Agile Teams: Roles & Structures

Agile teams have become the norm in software development. But with the different options of agile methodologies, it can be tough to know what roles and structures work best for your team.

In this guide, we'll walk you through the different agile roles and structures, and help you decide which one is right for your team. 

Agile team roles

The term “agile team role” refers to the set of responsibilities and expectations associated with being a member of an agile team. In most cases, these roles are distinct from and complementary to those played by traditional project management roles.

These are the common agile team roles. 

Agile team lead

The role of the Agile team lead or scrum master in the scrum methodology is to oversee the entire team and ensure that everyone is productive and working together effectively. They keep the team on track by removing any roadblocks, resolving conflicts, and ensuring that everyone has what they need to be productive. They also act as a mentor and coach to the team members, helping them to grow and improve their skills.

The team lead should work as a servant leader, providing the right environment for the team to thrive. Team leads are the backbone of agile ceremonies, always guiding the team members to make the most of each activity. 

Product owner 

The role of product owner in agile teams can be described as the team member who is responsible for representing the interests of the stakeholder group. They provide vision and business direction to the team, working with them to ensure that the final product meets needs and expectations. As such, they are necessary members of any agile team.

Product owners typically come from a variety of backgrounds, including product management, business analysis, marketing, and even development. However, no matter their background or level of experience, successful product owners share some common traits. They are passionate about products and users, articulate and good at communication, able to take feedback constructively, decisive when necessary but also willing to let others make decisions when appropriate.

Developers 

The role of developers or programmers in an agile team is to write code. That may seem like a pretty obvious statement, but it's important to remember that the developers are responsible for the functionality and quality of the code that makes up the product. In fact, we can rightfully say that developers are the main actors in the agile development process - the heroes who bring the product to life. 

In order to ensure that they're meeting the team's demands, developers need to be able to work closely with product owners and stakeholders to understand the requirements and then translate them into code. They also need to be able to work effectively in a team environment, participating in code reviews and ensuring that their code is compliant with the standards that be.

Business teams 

The business team's role is to provide input on the product and prioritize the features that need to be developed. They work closely with the product owner to make sure that the product vision is clear and that the features being developed meet the needs of the customer.

The business team is also responsible for ensuring that the product is profitable and aligns with the defined goals. They work with stakeholders to gather feedback and make sure that the product is evolving in the right direction.

Stakeholders 

The stakeholders are important members of the agile team, and their role may differ depending on the agile methodology that is being used. In Scrum, for example, the stakeholders are responsible for approving the product backlog and ensuring that it is updated regularly. They also meet regularly with the team to provide feedback and ensure that the project is on track.

In Kanban, the stakeholders may have a more hands-on role in managing the workflow, and may be responsible for things like creating and managing WIP limits. It's important to discuss the role of the stakeholders with your team and agree on what specific responsibilities they will have.

Subject matter experts 

One of the most important roles on an agile team is the Subject Matter Expert, or SME. This person is responsible for understanding the product and its requirements in depth, and they play a key role in ensuring that the team is always moving in the right direction.

The SME typically works with the Product Owner to define and prioritize features. They also work with the development team to make sure that all the requirements are met. They're also responsible for verifying that the product meets customer expectations once it's released.

Testers

Testing is a fundamental step in the software development process. The testers' role is to help ensure the quality of the software. They work closely with the developers to find and fix defects, and they also play a key role in user acceptance testing. In short, they make sure that the software meets the requirements and is fit for release.

Testers need to have a good understanding of both the business requirements and the technical requirements, so they can test the software effectively. They also need to be able to communicate effectively with developers and other members of the team.

Customer 

The customer's role in agile is to be engaged and involved in the project. They provide early  feedback and approve or disapprove of features and changes as they are developed. They are also responsible for representing the needs of the end user and ensuring that the final product meets their expectations.

Agile Team Structure

An agile team structure is the architecture that organizes the different aspects of the agile team, from activities to workflows and roles. It’s essentially the foundation that guides the agile teams to organize their work.

Here are the most common agile team structures:

Generalist structure

As the name suggests, this type of team structure is made up of generalists who are able to work on a variety of tasks and are able to switch between them as needed.

