Agile methods depend on effective cross-functional teams. We’ve heard many Agile success stories…at the team level. But what happens when a product can’t be delivered by one team? What do you do when the “team” that’s needed to work on a particular product is 20 people? Or 20 teams?
There are no simple answers. But there are design principles for defining workable arrangements when the product is bigger than a handful of agile teams.
Some principles and practices to guide scaling Agile teams.
I’ve been talking about (and using) Human Systems Dynamics tools lately–Rally Success Tour, OTUG, Practical Agility and Retrospective Workshops in Stockholm.
I find Containers, Differences, Exchanges offers my clients (and me) a useful way to see past events and see structures. Working at the level of structures gives both insights and opens up opportunities for action.
My slides (or the March 16 variation of my slides):
When companies decide they want the benefit of the team effect, or adopt agile methods, they (sometimes) realize that they need to update their management style as well. And too often, they enter an 4-step dance of oscillation.
Managers feel overburdened and overwhelmed. Teams are disengaged. They want teams to take more responsibility, and show more engagement. The managers stop telling teams what to do, and wait for teams to step up, take responsibility, and morale to flip into the positive zone. So the managers step back, and the 4-step starts, and usually ends up back where it started–overburdened managers, disengaged teams, and an uptick in cynicism.
If you are in this pattern, you are not alone. It comes from trying to solve a problem, when what you have is a polarity. There are upsides and downsides and you have to attend to both.
You don’t have to get stuck in the 4-step oscillation. If your organization wants to move from command and control management to something more like servant leadership, here’s some help for the journey.
Here are things a managers can do to move, and manage the upside and downside of becoming servant leader to a team.
1) Redefine the decision boundaries
2) Calibrate your interventions
3) Increase the overlap between contextual and day-to-day knowledge
4) Shift focus off events and onto patterns and system structures
Questions matter. The questions we ask open one avenue of inquiry, but close others. If we want to change the way we manage, we need to change our questions. And so, here are my slides from my talk at Agile 2010:
14 Essential Questions aimed at refocusing management attention on creating work systems that work–creating products the customers want, returns that are acceptable to stakeholders, and providing satisfying work for employees.