Managing Projects with Agile Teams

"More and more organizations are adopting Agile ways of working for their projects. Many projects already work with teams. What kind of benefits can Agile teams bring for their projects, and how can you introduce agile teams into an existing project management organization?

The descriptions of Agile methods give much guidance on how to work agile on the team level. They describe the practices and support the set-up of stable Agile teams. But there is limited information on changes that are needed in projects to introduce and manage Agile teams. Setting the right project environment is crucial for Agile Project Management to succeed.

What makes agile teams different?

The first difference is the team size. Since the team members in Agile teams communicate and work together very intensively, teams consist often of maximum 7 (+/-2) people. I have seen traditional projects where teams were very large, up to hundreds of people (one can argue if it really was a team in the first place), and also projects with small teams of sometimes only 1 or 2 persons (which are functions/roles, not teams).

Agile teams make it easier for project managers to manage on a team level, since interfacing with the scrummaster only is usually enough to coordinate the ongoing work. So they do not need to stay in contact with all team members. And since teams are also more similar in size, it is easier for project managers to divide their time and attention over the different teams.

Self-Organizing Teams

The second thing that makes agile teams different is that they are self-organized, which means that they have the authority and responsibility to agree upon the work to be done directly with the product owner. This is different from most non-agile projects, where the project manager is responsible for assigning the work to teams, or even to team members.

Since the project manager is still responsible for the end result of the project, the question is how they should deal with agile teams in their project? My experience is that, if the project manager gives attention to good collaboration and communication between the team(s) and the product owner(s), the project will be able to deliver valuable results to their customers. Agile project management focuses on the relationships between the teams and stakeholders, and solves impediments that are consider to be a risk for the project.

Collaboration between Teams

Finally, most projects have multiple agile teams. It is the responsibility of the project manager to coordinate the interaction between the teams. Often a scrum of scrums is used for the synchronization of the teams.

Each team will do their own retrospectives, but it’s good to share learnings between teams. Project managers (or in some organizations line managers) can facilitate sharing of knowledge and experiences between the teams, for instance with Communties of Practice, or Open Spaces. I’m using the Golden Rules for Agile Process Improvement to continuously improve teams, and their collaboration.

Conclusion

Agile teams have different needs wrt project management. They expect that scrum project managers understand the agile principles, and support them in their agile way of working. Project managers have to assure that their teams are able to do their work, effectively and efficiently, so that they can delivering valuable products and services for their customers!

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Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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