Your Agile Team Explored


Teams Have Always Been, and Will Always Be, the Reason for Success.

It’s all about the TEAM!


There are four stages of a team which require four different skills of a Scrum Master: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.


It typically takes 6 months for a team to get through the four stages, upon which point it has been observed that they can maintain “performing” state for four years before needing to do something else.  Four years tends to be the limit because it is also about the time that teams get too close and comfortable, they become bored. We call this the “journey” after which the team should begin to dissolve.


The Importance of Longstanding Teams

Longstanding teams not only work because of Kata (practice to mastery) and strong relationships built on mutual trust and respect, but also because they are invested in the team’s long term success. Knowing that you are not going to be on a team in the near future can psychologically remove your emotional connection, and thus commitment to the team’s success.


The Importance of Winning Teams

It is important, especially when starting, to support your winning teams, not the ones struggling.  Essentially, you want to understand exactly how the winning teams do it and then replicate that mix. Scrum Masters and Managers can spend a lifetime trying to fix broken teams, but time is better spent understanding what “good” looks like so you can replicate it. This is very much like the concept of “Solutions Focused Coaching.”


The Importance of Small Teams

Smaller teams are successful for one very important reason. The number of relationships (and thus chances for misinterpretation) between members of a team increases dramatically with each added member.  The algorithm is (n^2 – n) / 2 where n is the number of people on the team.

As a team grows, it becomes harder to stay on the same page vision-wise, it also becomes hard to maintain the collaborative relationships. Less members equals less interactions and less chances for miscommunication. The chart below shows how quickly relationships increase as more people join the team.

Graph of team size vs. team interactions


Leading Teams: As a leader, how can Executives and Management get involved?

A Meta-scrum meeting is essentially composed of executives and/or senior level management who standup daily for 15 minutes, after the teams conduct their daily standup, to address three things:

  1. Attach sponsorship to removing impediments filtered up from the third question being asked on the teams (“Do you have anything blocking you today?”)
  2. Make decisions or assemble a team to dictate standards
  3. Balance Supply and Demand


The team needs to have a safe environment to explain their sprint.  During a review it is crucial that the team shows what they planned, completed and left undone.  The team needs to know that they have a forum to explain why something did not get done (and their plans to improve). This can get sensitive because many times the reason for not completing work is due to management (pulling someone out of the team to do something else, asking a team member to do something in parallel, changing priority or the backlog story altogether, etc). The team is just for execution and is responding to data given to them. POs need to be allies to the team to help hammer home what is expected of the team.


As a Leader, how do I know I am getting what I want?

The Executives are responsible for the ‘Definition of Done’ of each of the teams, not the teams themselves.  This guideline should be so clear and strong that it is simple for the team to hold themselves accountable when estimating and executing on stories.

Executives should come to appreciate more frequent releases as it allows the feedback loop to be tighter. One thing that executives might focus on in these shorter release timeframes is when to determine the ROI is no longer positive enough to continue. Since Scrum aims to deliver high value first, most projects should not come to full featured completion, only to the point where ROI becomes neutral.  It is at this point that another high value project should be picked up.  This is called “Leap Frog Value Creation.”  shown below



Graph of value of features vs. time to delivery


Leap Frogging

Graph of partial feature releases


Success Story – Apple went from 350 products to 10 products to focus and reduce parallelization. They do this to deliver quality products fast and eliminate the not so great products.


Stay tuned to the Olenick & Associates blog for more posts in my series “AGILE – The Basics from a Certified Scrum Master.” At Olenick, we continue to use the principles I examine in this series as a guide to implement successful agile frameworks.


By Cornel ‘CJ’ Montano, Lean & Agile Software Engineering Practice Lead – Olenick & Associates, Chicago

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