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February 28, 2024

Building and managing Agile teams

Agile Roadmapping Resource Management
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

Aligning and optimizing an Agile team takes time. Transforming your team from a group of strangers into an efficient unit that delivers great value to customers requires an intentional process.

In this post, we’ll break down the steps for building a high-performing Agile team. The process can help you gauge where your team is on its development journey and what to expect next.

Once your team reaches its full potential, you’ll still need to actively manage some areas. We’ll take a look at those, too.

What is an Agile team?

An Agile team is a cross-functional group of people who work together on the same project. Together, the team members have all the competencies required to deliver the project from start to finish.

The members all work towards a common goal. In Agile, all contributors share accountability for the project’s success or failure. Size-wise, an Agile team usually consists of 3 to 10 people, but it’s not a rule all frameworks follow.

Characteristics of an Agile team

  • Self-organization: The whole team works together to plan the work and make adjustments as needed.

  • Holding each other accountable: The members share accountability for delivering work and foster a culture of helping each other out.

  • Customer centricity: Adding value to the customer is the team’s priority.

  • Continuous improvement: The team strives to optimize skills and processes gradually to get better results.

  • Cross-functionality: The team has all the competencies necessary to deliver the project.

  • Collaboration: Agile teams collaborate and work towards a shared vision.

  • Adaptability: When requirements and priorities change or unexpected challenges arise, the team can handle them.

  • Communication: The team communicates frequently and openly about goals. Developers devise a plan for each Sprint and adapt it to fulfill the Sprint Goal.

Characteristics of an Agile team.

Agile team: roles and responsibilities

The roles of an Agile team can vary depending on the framework. For example, roles in Scrum might differ from those in Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®).

As Scrum is the most popular Agile framework, most teams apply its roles in their organization. So, here’s a quick breakdown of Scrum roles:

Product Owner – a person who defines the product’s vision and business value. This role sets the course of the team’s work, including the direction and priority of items/user stories. The PO is accountable for Product Backlog management. Last but not least, the Product Owner represents the needs of Stakeholders.

Developers – the people who build the product. They create value for the stakeholders and directly own specific tasks that must be completed to fulfill Sprint goals. Developers devise a plan for each Sprint and adapt it to fulfill the Sprint Goal.

Scrum Master – a person accountable for establishing and cultivating Scrum’s pillars, values, and practices in the team. On top of that, the Scrum Master is accountable for the team’s effectiveness. The role also acts as a coach in terms of self-management and cross-functionality. The Scrum Master acts as a servant leader within the team.

Stakeholder – a person outside the team with a specific interest (a stake) in a product. It can be a project sponsor, a customer, or an executive, to name a few. Stakeholders don’t participate in most Scrum Events (except the Sprint Review). Instead, they are represented by the Product Owner.

4 stages of Agile team development

High-performing Agile teams don’t just happen. Every Agile team goes through a four-stage process to become the best version of itself. These stages are based on Bruce Tuckman’s group development model.

1. Forming

At this stage, team members are unclear about their roles and responsibilities. Processes are not yet established and their knowledge of the product is relatively low. The manager (or Product Owner) guides the team, provides resources, and empowers members to gain more independence.

Interestingly, forming starts all over again when someone joins or leaves the team. After all, group dynamics change and the shared skill sets might be divided differently.

2. Storming

During the storming phase, members know much more about the product and the objectives. They also know how team decisions are made.

But the details of how the team works together are still unclear. The team starts “figuring each other out.” Members begin voicing opinions more frequently. They cooperate, solve problems, and start learning each other’s work and communication styles. Team members might sometimes clash, but it’s all part of the learning process. In a healthy environment, conflict uncovers different perspectives and leads to better decisions.

To speed up the storming process, you can use team-building exercises. These kinds of exercises help team members get to know one another better and cooperate in a fun atmosphere.

3. Norming

At this point, the members know each other well and understand everyone’s roles within the group. There’s more awareness of skills and how everyone’s work affects the rest of the team. Members are more likely to self-manage, reducing their reliance on managers/Product Owners.

In the norming stage, increased alignment and responsibility emerge. The whole group is committed to the team’s goals.

But the development isn’t over. Now the team starts optimizing processes and improving skills.

4. Performing

At the last stage of Agile team development, the team consistently performs at a high level. The members plan their work and deliver value for the customer. Their work contributes to the Product Goal.

There’s little to no oversight because the team has the skills, knowledge, and confidence to manage themselves successfully. Their experience enables them to think strategically rather than simply focusing on short-term work.

Lastly, an Agile team reaches a performing stage when members evaluate their processes and metrics.

It’s worth noting that the performing stage doesn’t have a finish line. Agile teams continuously improve their skills, quality, and efficiency.

Phases of Agile team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

Key areas of Agile team management

Just because your Agile team reaches the performing stage doesn’t mean there’s nothing to manage. The initiatives might run more smoothly and teams might require less oversight, but as an Agile manager, you still need to monitor things.

Let’s look at two critical areas that require your attention regardless of your team’s development stage.

Capacity

“Capacity” is the amount of work a person or team can deliver in a given time. Like user stories, Agile capacity is usually estimated in story points.

Knowing the team’s capacity is vital during Sprint Planning: It gives you a point of reference for assigning tasks. Use this data to avoid overloading your team members.

Work management software like Jira can show you the story point value for each task, but won’t show you the total number of story points in a project or Sprint. You won’t see a baseline to compare the assigned workload.

But using the BigPicture app, you get a comprehensive view of capacity data. You can set capacity limits for individual members or the entire team. This capability is helpful for teams at the performing stage. They know how to estimate their workload, so all you need to do is enter their capacity limits in BigPicture:

An example of capacity limits in BigPicture.

That will provide you with a point of reference for the Agile board, which can display the allocation of all story points in a Sprint and individual story point values for each task. The app will warn you if the number of allocated story points exceeds capacity.

Allocation warning in BigPicture's Board module.

And if you measure progress in days instead of story points, BigPicture can handle that, too.

Measuring and reporting progress

Before you can measure progress, you have to choose your metrics. And there are a lot of metrics to choose from. For example, you can use team velocity to track your team’s effectiveness. But you can also measure the business impact, quality of output, or customer satisfaction.

Then there’s reporting to higher-ups. Executives want status updates on your projects to see if their resources are properly managed. If you want accurate reports, you need real-time data.

To improve your tracking and reporting capabilities, use Dashboard Hub Pro. This Appfire app enables you to create unlimited reports and gather them in dashboards. For example, you can create a dashboard tracking all your Agile metrics in one place. The reports are dynamic, so your data always reflects actual progress automatically.

An example of an Agile board in Dashboard Hub Pro

You can turn this app into a single source of information for all your initiatives. With more than 100+ Jira metrics and the ability to create your own, you can track and visualize any information you need.

The data flows from Jira immediately, so your Agile team members can log their work there, and you’ll see the progress on a higher level in Dashboard Hub Pro.

You can easily send your dashboards to executives in seconds. They don’t even have to open the app to see your report.

Appfire supports your Agile management efforts

Whether you’re planning, overseeing the execution, or reporting the progress of a project, our apps can help you do it easier and faster. Appfire’s Agile Work Management solution can help your organization in multiple ways:

  • Streamlining planning on a project, program, or portfolio level

  • Increasing the visibility of initiatives at any level of granularity

  • Achieving alignment between strategy and execution

  • Supercharging collaboration within and across teams

  • Keeping the stakeholders up to date