses on wine production, and jet manufacturer Saab both implement agile (Rigby, et.al., 2016). Spotify and eBay confirmed that they are using agile, while Walmart has begun agile experimentation a few years ago (Nyce, 2017).

Considering that a recent study showed that 86% of buyers are more fond of customer experience rather than cheaper prices or even the product itself (Kulbyte, 2021), most companies have been shifting their teams to agile forms to meet customer expectations better and faster. Nowadays, being agile is becoming the go-to approach in management to increase productivity and improve performance (Chappell, 2020).

But what is an agile team exactly? This article will discuss the agile methodology definition, how an agile team works, its importance, relevance, and advantages. After this reading, you should be able to familiarize yourself with the methodology and see if it fits your organization.

What is an Agile Team? Table of Contents

  1. What Is an Agile Team?
  2. What Are the Advantages of Agile Methodology?
  3. When and Where Is Agile Methodology Most Effective?
  4. What Are the Different Agile Frameworks?
  5. How to Build an Agile Team?

A Brief History of the Agile Methodology

Various companies that embraced agile were able to cope with the pace of modern business (Poepsel, 2019). To build an agile team, however, a manager must first embrace the methodology and get a good grasp of its elements. One can start with knowing its evolution through the years.

During the 1990s, the software development industry faced the challenge of being unable to move fast enough to satisfy their customers’ demands (Muslihat, 2018). It was dubbed as the “application delivery crisis” or “application development lag” (Varhol, 2019). In other words, various software development projects during this period either began failing or took too much time to complete (wrike.com, n.d.). The reason is that the industry still followed traditional development models, such as the waterfall methodology, which made it almost impossible to meet their customer’s demands (Varhol, 2019).

In response, the industry sought to change its ways to adapt to the situation. In 2001, 17 technologists devised a model called the “Agile Manifesto,” which was bound to four main values, all aiming to develop better software (Sacolick, 2020). These include:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

The creation of this manifesto led to the formation of the “Agile Alliance” (Highsmith, 2001). The primary vision of this alliance is to spread the agile methodology in the software development industries, but agile ultimately found itself being practiced by various companies 10 years later (Lynn, 2019).

What Is an Agile Team?

The agile methodology is simply a project management model where a project is divided into various stages with a focus on iterations for each stage to ensure product quality. In other words, it involves collaborative efforts from cross-functional teams and their clients to come up with solutions and answer demands.

Agile Team Defined

An agile team is a specialized team of people designed to adapt to the needs of agile project management (Chappell, 2020). In other words, it is a group of professionals whose specialization is to execute projects using agile methodology features and are equipped with the right experience and high knowledge levels (Kashyap, 2021). The manager is responsible for building an agile team by filling it with people who are suited to the roles required, hence the structure.

Agile Team Structure

What differentiates a ‘group’ from a ‘team’ is that the latter involves a structure to function properly. The same can be said for agile teams, which cannot perform the task given without any form of hierarchy or roles. Furthermore, establishing agile teams will entirely depend on the company’s profile, including the product and the company’s goals (Lynn, 2019).

Product Owner

An essential part of the agile team, the product owner primarily represents all the stakeholders of the team. In addition, he’s responsible for setting the direction of product development and monitoring the team’s overall progress (Raza, 2019).

Project Manager

Oversees the team’s progress, making them accountable for their roles, and aids his/her members whenever trouble arises. The project manager is also responsible for getting feedback from the product owner and relays it to members, ensuring that the feedback was well-received, and guides them through the stage (Chappell, 2020).

Team Members

Team members are the ones who primarily work on the project (Chappell, 2020). They are individuals whose skills are necessary for the team. These involve either writing, product designing, programming, or testing (Raza, 2019).

Project Stakeholders

These people may not be directly involved in the development process of the product, but their roles can greatly influence the team’s overall performance (Raza, 2019). Project stakeholders may be marketers, business executives,  senior project managers, investors, external auditors, and support team members (Chappell, 2020).

Source: Standish Group Chaos Study

What Are the Advantages of Agile Methodology?

