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Organizing for Agility

When applying agile principles and practices at a team level, designing a project-based cross-functional team appears to be pretty straightforward. One “simply” finds some good developers, analysts and QA people, selects an appropriate product owner, assigns a scrum master, secures a co-located room and allows them to develop as a team. When organizations attempt agility at scale, cross-functional team design collides with existing organization structure, which is typically organized around function, activity, or knowledge base. How does one structure many (perhaps scores) of cross-functional teams without creating agile silos that reinforce inter-team dependencies and hand offs? Following are some general principles that can be applied to specific organizational contexts:

  • Employ a model of continuous delivery or flow of value instead rather than projects with distinct starts and stops
  • Create long-lasting teams organized around the business value rather than short-term teams organized around activity or projects
  • Seek to optimize the entire value system rather than ensuring that individual subject matter experts are 100% utilized

If you are contemplating an organization redesign, please review the book Agile IT Organization Design by Sriram Narayan, It provides analysis of factors that drive the need for organization design as well as a deep dive into organization design factors such as accountability, alignment, finance, staffing, tooling, metrics, and cultural norms. The book provides a great summary of commonly-accepted lean / agile principles and practices along with a few less-common ideas such as:

  • Those whose role is primarily planning (particularly project managers) should spend around 20% of their time actually doing work related to the product such as development and testing
  • Allowing teams to choose their own tools
  • Avoiding the use of standard templates for documents, reports and presentations
  • Making decisions based on written input rather than verbal discussions in meetings
  • Use of metrics to measure adaptability rather than those that measure predictability

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