November 15, 2011

Agile Agile Team Structure Design


Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 2011

Coming up with a team structure of more than just one scrum team is a tricky task. One must solve a set of constraints like:

  • how does the structure fit to the product's architecture,  feature areas and business requirements 
  • who likes to work with who in a team
  • what skills are needed in which team 
  • who likes to work on which aspect of the product
  • ...
Technology choices have to be based on available skills and the product design itself is determined by the organizational structure as given by the conway's law. These interdependencies between team and product structure make things even more difficult. Also the level of freedom people have in organizing themselves has an impact on the acceptance of the team structure itself, motivation and agile mindset within the resulting organization. The complexity of creating an agile organisation and impact of how the organization is created on the outcome hampers any top down approach to team building. A single person trying to derive an optimal team structure by analyzing the product and mapping this to team member profiles will not succeed in many cases since the task is simply to complex. And implementing the top down generated org chart and filling it up with some agile live will be hard if not impossible.

Jurgen Appelo's game Meddlers is a useful and lightweight tool to allow groups collaboratively design their own team structure and thus provides a great alternative to the single manager creating the org chart. I use it in my agile team startups to take the whole problem of designing the agile team organization and staffing the teams to the team himself. 

How to use Meddlers in a Team-Startup
Before the group can start designing the team structure the product as well as personal style and individual contribution of team members need to be covered, e.g. in a first part of the workshop or during preparation. When these topics are sufficiently understood by the group I start the team structure design with presenting some constraints for the team structure like:


Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 2011

  • Choose team members according to interest in the main feature area(s) and who wants to work together
  • Scrum guide 2011 (Team must be self-organizing,  cross-functional, and does not contain sub-teams, ...)
  • Development team size (3/6)
  • Required set of skills/capabilities each team must have to turn backlog items into increment
  • Balance of personalities and perspectives in every team - the more diverse the better


Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 2011

After agreeing on the design constraints player teams of 4-6 people and an additional team acting as sounding board for the players are formed. For grouping the teams use the same constraints as for the final team structure. A simple and quick way to do this is to let the group standing in a circle throw a ball from person to person until team is fill up and repeating this until all player teams are staffed. The players get a timebox of 20 minutes to design a team structure and staff the teams using the Meddlers cards. They receive feedback and help by the sounding board who can freely walk around checking their blind spots and help out with any other problems. After the first iteration each team get's a 5 minute timebox for presenting their result to the whole group and collect feedback. From my experience a minimum of an additional timebox of 20 minutes is needed to incorporate the feedback and come up with an improved design, depending on the size maybe more. After the final iteration the design teams get a 5 minute timebox for presenting their result. Then a few minutes should be sufficient for the whole group to vote for the best design. As the last step the design with the best voting - or designs, if it is undecided - are refined and quality checked in an open fishbowl session of 30 minutes. The timebox for the whole collaborative team design takes about 60 - 120 minutes.

Implementing a team structure which is designed using Meddlers is straightforward. It leaves a group energized and motivated to start the new structure since it's owned by the group. I've seen teams just reorganizing their workplaces the next day in the office without any manager involved. I keep the result of the design in the team room to have it ready as starting point and playing ground for continuously growing the agile organization.


Print on A3 200 g paper and cut enough
game sets to prepare startup
Make sure to print the game on A3 format on 200 g/sq.m or thicker paper and cut as many games as needed. Also having some double sided sticky tape and flipchart paper or large carton is useful to assure the results. 

It would be great to have a place for name tags on the role cards but using small Post-it notes do the job too. For the roles it would be nice to have a blank role to be filled in ad hoc, agile manager and CTO/CIO.


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