Friday, July 18, 2014

Leading Agile Teams

Over the past week I interviewed four of the agile team leads at my organization. The responsibilities of these folks range from agile implementation to process improvements to providing direct leadership to the product development teams. Along with my list of 11 questions to guide the conversation, I added a 12th question for each one of them that was a wrap up based on how the interview had gone and what was a distinctive point that they had touched upon. It was a great insight into the workings of other agile team leads within my organization. There will be another post detailing the findings of these interviews, but here is the teaser. LPE is the designation for an agile lead at my organization.

Is Leading Your Team More People-Management or Project Management?

"Team management is what an LPE does".  According to Mike who has been in his current role for about three and a half years, it is a bit of both. He feels that he mentors, advises and helps individuals define and achieve goals and at the same time ensures feature delivery, resource allocation and works with product managers to maintain scope and set project expectations.

It is an undervalued aspect of a scrum master or any other type of agile lead that gets lost in all the process that the lead has to be a good people manager in order to be successful. Beyond all the numbers and the process improvements, an agile lead has to have the right people skills to bring teams together and lead them in a united direction. 

How Do You Cope With Major Crises Your Team Faces?

"Once you have experienced crises, you develop immunity." This from an LPE whose team is often faced with critical client issues. "There are much fewer butterflies after 6 or 7 months". He also mentions that having good support from management for the team helps quite a bit and gives the team and him confidence in dealing with critical issues.

Having been on such a team in the past, I would echo the comments made above. In any form f leadership or crisis management situation, experience is the best preparation. Once you have handled tough situations or critical, time-sensitive issues, the next time just becomes easier. The important piece becomes how the leader of the team lets this affect the team. Does the leader make the required changes to avert such crisis and make the handling of the crisis straightforward to avoid stress on the team?

How Do You Receive Feedback and Suggestions From The Team?

Mariana, who has been LPE for her team for about 3 and a half years uses "Retrospectives and one on ones" as her primary mechanisms for collecting feedback from the team.  She does note that a lot of improvement suggestions and process feedback is "free flowing" and comes through casual conversations in the team room.

I asked Mariana this questions as she indicated numerous changes that had been made by her and the team to the way they work and it highlights the collaborative nature of effective teams. Teams that improve continuously usually do so because the team members themselves are interested in getting better. As opposed to anyone outside, the team knows its working conditions the best. On the other hand though, getting a fresh perspective from someone outside the team can help see issues that are hidden in plain sight.

What Would Be Your Advice To New Leaders Of Large Teams?

"Use the right resources for the right tasks" says Yvette who leads a team of 28 developers. "Use your resources to the best. If they do not perform in one area, move them to another. Find the right fit for your team members."

Every team has its challenges and opportunities. Yvette's team deals with a wide variety of problems and this gives her the freedom to try to "find the right fit" for her teammates. This is a great example of how the agile lead uses the opportunities afforded by the team's nature to make the members of the team and in turn the team itself, more effective.

It has been a great experience interviewing my peers and there is a lot more from these interviews that should be share. More of that in upcoming posts. Thanks again to all that participated so far and other that will in the future.


  1. Great post. I've been part of a project on how to respond to a crisis. One person mentioned the OODA loop which was initially used by the military. Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. One thing we tend to forget about is Orienting oursleves first. I think many folks go quickly to Decide and Act and Agile leaders need to level set the team to think through the issue more thoughtfully .

  2. Agreed, I think a lot of emphasis is placed on showing that action is being taken. Sitting back to gain the right "orientation" is some times taken as inaction and while it is a step that would help with getting the team in the right mindset, the perception seems to actively discourage it.