As companies continue to shift to the agile methodology, many are still unaware of its advantages over other methods. Some of these advantages are listed below:

  • Implementation of solutions are hastened
  • Significant levels of waste are reduced due to resource minimization
  • High levels of adaptability
  • High levels of flexibility
  • Increased transparency
  • Delivery times are faster
  • Detection of any malformations, problems, and defects became quicker
  • Development processes are optimized
  • Lightweight structure
  • Less risk of goals that are missed
  • Better control of the project
  • Customer engagement is drastically improved
  • Products are of higher quality
  • Higher levels of collaboration and feedback

When and Where Is Agile Methodology Most Effective?

No matter how good a method is, it still cannot be implemented everywhere. Some aspects will maximize what agile methodology can offer. Below are some of the conditions where the project management method is seen to be most effective (Rigby, et.al., 2016).

  • In a market environment – Where customer’s demands, preferences, and solution options change almost every minute.
  • For customer involvement – Agile methodology is most effective when close collaboration and swift feedback are present. In addition, when customers gradually know what they want as the process pushes through, it calls for agile methodology.
  • For innovation types – If problems are complex, product specifications may change, creative breakthroughs and market time are essential, and for a project with an unclear scope, the agile methodology is recommended.
  • For work modularity – If work can be broken into stages and done through iterative cycles, and developments born out of increments already have value, agile methodology is more favorable.
  • For interval mistakes – Agile methodology is acceptable if these mistakes provide lessons.

agile methodology's revenue impact

What Are the Different Agile Frameworks?

While agile boosts the productivity of various industries, there is no perfect formula for the methodology (Drumond, n.d.). This leads to some business ventures adopting various frameworks of the methodology, which are primarily focused on project management (wrike.com, n.d.). After all, these industries presently operate in overly dynamic environments.

Scrum Framework

A superficial subset of the agile methodology, Scrum is the most widely used framework for most companies (CPrime, Inc., 2021). It is defined as a lightweight process, it is a sprint-based framework that aims to deliver the highest value to stakeholders (business.com, 2020). Five values encompass Scrum, which are commitment, focus, respect, openness, and courage (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020).

What makes Scrum different from agile is that agile basically is philosophy, while Scrum is a subset of agile (Stobierski,2021). Furthermore, what sets Scrum apart from other frameworks are the team roles, events, and artifacts (Muslihat, 2018).

Team Roles

The Scrum framework requires a team to handle projects. One characteristic a Scrum team needs is being cross-functional, which means that all members should possess a certain skill that is necessary for each sprint (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020). The roles are listed below:

  • Scrum Master – The role primarily involves managing team interactions, setting meetings, and maximizing productivity (wrike.com, n.d.). It can also be termed as “servant-leader,” which sets it apart from a Project Manager, and ensures that the team follows the Scrum framework (Muslihat, 2018).
  • Product Owner – Deemed as the team’s stakeholder, this role is primarily responsible for maximizing the product’s value and managing the product’s backlog (Athuraliya, 2021). The role also requires determining product expectations and recording changes to ensure value (business.com, 2020).
  • Developers/Development Team – The role basically is a group of specialized professionals who deliver the product (Muslihat, 2018). It is normally self-organized and cross-functional, and responsible for designing, testing, producing, and releasing the final output or product (wrike.com., n.d.)

Events

Events in Scrum are defined as a chance to inspect and adapt the Scrum artifacts (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020). Five events encompass the Sprint process, which has an allotted duration. To avoid unnecessary meetings, these are put in place and are usually done in one workplace (Athuraliya, 2021).