This type of structure is ideal for companies that are just starting out with Agile, as it's more flexible and can be scaled up or down as needed. However, it can also be limiting in terms of specialization and knowledge sharing.

Specialist structure

In the specialist team structure, each team is made up of specialists who work together to complete specific tasks. For example, you might have a team of developers, a team of testers, and a team of graphic designers. 

The specialist agile team structure is ideal for agile projects that require a variety of skill sets, and it can be more efficient than having generalist teams that are trying to do everything.

Transitioning structure

This type of structure is characterized by its flexibility and ability to adapt to change by responding rapidly to new challenges and opportunities. This agile team structure is well-suited for businesses that operate in fast-paced environments and need to be able to quickly adapt to new conditions.

In addition, a transitioning agile team can also help to promote creativity and innovation within a project.

Parallel structure

This setup features multiple, self-sufficient teams that work independently of each other. Each team is responsible for completing its own tasks, and there is minimal collaboration between teams.

This type of structure is ideal for small businesses or projects with a limited budget, as it's cheaper to set up and manage than other structures. It also allows teams to move at their own pace and work on their own priorities without being slowed down by other teams. However, this type of structure can also lead to duplication of work and communication issues if not managed correctly.

Product sub-team structure

Under this structure, each product has its own dedicated team, which is responsible for all aspects of development from design to delivery. A sub team works on a particular area of the product, which combines with other areas to build up to the end product. 

This setup is great for products that are complex or have a lot of dependencies, as it allows for more specialization and gives teams more control over their allocated portions of work.

Mixed agile team structure

A mixed agile structure is a great option if you want the flexibility to move tasks between teams as needed. This type of team is made up of both waterfall and agile team members, and typically works on tasks that are suitable for both methods.

One of the benefits of using a mixed agile team structure is that it can help to speed up the transition to agile, as team members can share their knowledge and skills with one another. However, it can also be more difficult to manage, so it's important to make sure that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities.

Characteristics of efficient agile structures

In order for agile development teams to be truly agile, they need to exhibit certain characteristics in their structure. Here is a look at the most essential characteristics of an efficient agile team.

Agile teams should be self-managing

Self managing means that the team is able to manage their own work and dependencies, without too much input from management.

This is important because it gives the team a sense of ownership and responsibility for their work. It also allows them to be more flexible and adaptable to changes, which is essential in an agile environment.

Agile teams should be dedicated

Your agile team should be dedicated to their work. This means that they are completely focused on the project at hand and are not working on anything else.

Dedication is especially important in the early stages of a project, when the team is still getting used to working together. By being fully committed to the project, team members can quickly adapt to each other's working styles and develop a strong rapport.

Agile teams should be long term

Your agile team should be long-lived. In other words, the team should be together for a while, and not constantly changing members.

This creates the perfect environment for trust to build among team members, and for knowledge to be shared effectively. It also helps to avoid the confusion that can come with constantly having new people joining the team.

Agile teams should be cross-functional

When building an agile team, it's important to make sure that all of the necessary skills are represented. That's why it's essential to have a cross functional team, which is made up of people with diverse skills and backgrounds. This way, everyone on the team can contribute and share their ideas, which is key in producing exceptional results.

Agile teams should have a strong culture

This is arguably one of the most important factors for a successful agile team.  A strong team culture is essential for creating a sense of belonging, unity and solidarity within the team. It also fosters trust and collaboration, which are key ingredients for an efficient agile team.

So, what makes up a good team culture? There are many factors, but some of the key ingredients include trust, respect, communication and accountability.

Agile teams should have well-defined responsibilities

This means that everyone on the team knows what they're responsible for and what they need to do to complete their tasks. This ensures that everyone is working towards the same goal and eliminates any confusion or overlap.

Additionally, having clearly defined roles ensures that everyone is accountable for their actions. This can be especially helpful when it comes to identifying who is responsible for any delays or mistakes.

Agile teams should communicate well

To be efficient, agile team members should be able to communicate well with each other. This means sharing information openly and frequently, and being willing to listen to others' ideas. By working together as a team, everyone will be able to move faster and achieve more.

Further reading: agile implementation 

Concluding remarks

So now you know all about the different roles and structures that you can use in your agile strategy. It's important to remember that there is no one perfect setup for everyone. You need to find the structure and roles that work best for your team and project.

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