Are Stable Agile Teams Really That Important?
I was recently on a call with executives and the Chief People Officer asked how important stable teams are when looking for a more Agile way of working. Of course, my coach answer is “it depends” but for the most part, they are pretty important.
What are the benefits of stable teams?
Stable teams help to build trust between each other, which allows them to be more likely to pair or learn from each other. Pairing, swarming, and learning from each other means that they will be more likely to have less bottlenecks and will be able to improve quality. We also usually see happiness and output go up as a result of stable teams.
What are some of the side effects of not having stable teams?
For each of the things I just answered, you could say the opposite. But at another level, a lack of stable teams impacts our understanding of capacity- the volatility in the team make up impacts the volatility in the amount of work getting done. Not knowing how much work we can complete causes a whole host of other problems for product leaders trying to prioritize and forecast when they think things will get gone.
When might you not be able to have a stable team?
If you need a HIGHLY skilled person who has very specific training with very little time, think PhDs or surgeons. In most technology spaces and business contexts, people can lean in and help each other but if you need a doctor, they can get expensive to put on each team. So instead, you create a team of doctors, have a prioritized list of things for them to work on, and they work closely with the teams they are supporting. Oftentimes in IT we lump in Architects or DBAs with these highly specialized skills. I think those skills are very important but most developers know something about databases and can write SQL. Similarly, Architects can help lead Communities of Practices to create standards and teach aspiring developers about what they do and how they solve problems.
What are some other ways to get around this?
If you cannot create a dedicated team on a consistent basis, what can you do to carve out “Get Stuff Done” sessions (GSD)? Can the whole team focus on team priorities one day a week or a 4-hour block? You can run mini Scrums and have multiple Daily Scrums throughout the session to see if they are on track to get something to done.
I have actually used this pattern often with Agile Leadership teams that are responsible for an Agile Transformation. They typically have other jobs but bringing them together for a 4-hour GSD session helps to move the needle.