  • The Sprint – This refers to the time boxes in which a product with release potential is developed (Athuraliya, 2021). The time allotted is a maximum of 30 days and is consistent for the whole process of development (Muslihat, 2018).
  • Sprint Planning – This covers the event of planning of the Sprint at its very beginning, which is done by the Scrum team (Muslihat, 2018). In this, it seeks to answer three primary questions, which are as follows (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020): Why is this Sprint valuable? What can be done in this Sprint? How will the chosen work get done?
  • Daily Scrum – The primary purpose of this event is to track the progress of Sprint in achieving the team’s primary goal. Normally, the development team will consume at least 15 minutes which is done at the same workplace daily (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020).
  • Sprint Review – It is an informal meeting done by the Scrum team at the end of each sprint to discuss the progress of the stakeholders (Muslihat, 2018). During this event, the team notes the feedback and possible product improvements to increase its value (Athuraliya, 2021).
  • Sprint Retrospective – This refers to the final meeting of the Sprint which involves the Scrum team discussing the overall proceedings of the previous Sprint and possible improvements for the next one (Athuraliya, 2021). It usually lasts three hours for a 30-day Sprint (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020).

Artifacts

Artifacts represent the value of the work, which is designed to maximize key information transparency. In addition, they contain a commitment to enforcing Scrum values on the whole Scrum team (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020)

  • Product Backlog (Committed to Product Goal) – This basically is a list of requirements and goals that should be present in the final product. It is the product owner’s key responsibility in overseeing a particular artifact (wrike.com, n.d.)
  • Sprint Backlog (Committed to Sprint Goal) – Similar to the product backlog, it is also a list of goals and requirements that need to be accomplished at the upcoming Sprint (Muslihat, 2018). The development team is responsible for this artifact (Athuraliya, 2018).
  • Increment (Committed to Definition of Done) – An increment is basically a “step” or a “level” towards the product goal. This is governed by the concept of “Definition of Done,” which is the Increment’s state of having fulfilled the required quality description of the product (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2020).

Kanban Framework

The Kanban Framework is a subset of the agile methodology that uses visual representations for product management (wrike.com, n.d.). It encompasses a method of workflow management that focuses on continuous improvement without adding burden to the development team (Siderova, 2018). It revolves around six general practices, which are listed below (Muslihat, 2018):

  1. Visualization
  2. Limiting work in progress
  3. Flow management
  4. Making policies explicit
  5. Using feedback loops
  6. Collaborative or experimental evolution

This framework includes the popular kanban board used to visualize a project in its entirety to monitor progress (Khalil, 2021). The board is primarily divided into three columns, namely “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done”. Its tracking method means that it doesn’t require Sprints from the Scrum methodology.

Source: State of Agile, 2020

Other Agile Frameworks

Aside from Scrum and Kanban, other frameworks under the agile methodology also exist but are rarely being used by industries. Listed below are just some of these frameworks.

Crystal

Crystal is a collective term used for the different agile frameworks, such as Crystal Clear, Crystal Yellow, Crystal Orange, Crystal Red, and many more. Each of these has its own structure and is chosen depending on the team size, project criticality, and project priorities. This framework in general, however, requires a set of practices, policies, and methods to ensure product quality is at the maximum (Muslihat, 2018).

Extreme Programming Framework (XP)

An agile framework designed for software development projects under agile. XP focuses on ceaseless development and uses Sprints, similar to that of Scrum. The difference is that XP is focused more on the engineering principles, which includes 12 supporting processes. These processes are as follows:

  • Planning game
  • Miniature releases
  • Acceptance tests catered to customers
  • Simplistic designs
  • Programming is done by pair
  • Developments that are conducted through a series of tests
  • Refactoring
  • Consistent integration
  • Ownership of collective codes
  • Standards involving coding
  • Metaphor
  • Sustainable pace

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

This framework focuses more on the full project life cycle and was established to tend to rapid software delivery. Reworks are fully expected in this framework and that the developments should be made reversible. Similar to Scrum and XD, it consists of Sprints/stages. Listed below are the eight principles that govern this framework:

  • On-time delivery
  • Oriented on business needs
  • Present collaborations
  • Uncompromised quality
  • Step-by-step building, coming from firm foundations
  • Development through iterations
  • Control demonstrations
  • Clear and concise communications

agile team adoption

How to Build an Agile Team?

As advantageous as the agile methodology is, it cannot be implemented unless there’s a specific team who’ll manage to implement its concepts. Various measures are required in building an agile team.

