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Stable Agile Teams

Published on 8th September 2010

Last updated on 15th June 2021

It’s not uncommon for me to visit a new client and discover that the agile development teams frequently change, sometimes after every single sprint. Changing the team composition too frequently is usually undesirable, though. Teams need stability to flourish and realise their full potential. This post provides practical tips to help you create stable agile teams.

Get the Right People on Board

Carefully consider who should be on an agile development team. Having the right individuals on board is probably the biggest success factor for any development effort, no matter which process is used. Determine the necessary hard and soft skills required and ask your Scrum Master for help if you are unsure which capabilities will be needed.

Don’t forget that an agile development team is cross-functional and typically includes individuals with UX / UI design, architecture, programming, and testing skills. You may also required additional capabilities to create or extend a product, like database administration and configuration management. The following picture shows a sample agile development team.

Sample Agile Development Team

A great technique to find the right individuals is self-selection: Let people decide if they want to be on the team or not. Consequently, the team members are likely to take full ownership of their work and be motivated to work together, which is a prerequisite for growing a great team and building a successful product.


Minimise Changes to the Team

Once the right people are on board, I find it helpful to minimise any changes to the development team. It takes time for a group of individuals to become a true team–a tightly knit unit with members that trust and support each other and that work together productively, as the following picture illustrates. Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

The picture above shows Tuckman’s team building model. According to the model, people in a newly formed team have to get to know each other (forming) and rub shoulders (storming) before they can establish common ways of working (norming) and finally become a productive team (performing).

Changing the team composition causes the this process to start all over again. As a result, productivity and self-organisation are likely to suffer. If you change a team too often, it may never reach the performing stage and fulfil its true potential.

You should therefore carefully manage changes to the development team. A good time for people to leave and new individuals to join is after the release of a new product version. The majority of the team members, however, should continue to work on the product in order to avoid loss of information, defects, and delays.


Align Teams and Products

Last but not least, align development teams and products. Every product should be developed by one or more dedicated teams, as the picture below shows. This does not only facilitate ownership and learning, but it simplifies the allocation of people and resources and it can help minimise cross-team dependencies.Independent Product Teams: Each Development Team Owns its Product

In the picture above, team A is responsible for designing, developing, and testing product A, and team B does the same for product B. Ideally, both teams have full control over their respective product and can test ideas and release new features independently of each other. Note that the organisation has to have a shared definition of what a product is in order to take full advantage of the approach shown in the picture above. To put it differently, if you are not clear what a product is, then you can’t organise around the assets in a consistent and helpful way.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question

13 Comments

  • Alicia says:

    Thank you for the article, this is a great read. We are working in an environment with several products and teams and at least once a year, management ‘shakes up’ our teams and moves people around for cross-training purposes. What is your opinion on that approach?

    • Roman Pichler says:

      You’re welcome Alicia and thank you for sharing your question. It can be very useful to allow people to work on different teams and products in order to help them grow and develop and to spread knowledge and avoid bottlenecks, as long as the following two criteria are fulfilled:

      1. People are given a choice and can influence which product and team they want to join. Telling people to move to another team without at least consulting them is not consistent with the idea of motivated, self-organising teams in my mind.
      2. The changes don’t lead to a significant loss of knowledge and a larger drop in productivity. That is, they don’t take place too frequently, and individual teams still retain the majority of their members.

      Hope this helps!

  • Firouzeh Manuchehri says:

    I have enjoyed reading your articles. Your writing is concise and easy to understand. I would like to learn more about “self-organizing” teams and how they function and behave. Have you written about this topic or are there resources you could recommend? Thank you.

  • Purnima says:

    Nice article. How do you see changing SM after every major release?

    • Thanks for sharing your feedback and question Purnima. Generally speaking, I don’t recommend changing the Scrum Master after every major release. I find it helpful when all members of a Scrum team, product owner, dev team members, and Scrum Master, can work together on a continued basis. This facilitates greater group cohesion and shared knowledge; it makes working together more enjoyable and productive. Hope this helps!

  • Tobias says:

    Hi Roman,

    thanks for the article. In the last section, you underline (literally) that teams should be aligned with products. Is that meant in comparison to “no alignment”, or is that meant in comparison to all other alignment principles? Specifically, we are currently discussing whether it would be a good idea to align our teams along customer groups (given that customer-focus is important in agile), but I couldn’t find much on that so far.

    • Hi Tobias,

      Thank you for sharing your question. My article assumes that you have successfully validated the need for a new or enhanced product and carried out the appropriate product discovery work (including the necessary market and user research). If that’s the case, then yes, I recommend that you organise around products. If, however, you offer bespoke products for specific clients, then it may be more helpful to have teams who severe a a customer group (vertical or domain like travel, publishing, and finance).

      Does this help?

  • Joan says:

    What about development team members opting out of the team? what’s the best way to identify the real reason? surveys and one-on-one coaching hasn’t really worked.. team is only in sprint 7 and lost 3 people already. they move to different roles within the org

    • Hi Joan,

      Thank you for sharing your question. While it’s normal for some team members to move on after a while, a premature exit of several people indicates that there may be an issue that you should address. I recommend talking to the individuals one-on-one. I would also investigate team moral in the next sprint retrospective, and look at how the remaining team members feel about the loss of their teammates. Once you understand the root causes, try to address them. Your Scrum Master should lead the effort to understand why people have left and what can be done to improve the team members’ job satisfaction and decrease fluctuation.

