Being part of a fixed agile team is not a basic human right

Door Patrick Verheij

Wouldn’t it be awesome to be part of an awesome agile team? Just imagine that team which has an inspiring vision of the world it is about to change. A team with a ding-in-the-universe purpose! You would be a super special person among super special team mates! Everyone goes to work whistling and energetically collaborates towards outcome that increasingly exceeds expectations! Iteration after iteration the world is in awe about this sophisticated agile team!\r\n\r\nAnd then you wake up.\r\n\r\nYou wake up after falling asleep while executing drudge work in a boring place together with team mates who are also bored. Or overworked. Or both. Your team has a so-what purpose and no vision at all. You feel as special as a grain of rice in a bowl full of them. Iteration after iteration you ask yourself why you are still here. You are too tired and uninspired to come up with an answer.\r\n\r\nSuddenly a project manager appears at your desk. She asks you to be part of a 6-month super exciting data migration project. Wow! Your cheecks are getting warm already. You don’t hesitate for a minute. You grab her arm and run away with her, leaving your team behind. So long suckers! Excitement awaits!\r\n\r\nAnd so it comes to be that people in agile teams are complaining about team members getting pulled away from their teams. “Those darn managers don’t understand a thing about agile!” is a much-heard mantra. “Agile will never work here if we continue like this!” another.\r\n\r\nThey are right of course. But…now what?\r\n\r\nHere’s the point:\r\n

Having fixed, super sexy agile teams is achoice, not a basic right.

\r\nBy now we all know from all available evidene that great teams have great potential. To make these teams great, they probably need to be fixed, dedicated, strive towards autonomy, and have access to sophisticated tools of the trade.\r\n\r\nHaving such teams may seem trivial, but is it really? Probably not to the ambitious team manager (also known as resource manager) who now loses most of her power. Probably also not to the traditional project manager who already has a problem getting people (resources in his vocabulary) to man his project. Same for the Chief Operations Officer who has a target on people mobility within the company. And all people who believe that “agile” is equal to “maximum flexibility” and don’t relate that to fixed teams.\r\n\r\nBuilding and maintaining fixed agile teams is a choice which has to be made. It is also a difficult choice especially in a complex running organization. It’s scary to just say “okay, from now on we adopt Large Scale Scrum (Less) everywhere” of “let’s do what Spotify is doing throughout our entire company”. Even when that happens, these companies aren’t immediately doing it “right” (whatever that is) from the start. Possibly not even after a couple of years. So yes, people often THINK they are in fixed agile teams…until reality kicks in and it appears that we never explicitly chose for them. And then the complaining starts.\r\n\r\nIf you really want to be part of a fixed agile team, then make sure that this team has a unique position. For example: your team is extremely good at innovation. You are like a startup within a large corporate context. Your results are vigorously valuable and it is absolutely clear that the fixedness of the team contributes to that. Management wouldn’t dare to split you up or even touch you then!\r\n\r\nOr imagine that you are a super productive team. You prove to be twenty times more productive than the average team within your company. Also twenty times more value comes from your capable collaborating hands. Twenty times faster than even the customer could want it! Now that’s a reason to keep your team fixed as a concrete pillar in the middle of a declining zoo!\r\n\r\n”But we never get a chance to be such a team because they keep stealing people from us!” is what we then hear. Well, with such an attitude, you probably deserve to be miserable. It’s THEM, isn’t it? Not YOU! So until THEY do something, YOU are screwed.\r\n\r\nGet used to being screwed then :-)\r\n\r\nAct instead. Use the time that you are actually fixed to PROVE your team’s worth. Or create an awesome presentation to convince THEM to let you experiment with a fixed team for a while. Or make it absolutely clear (again, PROVE it) why it is not a good idea to remove someone from your team, even when your team is not that great yet.\r\n\r\nAlso know that even though fixed agile teams seems like a great idea, it is not always necessary to have them. Roman Pichler points that out in his latest book Strategize. For example, he distinguishes between core innovation, adjacent innovation and disruptive innovation stating that when you are optimizing existing products while growth potential ans risk are low, you can probably get away with a matrix organization. Only when it concerns new products and growth potential and risk increase, it makes more sense to move towards dedicated product teams.\r\n\r\nRemember that when next time you complain about not being in a fixed team: what the heck is your team doing anyway? And then reconsider your views and strategy.\r\n\r\nI hope you will be part of an awesome agile team one day, if you are not part of one already. Just make sure you deserve one 😉

Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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