Size of an Agile Team

In building an agile team, one must learn how to commit to organizational stability. On average, an agile team consists of five to nine members, which excludes the project manager, project stakeholders, and product owner. In addition, a smaller number is recommended for better communication and to avoid complications due to larger team member numbers.

Qualities Needed in an Agile Team

Cross-Functional

As the agile methodology moves by dividing a certain task into stages for better management, an agile team must be as versatile as possible. This is essential since the methodology involves the process of iteration, which requires the team to be cross-functional. In other words, an agile team is sometimes required to cross over different stages to complete a project, therefore being cross-functional is a must.

Self-Organized

Agile teams must be able to handle the task without any external factors. A self-organized aspect present in an agile team is a sign that the team is a good one (Kashyap, 2021). This allows teams to invest more time in project tasks rather than worrying about project management. The absence of this quality in a team results in chaotic relations, giving in poor results in terms of the final output.

Unified Outlook

Being focused is key to having a successful team. An agile team is required to have similar goals that can only be achieved by working together. Target goals should motivate the team to further improve the quality of the product and increase productivity. It also requires team members to share respect and trust.

High Productivity Levels

For implementing the agile methodology’s primary purpose of increasing company productivity, the agile team should also be highly productive. This just means that members should show commitment to the work, trying to finish the given task in the minimum amount of time possible.

High Emotional Intelligence Levels

Emotions sometimes do arise from time to time within a team. This may be due to stress or other external factors. It may lead to the destruction of the team’s overall progress. High emotional intelligence levels simply mean having the ability to control or separate emotions from work. Being in control of emotions contributes largely to interpersonal relationships in the team (Wandile, 2018). In case team morale quavers, agile project leaders will do well to have a bank of employee motivational quotes to rally the members around.

Collaborative and Passionate

These are two important qualities an agile team should possess. A collaborative team ensures that the work shared with the members goes smoothly without any issues. In addition, a team whose members are passionate about their work can only mean high productivity levels and a high-quality end product.

Willingness to Learn and Adapt

As businesses continue to grow, so does the need of the agile team to adapt to and learn new trends in the business world. Having the ability to continuously improve is a key advantage of the agile team over others. In addition, it increases a team’s capability to work in different environments while increasing productivity at the same time.

Enhanced T-shaped skills

Having T-shaped skills only means being deeply skilled in a specific area and equal skill level for others. An agile team is said to possess this particular skill. This means that any member of the team can contribute to any area, regardless of expertise. It also is the reason why agile teams are cross-functional.

Starting an Agile Team

Listed below are some of the starting points that may aid a project supervisor in creating an agile team:

  • Establish team expectations – This is important, provided that the person in charge has already selected the people who’ll be part of the agile team. The team needs to know what to expect while working. Team-building activities, including remote team-building ideas, will help point the members to closer collaboration so expectations are managed.
  • Establish boundaries – Setting boundaries aids the team in knowing which of its future actions will be excessive to the plan. This is because sometimes, the more a member puts into the project, the more it increases its chances of being degraded in terms of quality.
  • Instill the value of self-organization to the team – Being self-organized is a quality that sets an agile team apart from other teams. This permits the team to not depend on external projects and focus instead on what it is working on. In addition, it also enhances their T-shaped skills, which are very essential in working in an agile team.
  • Create means of communication with the product owner – Since the product owner is basically an important part of the team, setting up a means of communication with him ensures that the project will be done under his supervision. This is one of the key elements in starting an agile team since the team’s project will depend on the product owner’s guidance.
  • Avoid committing to work on behalf of the team – The commitment of the team to a project is a big part of being in an agile team. Taking part in work without their consent may lead to the members being uncommitted, or being unable to finish their part of the job. Letting the team commit to their parts will result in completing the stages of the project.

Having an Agile Team: Why Is It Important?

As customers’ demands get higher and competition becomes stiffer, companies are constrained to adjust fast to meet these challenges. A delayed product iteration or rollout can mean revenue loss or, worse, business closure. Having an agile team can help the company adjust fast and effectively, when a sudden market shift, a disruptive newcomer, or any unexpected development in the industry shakes up the routine or the status quo.

 

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