Problems In Agile Team Organisation
Agile principles were designed to create cross-functional teams and prevent projects from stalling by improving collaboration. Despite this, new problems have arisen. Agile leaders now have to contend with balancing management of the project and unforeseen issues that the process fails to address.
In early-December I asked a question to my LinkedIn contacts about how they organise their teams and the challenges they face in agile leadership. Managing this is a common problem, visible throughout the industry, and I was eager to hear the approach of my peers.
The Effect of Conway’s Law
It didn’t take long for the concept of Conway’s Law to be mentioned. To be honest, it came up in the first comment. And I’m sure many of those who saw my question, or replied to it, have come across the same problem: How organising principles, across skills and functions of the development team, mirror faults and efficiencies in software development.
Customer Journey First
It was interesting to see that most responses suggested team structuring with a customer journey focus. Indirectly, their argument for this demonstrated a process that sought to overcome Conway’s Law. An overriding paradigm was that using a customer journey will stretch your organisation in key areas and this will become apparent throughout development.
By stressing this approach you can overcome impediments quicker, and put longer term plans in place, resulting in quicker and more effective project delivery. A caveat, interpreted from one comment, was how effective this can be when you compare single-service businesses against teams providing services to multiple B2B clients (with multiple apps).
The concept of legacy monoliths was also identified and how team structures should consider incorporating it as part of the development. Some opinions offered the value of how separate teams could be used to dismantle this over time. Others, commenting from previous experience, noted the difficulties around legacy when it came to ownership of cross-cutting concerns.
Challenges in Agile Team Organisation
What was particularly interesting were the experiences people shared. Whilst those commenting naturally discussed tribes and squads, or focused on customer journeys, business domains or business capability, it was the comments ‘in between’ I found fascinating.
One that stood out for me was the principle of changing team organisation throughout the process to resolve problems. As one commenter wrote “…we may have seen this as some form of failure but I believe we are starting to see it as part of the ongoing adaptive process.” This demonstrates the importance and value of social and professional factors in team organisation and project progress.
One connection added he was in the process of positioning an SRE (Site Reliability Engineer) within individual teams. He noted that one was accidentally created as a silo but is now being embedded into squads instead. Even this couldn’t overcome some operational issues such as “simple overheads of cross timezone squads, and … (instances of) “I thought they were doing that”. Proof that nothing is ever simple in the Agile world.
Team structures take a variety of shapes and forms. The key is not to lose sight of the end goal. Regardless of personal opinion, one thing you cannot escape are facts. And whilst the intricacies of Agile are under constant scrutiny, the principles are shown to have delivered an 87% increase in productivity.
Keeping this in mind, companies applying Agile principles should pursue the foundations while making tweaks and adjustments to maximise project efficiency. Setting up your team is not a linear event. You should undertake constant reviews to understand what works. Look for signals from Conway’s Law that your organisational structures are not functioning in an optimal way. If you notice stagnation it might be time to shake things up. I use the SEER acronym to see if changes need to be made:
Establishing how cohesively your organisation works together can be difficult. Conway’s Law is an interesting principle, but understanding how it affects product/service development can be tricky. You can read my blog on identifying the critical signals you might encounter when scaling your team and how to counter this effect.
Looking at the most effective way to structure teams when scaling Kanban? I’ve written an article about the organising principles and common questions I use when starting on this path. You can read it by clicking here. To see a list of all the articles I have written that address the challenges of growing your organisational structure, visit the ‘Scale Our Teams’ section of my blog.
Ian Carroll is the Owner and Founder of Solutioneers, an industry-leading agile methodology delivery partner. With 25 years’ experience, Ian has worked with national and international brands, including SKY, the NHS, JCB, MoneySupermarket.com, the Co-Op, and more, delivering improved software and technology solutions that increase efficiency, bottom-line profit margins, and working processes.
To understand how effective facilitation of software project management can help grow your business, and how we’ve brought our years of industry knowledge and experience to companies of all sizes, get in touch today. Call 01925 877980 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.