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Introduction to Agile project management

Introduction to Agile management

Agile project management is inherently different from traditional methods. In Agile projects, planning is collaborative and progressively develops through feedback loops. In order to understand Agile project management, a good place to start is the team dynamics.

Agile teams versus traditional teams

In traditional teams, members are usually not expected to cross their domain boundaries and perform tasks beyond their role. For instance, traditional team formation would need a business analyst to work on data analysis, a solution architect to perform technical design, a developer to create and compile the code, and so on.

Agile teams are cross-functional, which means that everyone needs to be open to taking on all tasks. For example, the business analyst may need to help the solution architect with the technical design if it becomes a priority for a given sprint. Agile teams are also self-organising and do not have a hierarchical structure, unlike traditional teams.

This image illustrates the differences between traditional teams and Agile teams.

Graphic shows traditional teams versus agile teams. Traditional teams is on the left of the diagram. There are icons of individuals arranged in a pyramid shape. On the very top of the pyramid is the "Project manager / team lead". Agile teams is on the right of the diagram. There are icons of individuals arranged in a circular way. Written in the middle of the icons is "Self-organising". One of the icons is labelled "Leader facilitator". Click to enlarge

It’s important to note that an Agile team may still need some specialists. The right balance for a specific team will depend on the project and circumstances.

Let’s have a closer look at the factors that make an Agile team.

Cross-functional teams

Cross-functional teams are teams comprising individuals from different functional areas of the organisation, such as marketing, product, sales, design, and customer service. They have all the skills necessary to create value in each product cycle. They are self-managing and self-sufficient (i.e. they decide internally who does what, when, and how), and they can manage all project-related tasks by themselves. Owing to these characteristics, cross-functional teams operate independently and take on the freedom to make their own decisions about their ways of working.

Cross-functional teams are popular for their ability to deliver product increments in the most effective and efficient way. They clear roadblocks and bottlenecks quickly, significantly increasing their team’s likelihood of success. This also leads to increased interactions amongst team members.

T-shaped people

Agile teams are made up of T-shaped members. The term ‘T-shaped member’ was first coined and used at McKinsey & Company; it was then popularised by the IDEO CEO, Tim Brown. [1]

Graphic shows a T shaped person. On the T shape, "Cross-functional knowledge" is written on the horizontal line and "Deep knowledge" on the vertical line.Click to enlarge

T-shaped members possess expertise in a particular area but also work broadly across all aspects of any project. Therefore, the T-shaped team member focuses on their area of expertise but also takes on other priority tasks outside their domain expertise in times of need. This allows for flexibility in resources and equips the team to be effective and adaptive in delivery. An example of this would be when a graphic designer jumps in to support the team in simple video edits; this develops the individuals’ expertise in graphic design and video editing.

For further reading on T-shaped individuals and their advantages to organisations, you can read the article Why T-shaped people? [2]

Self-organisation

Self-organisation is an important element of Agile teams. Team members have to continuously reorganise themselves in a sense-and-respond manner to shifting contexts and demands.

There are several benefits of a self-organising team. These include:

  • faster action-taking and decision-making
  • individual and team development
  • less effort needed for managing a team
  • increased customer focus and product quality
  • increased employee motivation.

In a self-organising team, each individual is empowered to make decisions and has enough freedom to do their job in their way. Self-organising increases the team’s opportunities to explore hidden or unused talents of team members.

Over to you

What are your thoughts about T-shaped members? Do you prefer clear role descriptions, or do you prefer the flexibility of trying different roles?
Share your response in the comments below.

References

1. T-Shaped Skills [Internet]. CFI; [date unknown]. Available from: https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/careers/soft-skills/t-shaped-skills/

2. Jason Yip. Why T-shaped people [Internet]. Medium; 2018 Mar 24. Available from: https://jchyip.medium.com/why-t-shaped-people-e8706198e437

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Introduction to Agile Project Management

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