Reactive Teams

Agile teams are, by their nature, focused teams. They have an eye on delivery, and are making the best steps possible to drive towards that goal. The stories are in place, the backlog is understood, and we’re improving velocity with each sprint.

For a variety of reasons, this focus is hard to achieve across the whole portfolio. This is sometimes shown by teams with a mix of skill levels, or by those teams who have a project that has a few different natural phases.

Many delivery experts will argue that this blurring, can be managed out of teams. Retrospectives should bring out issues which affect focus, and steps can be taken to keep things on track.

This is definitely true, so why am I writing this blog post?

Well, even though I agree that we can address these issues, I see teams that believe they are agile (the worst offenders think they are doing agile). They get busy, churning through their card walls, and missing the point completely.

Some teams just need to get rid of some dead weight. Some teams need to admit that they are treading water without specialist help. All teams need to be able to react to these changing circumstances, and that ability to react comes from outside.

We need reactive teams. Teams that form around a given project, with just the bare minimum of people being attached for the duration. Most of the people on a reactive team are transient, coming and going as required by the items moving across a delivery board.

This might be hard to accept for people who take agile practice to be something that galvanises the effort of a delivery team. I believe that it need not take away from this great benefit of agile.

There are various ways to facilitate this reactivity, take for instance the Spotify model. Whichever way we split the resource pool that reactive teams are drawn from, we need to put in place mechanisms that allow autonomy. It is just important to realise that you don’t need to see each group as a lean start-up. It could just be a matter of moving a finite set of business analysts, or graphic designers, from project to project in a way that makes sure that the projects get good value, and the individuals are engaged in the most efficient way possible.

Individuals need to be able to devote the bulk of their attention to the project that they are attached to. They also need to be able to do personal development work, and any other duties that fall upon them. This can be formalised into a realistic working day, which makes it possible to generate velocity, and other metrics for estimating and project control.

For the organisation as a whole, the benefit is that we have the best possible use of resources, and should be able to generate good information for cases where we need to recruit or outsource. It is this ability that enables organisations to form reactive teams, and to have teams that can react to changes in the way they work. Helping each other to provide the right focus on the project that they are delivering.