What Is an Agile Team? Roles, Work Style & Methods
The last couple of years have seen an explosion in the popularity of the agile project management approach.
Agile has been touted to enhance customer satisfaction, deliver superior quality products, improve flexibility, and reduce risks associated with projects and new products.
As a result, most businesses are trying to form agile teams that will help them reap the benefits of this methodology.
But what exactly are agile teams?
This guide will dissect agile teams and help you understand how they work, the typical roles in an agile team, how agile teams collaborate, as well as the different types of agile teams.
What Is An Agile Team?
An agile team is a group of specialized professionals who are tasked with the responsibility of executing a project using the agile framework.
Typically, an agile team is co-located and dedicated to only one project at a time. An agile team also has all the necessary experience, knowledge, skills, and resources to complete an agile project without relying on other teams.
Agile teams are usually small in size, with most consisting of about 5-11 individuals. When building an agile team, it is recommended that the team be kept as small as possible and you craft a clear team charter.
This is because collaboration and communication are more effective in small teams. As the team size increases, it becomes more difficult to communicate and collaborate effectively.
The core emphasis of agile teams is on results, rather than roles and responsibilities. Therefore, it’s not surprising to find an analyst providing ideas about user experience, or a developer testing the product.
Typical Roles In Agile Teams
Agile teams are typically cross-functional, which means that the roles and responsibilities of team members will often vary. That said, however, there are some clearly defined roles that are present in every agile team. These include…
1. Scrum Master
The scrum master, sometimes referred to as the team lead, is the person responsible for facilitating the rest of the team to effectively carry out their activities. You can compare the role of a scrum master to that of a project manager.
It is the role of the scrum master to oversee day-to-day functions within the project, and ensure that everything is running smoothly. The core focus of the scrum master is on the process.
Some of the responsibilities of the scrum master include…
- Making sure that the team executes the project following agile best practices.
- Liaising with the product owner to clearly understand the project goals and quality expectations.
- Providing oversight over the team members and making sure that progress is in line with project deadlines.
- Providing the team members with constructive feedback about their performance and the progress of the project.
- Ensuring that the project team has access to all the resources required to execute the project.
- Managing the scrum board.
- Keeping the project team motivated and guiding them through sprints.
2. Product Owner
Whereas the scrum master is process-focused, the focus of the product owner is entirely on the product.
The product owner needs to have a deep understanding of the product, the required features, and the purpose for which the product is being developed. It is the role of the product owner to keep the team in line with the vision of the product.
Some of the responsibilities of a product owner include…
- Acting as a link between the team and the customer. They communicate the customer’s expectations and customer feedback to the rest of the team.
- Defining the user journey and experience, and understanding the needs of the user.
- Coming up with a product roadmap and vision.
- Defining and communicating the goals and quality expectations of the product to the team.
- Monitoring development progress and intervening in case they notice the product is deviating from the customer’s expectations.
- Creating and managing product backlog.
- Planning and overseeing sprints and making high level decisions about product iteration releases.
- Reviewing project deliverables before the product is delivered to the customer or launched into the market.
3. Team Member
The team members are the individual professionals who do the actual work of executing the project and transforming an idea into an actual product within the defined time limit.
Team members cover a variety of roles, depending on the kind of agile project they are working on. They could be front and back-end engineers, videographers, graphic designers, UI/UX designers, copywriters, developers, and so on.
Some of the key responsibilities of the team members include…
- Performing the project work in sprints under the coordination of the scrum master, and following the requirements of the product owner.
- Ensuring transparency during the daily scrum. This is a daily meeting where the team communicates about project progress, issues and blockers affecting the project.
- Ensuring that the work is completed on time, and to the desired quality.
How An Agile Team Works
An agile team relies on an iterative and incremental process to deliver a fully tested, working final product or solution.
For teams using traditional project management frameworks, the team has to stick to the same plan and requirements that were defined at the start of the project.
Agile teams, on the other hand, use a flexible approach to produce a working model that is continually improved based on changing customer requirements and user feedback, until the best iteration of the product is achieved.
To do this, agile teams rely on short spans of work referred to as sprints or iterations. The team starts a sprint by defining the requirements and features that can be delivered within the sprint timeline.
During the sprint, the team then designs, develops and tests an iteration of the product, after which it is deployed and shared with the customer or users for review.
After the review, the team then plans another sprint whose requirements and deliverables are based on the feedback gathered from the review of the previous sprint. They design, develop, test an improved iteration, which is then taken for another review.
Following such a pattern, the agile team continuously improves the project in incremental iterations until they come up with a final product that meets all the requirements of the customer or users. The highest priority for agile teams is customer satisfaction.
Such an iterative and incremental approach also allows for extra features to be added even after the product development has already begun. With traditional approaches, addition of such extra features would be considered to be scope creep.
How Agile Teams Collaborate Across Departments
Agile teams are, by default, independent teams that are capable of executing their projects without relying on other teams.
Sometimes, however, agile teams need to collaborate with other teams and departments that have a stake in the project. So, how do they do this?
Below are some of the strategies and techniques agile teams use to enhance cross-department collaboration…
1. Clear Communication Of Goals And Expectations
For effective collaboration, every team and department involved should be clearly aware of the organization’s main objectives in the project.
To achieve this, the leaders of every team have to clearly communicate to their teams the goals and expectations of the project, the work each team is responsible for, as well as how this work affects the work of the other teams.
2. Cross-Team Daily Scrums
Daily scrums should not be a preserve of the agile team. Instead, all involved teams and departments have to be part of the daily scrum. This keeps every department updated on the project progress, as well as any issues that could affect the project.
3. Multiple Product Owners Check-Ins
In situations where there are multiple agile teams working on different but related projects, collaboration is enhanced by holding regular check-ins where all the product owners can meet and discuss the scope and requirements of each product.
