A self-organized Agile team is touted as the “engine” that rapidly and responsively turns product backlog items (user requests, stories, requirements, etc.) into valuable working software. This software drives results for your business and its customers. In practice, this team dynamic can be elusive; often thwarted by titles, hierarchy, and compensation systems that reward specialization. […]
A self-organized Agile team is touted as the “engine” that rapidly and responsively turns product backlog items (user requests, stories, requirements, etc.) into valuable working software. This software drives results for your business and its customers.
In practice, this team dynamic can be elusive; often thwarted by titles, hierarchy, and compensation systems that reward specialization. Here we’ll discuss the steps you can take to improve self-organization on your Agile team and advance your skills.
Scrum, Kanban, and the Agile Manifesto each make clear mention of self-organization (A.K.A. self-management) as an integral aspect of their framework, manifesto, or method.
A flock of geese is frequently used to illustrate some of the essential attributes of a system that is operating in a self-organizing manner.
The business benefits that arise from a team that is operating with a strong level of shared ownership and agency are many. These include increased innovation, employee engagement, improved product quality, and efficiency gains.
Establishing an environment that supports and sustains this powerful team dynamic begins by understanding five key factors that amplify a team’s ability to self-organize.
Galvanizing goal – a clear measurable goal that is visible to all team members and stakeholders alongside the freedom to execute and deliver on that goal elevates a team’s thinking and collective actions. “Drive subscriptions by 20% in the Ontario market” or “Decrease concept-to-cash lead time to 3 months” are examples of clear goals. “Deliver these 14 requirements by the trade show” is not.
Critical Mass – the “local interactions” that contribute to emergent order in a self-organizing team require a nucleus of at least 3 people who are exclusively focused (i.e. 80% or more allocated) on the release, goal, or product mission. Part-time team members can be part of the mix, but the core team must be able to give its full attention and energy to the task at hand. If you’re not going to invest in a core team, you might as well hire a project manager.
Visible Scoreboard – make it clear to the team and to stakeholders what it looks like to make incremental progress and advance towards the stated goal. Customer feedback, throughput, lead time, and product adoption rates can all be featured as information radiators that are in front of the team and available to stakeholders.
Strong Container – a designated time and/or area within which teams can plan, collaborate, and focus together is critical to self-organization. If a physical team room is available and can be a daily meeting point for the team, great! If your team is virtual, set up an obeya (Japanesese word for big room) in Miro or Mural and have the congregate in that space. Scrum teams operating in sprints have a temporal container that can enhance this vital factor.
Freedom to Operate – granting the team the authority to make decisions (and mistakes) is vital to its ownership and agency. Managers who are used to being more involved and integral to the team’s process and decision-making may need to shift their approach and intervene less to allow the team to discover its own stability and strength.
Yes, these enabling factors can take time and effort to establish, often requiring changes to process and management support as well as the addition of tools and other resources. While you’re working on that front, consider three steps to get your team started with self-organization.
Embracing self-organization isn’t easy. You may encounter bumps and friction – both internal and external to the team – as you venture down the path. Yet, the payoff is tremendous and can result in huge benefits for the business, team, and customer.
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