      Does this help?

  • Howard Jones says:

    Hello, Our organization is creating stable development teams with the expectation that the team could take on a variety of different products and projects, depending on the latest enterprise priorities. What thoughts do you have about how to apply the PO role, move PO’s in and out of the team with the projects or keep them stable also?

    • Thanks for sharing your question Howard. I prefer to organise teams around products or features so that a team works on one product or one or more features for an extended period of time. Working on different products usually leads to waste–it takes time to get your head round a new design, code base, test cases–or it leads to the creation of sub teams, which reduces synergy and productivity. The only exception I would make are bespoke products, solutions that are developed for a specific client. If you work for an agency, then it may be better that a product owner and team look after a set of clients within a specific vertical rather than one product. Hope this helps!

  • Nina Rosa Madeira says:

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

2 Trackbacks

  • Alicia says:

    Thank you for the article, this is a great read. We are working in an environment with several products and teams and at least once a year, management ‘shakes up’ our teams and moves people around for cross-training purposes. What is your opinion on that approach?

    • Roman Pichler says:

      You’re welcome Alicia and thank you for sharing your question. It can be very useful to allow people to work on different teams and products in order to help them grow and develop and to spread knowledge and avoid bottlenecks, as long as the following two criteria are fulfilled:

      1. People are given a choice and can influence which product and team they want to join. Telling people to move to another team without at least consulting them is not consistent with the idea of motivated, self-organising teams in my mind.
      2. The changes don’t lead to a significant loss of knowledge and a larger drop in productivity. That is, they don’t take place too frequently, and individual teams still retain the majority of their members.

      Hope this helps!

  • Firouzeh Manuchehri says:

    I have enjoyed reading your articles. Your writing is concise and easy to understand. I would like to learn more about “self-organizing” teams and how they function and behave. Have you written about this topic or are there resources you could recommend? Thank you.

  • Purnima says:

    Nice article. How do you see changing SM after every major release?

    • Thanks for sharing your feedback and question Purnima. Generally speaking, I don’t recommend changing the Scrum Master after every major release. I find it helpful when all members of a Scrum team, product owner, dev team members, and Scrum Master, can work together on a continued basis. This facilitates greater group cohesion and shared knowledge; it makes working together more enjoyable and productive. Hope this helps!

  • Tobias says:

    Hi Roman,

    thanks for the article. In the last section, you underline (literally) that teams should be aligned with products. Is that meant in comparison to “no alignment”, or is that meant in comparison to all other alignment principles? Specifically, we are currently discussing whether it would be a good idea to align our teams along customer groups (given that customer-focus is important in agile), but I couldn’t find much on that so far.

    • Hi Tobias,

      Thank you for sharing your question. My article assumes that you have successfully validated the need for a new or enhanced product and carried out the appropriate product discovery work (including the necessary market and user research). If that’s the case, then yes, I recommend that you organise around products. If, however, you offer bespoke products for specific clients, then it may be more helpful to have teams who severe a a customer group (vertical or domain like travel, publishing, and finance).

      Does this help?

  • Joan says:

    What about development team members opting out of the team? what’s the best way to identify the real reason? surveys and one-on-one coaching hasn’t really worked.. team is only in sprint 7 and lost 3 people already. they move to different roles within the org

    • Hi Joan,

      Thank you for sharing your question. While it’s normal for some team members to move on after a while, a premature exit of several people indicates that there may be an issue that you should address. I recommend talking to the individuals one-on-one. I would also investigate team moral in the next sprint retrospective, and look at how the remaining team members feel about the loss of their teammates. Once you understand the root causes, try to address them. Your Scrum Master should lead the effort to understand why people have left and what can be done to improve the team members’ job satisfaction and decrease fluctuation.

      Does this help?

  • Howard Jones says:

    Hello, Our organization is creating stable development teams with the expectation that the team could take on a variety of different products and projects, depending on the latest enterprise priorities. What thoughts do you have about how to apply the PO role, move PO’s in and out of the team with the projects or keep them stable also?

    • Thanks for sharing your question Howard. I prefer to organise teams around products or features so that a team works on one product or one or more features for an extended period of time. Working on different products usually leads to waste–it takes time to get your head round a new design, code base, test cases–or it leads to the creation of sub teams, which reduces synergy and productivity. The only exception I would make are bespoke products, solutions that are developed for a specific client. If you work for an agency, then it may be better that a product owner and team look after a set of clients within a specific vertical rather than one product. Hope this helps!

  • […] Last but not least, the Scrum team should be stable and experience few changes to its composition: Stable teams facilitate effective teamwork and […]

  • Nina Rosa Madeira says:

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  • […] Stable Scrum Teams “Find the right individuals to play the product owner, ScrumMaster and team role in order to develop a great product. Having the right individuals on board is most likely the biggest success factor for any development effort.” […]

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