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Key Roles for an A-Team

7 May 2014

Arnab Saha

What are the ingredients needed to build a development team that works like a well-oiled engine, that performs like a juggler from the best circus in the city -- managing everything well, timing each movement precisely, and not letting anything fall? Let's assume that the team size is ten people and they intend to develop a next-generation trading platform. Here are the characters that need a casting to prepare for the show.

Star developer: This guy is the heart of your team. He is young and has lots of fire in his belly, always eager to learn new things. You have to develop the next complex message-oriented architecture? No worries; your star developer can deliver it overnight. In principle he is a strong developer with amazing leadership skills. But remember that he has his downsides too. He may not be a consistent performer, may not be willing to fix trivial UI issues, and often feels annoyed by repetition at the workplace. And the key rule: Do not bother him with the strict deadlines of your customer.

Workforce: A major part of the team that does the bulk of the work. They ensure that all deliverables meet the deadlines. They start at 9 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m. but are always efficient and responsible. Often, however, they can be partially blocked by a critical technical problem. This is the exact scenario when this team reaches out to the star guy.

Grandfather developer: He is the veteran in the war. He has seen all the ups and downs, success and failures. He can actually predict what the output of the proposed architecture under a heavy data load will be five years down the line in production. When everybody is clueless what is going wrong in a multi-threaded program or wonders why the indexing is still not producing that performance boost, go ask the grandfather. He has had the answer hidden in his unused armor for long time. He is your "been there, done that" guy. He is the last action hero of your team. But remember not to overuse his capabilities.

Guardian: He protects the team from all the external factors that can negatively affect output. This can be factors of any type, starting from organizational politics and ranging to unrealistic customer expectations. With the guardian in place, the team feels like it is working in an apolitical environment. Everybody is assured that under the leadership of the guardian, nothing can go wrong.

Major in business: He is your savior when it comes to actually realizing how the business works. Trading, put call, buy call, cash swap -- you need to convert all these into a data model? This business guy can do it all for you.

UI expert: Your application is junk and insipid unless you have this guy on the team. He knows the user. He can tell you what color, which search box, and what sorting feature in the grid table can give the UI a much-desired facelift.

New guy on the team: This is the fresh graduate out of college. He may not know all the tricks of software engineering, but be very careful before you consider him of no use. He may well be your next star developer; plus he keeps the culture of continuous learning alive within the team.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 3 (2 ratings)


Tim Baffa, CSM, 5/7/2014 1:28:59 PM
I will readily admit that in the past, teams I have managed/served have exhibited many of the character types listed in this article. Also, the IT world seems to attract a diverse amount of personality "quirks" that need to be attended to and managed in the interest of team harmony and growth.

That said, my main critique regarding this article is that from a Scrum perspective, a highly-performing, well-oiled team consists of team members who possess each of the character types shown. We should not encourage team members to maintain knowledge silos, or coddle them by keeping time commitments away from them.

As Scrum Masters, we should strive to not encourage any behavior by team members that run counter to either team growth or the goals of the organization.

What is imperative is to encourage and facilitate the cross-training and knowledge-transfer that must occur so that any member of the team can fulfill any of the character roles listed.

When every member of the team becomes a well-rounded resource capable of completing any task within a sprint to the DoD (at varying levels of expertise, of course), only then will a team become a highly-performing, well-oiled machine.
Carlos Monroy Nieblas, CSM, 5/7/2014 10:42:36 PM
Teams are as complex and unique as their team members; I hope that the purpose of this article is to communicate the idea that it is needed to know and understand the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of the participants, and that depending on the circumstances each one can have on the roles described.
David Lowe, CSP,CSM, 5/9/2014 2:57:54 AM
Similar to Tim, I'm hoping the suggestion is that these are traits within each person, rather than individuals you'd want on a team. For example, the star developer sounds like a royal pain in the a**e who would become silo and single point of failure if not careful, but also has the opportunity to be a right diva!

(Oh, and you are allowed women on the team too, btw. And I've met many "grandfathers" with fire still in their belly, as I have "young").
Arnab Saha, CSM, 5/9/2014 11:25:31 AM
Tim,David and Carlos thanks for the time and effort that you have taken for going through my article.
From your feedback what I realise is,this is more a pre scrum and traditional way of building an effective team and it has it's own risk .Edgy corners can be corrected via a uniform knowledge and skill development .
And of course I can't agree more to the fact that Grandfather can actually be the star of the team.But in my opinion then there can be a void between Grandfather and star developer(but it is a matter of the situation and work challenges).Also Grandfather can still be extreme hungry to strive the excellence as mentioned by David.

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