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Understanding the Intent Behind Agile Concepts

Agile is a framework, not a set of rules

28 July 2017

I have attended several seminars in which most of the participants asked questions regarding the fundamental challenges they were facing in adopting Agile. I would like to address a few of those challenges to share my view on the intent behind several fundamental Agile concepts.

Cross-functional teams

Establishing cross-functional teams is the biggest struggle for organizations adopting the Agile framework. What exactly is the meaning of cross-functional teams? How do organizations create them?

The primary intent of the cross-functional team is to use the time of all Scrum Team members in every sprint/iteration. As long as every team member is working on user stories or tasks in a sprint, you need not worry or struggle with cross-functional team members in terms of ensuring that everyone is capable of doing every type of work (business analysis, technical design, development, and testing).

A cross-functional team is an ideal scenario in which every team member can do any task related to software development. However, in practice the intent is to use all team members in every sprint. Being 100% cross-functional may or may not happen, but it should not be a concern as long as there is a way to use all team members. Educate and motivate team members to expand their boundary of knowledge and to be prepared to step into the shoes of others so that the team can take care of temporary needs during vacations or unexpected emergencies.

Self-organizing teams

In my view, the self-organizing team is Agile's unique selling point (USP). Every team is "independent" and decides how to achieve its goal. No external or internal manager will direct and push the team to deliver its goals. It is the team that takes/accepts the work and defines the best way to reach the goal. The intent behind the self-organizing team is to motivate people and have the team work independently. This concept helps large organizations to get things done in autopilot mode, without any individual or group of individuals at the lower level to steer the scope of work.

The term self-organizing team does not preclude asking for help from experts who are outside the team. There may be a need for a specialist occasionally, and it is acceptable to take help from outsiders.

The second USP of Agile is incremental delivery. The term '"working software" may confuse the newly formed teams, but the intent is to celebrate the mini successes to boost the morale of working teams and as well to help senior management gain visibility into the progress in real terms (e.g., not only percent of time spent over budgeted time but the productivity). The intent is to also make decisions to continue or change the priorities and deliverables for the end goal.

Incremental delivery need not be working software; rather, it's the intermediate pure technical step or decision on tools to be used.

Fail fast

The concept of failing fast is intended to motivate people to invent while assuming calculated risks. This concept will give enough freedom for teams to be inventive and think differently, of which the by-product may be failure. The early lessons learned will create a solid foundation and end goal.

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.

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