Standing up Agile Teams: 2 Blockers & How to Remove Them

Standing Up Agile Teams
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

Let’s face it there are a lot of challenges when it comes to standing up Agile teams, so pointing out only two blockers may seem like a drop in the bucket. Yet these two impediments come up over and over again in my courses and conversations with other Agile practitioners.

1. Securing a sufficient amount of funded work for the teams to perform is often the largest initial obstacle we face.

This falls firmly into the category I like to call “Duh” but for some reason, it always seems to get overlooked. The transformation lead or manager must gain insight into the work planned for the teams in question. You will need to know the amount of work, confirm the funding model, and verify that the work aligns with the team or teams being stood up. 

The amount of work required may shift from one organization to another but typically it should provide between five months and two years’ worth of output. The wide variance in work volume depends on several factors including organizational scale, Agile maturity, and the goals of the transformation. If your organization is large, has program levels in place, existing mature teams, and the goal is to increase capacity then the two-year backlog makes sense. If, on the other hand, your company is a startup with little Agile experience looking to capitalize on a new product the shorter five-month backlog might be more appropriate.

Confirming that the work is funded is highly dependent upon the organization’s funding model. Many traditional companies still have some sort of legacy project funding model that is used to fund Agile work at the portfolio level. Other companies have moved to a more forward-thinking community funding model and some have even gone so far as to establish a team funding model. The model doesn’t really matter as long as you can get confirmation that the work has funding in place.

This represents the value your organization has front-loaded into the backlog of the team(s) and should be transparent to all the stakeholders including the team members.

2. Confirming persistent team member allocation is far more difficult than it should be.

It baffles me that Line of Business (LOB) partners, who are often vocal in their support of moving to Agile, typically can’t stomach permanently assigning employees to Agile teams. “Well, I can’t spare anyone on my team… they’re too valuable.” Too valuable to do the work you have been tasked with delivering?!?

It is the job of the transformation lead or manager to firmly, but gently, communicate that Agile teams need to be staffed with team members who are permanently assigned to their role. Sure, contracts end and people still get hit by buses on occasion but let’s not set the teams up for failure by rigging the roster to include people we have no intention of devoting to the team. 

Simply put, the team’s ability to deliver value suffers when you have a change in team members and that truly is the bottom line. This is a cellular structure after all and if you change or remove the nucleus or mitochondria even temporarily the cell will suffer or worse. This also applies to “special projects” where team members are temporarily called away or subject to reduced availability.

Conveying the significance of this to the business and leadership stakeholders is crucial to getting them to commit resources one hundred percent to Agile teams.

Addressing these two issues early puts you well on the path toward launching successful teams. There are other challenges obviously but these are true team killers that must be solved early in the process. 

Cheers,
Joe

Cheers,

Joe Burroughs

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