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Finding Agility in Stabilty

The importance of stable teams

1 September 2017

Shane Billings

Many people confuse Agile with changing whenever and for whatever reason. This is simply not the case. Instead, Agile defines how and when to change. It shows how to respond to change. In truth, it is a very structured philosophy and practice that bends but doesn’t break. When compared to traditional methods of management, this becomes apparent. Traditional management can change too rapidly to be effective. Team stability perfectly exemplifies how Agile follows a different view than traditional mindsets.

Traditional team formation was performed based on funding of the project. Teams were formed as projects were funded. The lead of the project would recruit from other areas of the company that were winding down or people who were not fully engaged somewhere else. Deals were made and employees were hired. Transition plans were created that involved questionable percentages of time with one group versus another. During the project, more changes came as teams on the project were rearranged to meet immediate needs and put out fires. Teams could not stabilize due to the never-ending sources of immediate need. The idea was that the expertise should follow the work. The top players were in demand and rewarded by chasing fires while other employees were underutilized. Preventing emergencies was not rewarded. Once the project was completed, other new projects poached employees and the process started again. In some cases, the lack of new projects resulted in layoffs.

Agile promotes another way: Keep the teams as stable as possible. Bring them the new work rather than bringing them to the work. The idea is that there are benefits to a stable team, and rearranging the team simply isn’t necessary. Although it takes work and growth from all involved, it is possible to keep teams stable. While traditional models focus on and reward the performance of the individual, the Agile model focuses on the team.

Why are stable teams better? In a study of 50,000 Agile teams, it was shown that stable teams are associated with 60% better productivity, 40% better predictability, and 60% better responsiveness (“The Impact of Agile. Quantified.” CA Technologies. 2017). The reason for these improved qualities is found in Bruce Tuckman’s popular forming-storming-norming-performing model. This model asserts that teams require time, as a team, to get to where they are truly performing at their optimum level. Teams that are unstable will remain in the forming, storming, or norming phase and never reach the more productive performing phase.

Stable teams also result in lower management overhead. It takes a lot of work to arrange and rearrange teams to meet fluctuating needs. In addition, budgets become simpler with stable teams. There is a reduction in employees waiting for projects to be established to work on.

One particularly attractive advantage of stable teams is increased predictability. There is simply no way to predict when an unstable team will deliver. It’s like hammering a nail with different hammers for each stroke. There is no telling when the hammering will finish if the impact on the nail changes with each stroke. Alternatively, stable teams have been doing similar jobs for a while. They know how long things will take to complete because they have done similar work in the past.

No wonder stable teams are a staple of Scrum. The benefits are tremendous.

Inevitably, change is going to happen. Agile will help in handling the change. We don’t have to increase the inevitable change by creating variances of our own making. In a sea of change, stability in the right areas will create a stable ship capable of navigating the turbulent, ever-changing waters.

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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