This allows each product owner to guide their respective teams to work on product features that are aligned with what the other teams are working on.
4. Use Of Real-Time Collaboration Tools
While face-to-face communication is the most recommended communication method for agile teams, collaboration can be enhanced by taking advantage of real-time team collaboration tools, particularly when the different departments are not co-located.
These tools make it easier for the different departments to communicate and share information, leading to better and faster project delivery.
5. Use Of Visual Tools
Each team can easily visualize what the other is working on and the current progress in real-time. This allows seamless flow of information between the teams and leads to enhanced collaboration when the different teams are working on one common product.
Agile Teams Use Agile Methods
Agile teams rely on agile methods and agile best practices in order to quickly deliver working products that meet all customer expectations. Some of these methods and best practices include…
1. Iterative Development
Agile teams don’t tackle a project in its entirety. Instead, they break the project down into small sub-projects, and then work on these sub-projects in repetitive cycles.
Doing so allows the team and the customer to get a better perspective of features that need to be part of the final product or solution. The iterative development cycles also allow for a more flexible product development process.
For instance, if you’re working on a project to build an app, you don’t have to wait until the project is complete to discover that the customer missed a key requirement during the project brief.
Instead, the client can easily discover such oversight during one of the testing periods after a sprint cycle. The feature or requirement can then be included in the next sprint cycle.
2. Daily Meetings
Daily meetings typically referred to as “daily standups” or “daily scrums” are an important part of the agile framework.
The aim of these meetings is to cover what the team did the previous day, what the team is doing that day, and any impediments that could hinder the team from achieving current sprint goals.
These daily scrums are very important, because they help the scrum master and the team to keep an eye on progress, while at the same time making it easier to identify and resolve issues that could affect the project.
3. Use Of Professional Tools
Agile teams use professional project management tools to improve team collaboration, enhance the structure of their workflows, and boost their productivity.
With professional project management tools, agile teams can automate routine tasks, better manage project documentation, and significantly reduce the amount of effort required to manage their project tasks.
This in turn provides them with more time to focus on sprints, leading to faster project delivery.
Examples of agile project management tools that are commonly used by agile teams include…
- Monday.com: Best overall project management solution for agile projects
- ClickUp: Best agile project management tool for task management
- Wrike: Best solution for agile enterprise projects
4. Collaboration With The Customer
The top priority for agile teams is customer satisfaction. In order to satisfactorily understand and meet customer expectations, customer collaboration is a key aspect of the agile approach.
Under traditional approaches, the customer only gets involved at the beginning and at the end of the project. Agile teams, however, don’t leave out the customer until the project is complete. Instead, they involve the customer every step of the way.
After every sprint, agile teams invite the customer to review the current iteration, hear the customer’s expectations, gather feedback on the iteration, and work together to come up with fixes for any problems identified.
The outcome of such an approach is that at the end of the project, the customer is more likely to be satisfied with the result, because they have been involved throughout the project. There are no nasty surprises.
Types Of Agile Teams
Agile teams can be classified into five different types, depending on the kind of structure adopted by the team, as well as the skills of the team members. Below, let’s take a look at the five types of agile teams…
1. Generalist Agile Team
These are a type of agile team where all the team members have a general understanding of a wide variety of topics and have general skills that can be applied in multiple situations. In other words, the team members of a generalist agile team are Jacks of all trades.
Owing to the versatility of their skills, members of a generalist agile team can pick up diverse tasks and easily switch between tasks with their team members.
This kind of structure works particularly well in small teams made up of highly motivated and self-driven members, as well as projects that don’t require any specialized skills.
2. Specialist Agile Team
This is the completed opposite of a generalist agile team. In a specialist agile team, each team member is highly skilled in a specific area of expertise. Each member only handles tasks that are related to their specific niche, and switching of tasks between team members is next to impossible.
An example of a specialist agile team is a team consisting of a back-end engineer, a market analyst, and a database administrator. None of these specialists can take up the role of the other, because each role requires specialized knowledge and skills.
The greatest benefit of specialist agile teams is that they deliver high quality products, since every aspect of the project is handled by an expert. On the downside, however, such teams often have slow delivery times, since each specialist will sit idle until there’s a task that requires their specific skills.
3. Transitioning Agile Team
This refers to teams that are in transition from another project management methodology to an agile methodology.
Since the team is not well-versed with agile methodologies, a transitioning agile team relies on a hybrid structure that fuses together agile practices with practices borrowed from other methodologies they are more conversant with. The idea is to gradually get the team comfortable with using agile practices and languages.
Due to the required learning curve, transitioning agile teams usually take longer to deliver sprints compared to other types of agile teams.
4. Parallel Agile Team
This is a unique kind of agile team structure where every team member works on the same task at a time, and then they all move to a different role during the next sprint.
If the team is working on a software development project, for instance, all the team members will work on requirement analysis in the first sprint, design the software architecture in the second sprint, write the code in the third sprint, and so on.
The parallel agile team structure works best for teams with highly experienced members who can seamlessly adapt to multiple roles. It is also a good approach when you want to cross-train your team.
5. Agile Product Sub-Team
This structure is more common in large organizations where the agile team is tasked with a specific responsibility within a much larger project.
It doesn’t matter whether the overall project uses agile methodology or another project management framework, but the agile product sub-team uses agile to deliver their share of the work.
Let’s say, for example, a car manufacturer is designing a new car model, and one sub-team has been assigned the task of designing an engine for the new car, while other teams handle other tasks. If this team is using the agile framework, it can be termed as an agile product sub-team.The agile product sub-team approach is great when you want to break down a project into smaller sub-projects for improved efficiency, transparency, and accountability.