Agile project managers juggle a steady stream of inputs and still have to act in the best interests of the team. Building an Agile team can feel daunting, but if you have what it takes to manage an Agile team, you should be prepared to hire and fire at the right times to fill important Agile roles, and understand how leaders can affect Agile teams.
Agile team roles
Agile teams don’t all look alike. Agile team roles can vary between Agile frameworks like Scrum (where team roles are well-defined) and Kanban (where team roles are more fluid), and in different industries and departments. Here are some examples of common Agile team roles:
Often called product owner in Agile development and project owner in Agile Marketing, this person is the assigned leader of the team. This position is typically filled by a leader already in the company such as a CMO, director, or manager. The project owner oversees the “what” of a project.
A requestor is anyone requesting work from an Agile team. A requestor could be internal or external, an individual or a group. These people are stakeholders in the project requested of the Agile team.
A team member is any individual contributor to the Agile team. One person can be a team member on multiple Agile teams.
The Scrum Master, a role specific to the Scrum methodology and sometimes included in the hybrid methodology Scrumban, filters requests that come to the Agile team, manages the backlog, and facilitates all Scrum meetings. This role is not necessarily a leadership role. In fact, it can be a rotating role held by anyone on the Agile team. The Scrum Master handles the “how” of a project.
An ideal Agile team size is small—around three to seven people. Many assign a project owner for each Agile team, though it may work to have multiple Agile teams report to a single project owner. This is a person who they are likely already reporting to. If you have more than seven people on your team, you can create multiple smaller Agile teams. Here’s are a few examples of Agile team structures within a marketing department:
Agile teams within creative services
This could be a creative services team with 4 graphic designers, 3 copywriters, and 3 video production specialists. Under this option, you would create three small Agile teams: one for all graphic design tasks and requests, one for all copy tasks and requests, and one for all video projects and requests.
Agile teams within marketing ops
This might be a large marketing ops team with smaller Agile teams based around the different solutions they support: one team for marketing automation and another for CRM and the project management solution.
Agile teams within creative services
This could apply to a cross-functional product marketing team that focuses on a specific target market. A product marketing team with multiple target markets, could create smaller Agile teams each containing a content marketer, a sales enablement specialist, and a market analyst. Each team works on only the projects and requests relevant to their target market and each individual works on their part of the process specifically.
Agile team member characteristics
There’s no secret handshake or tattoo that helps us identify one another (although that might be useful). Like any group, you’ll find variation among our ranks. But there are seven traits that successful Agile teams share:
Committed to excellence
Not every Agile team member has to possess every one of these characteristics, but the more you can get in each new hire the more power your team will have to take care of business. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Team members who are T-shaped are said to understand most aspects of a project at a basic level (the horizontal line at the top of the “T”) while having deep expertise in one area of specialization (the vertical line in center).
You may be among those who scoff at the existence of such team members, but I can assure you that they’re real. They may not be plentiful, but that’s all the more reason to work hard to find them and entice them to stick around as long as possible.
Pay them what they’re worth and put them on an Agile team, and you’ll be amazed at what T-shaped team members can pull off.
Cross-functional Agile teams are often compared to T-shaped ones, and they are similar. But team members who are cross-functional are more likely to possess skills outside of traditional disciplines.
It’s this wide-ranging skill set that lets them chip in on just about any kind of project, which in turn increases an Agile team’s velocity. The math isn’t complicated—when you don’t have to wait on external resources, you get more done in less time.
Agile teams are like versatile football players who can play both offense and defense—they can apply their skills in a multitude of situations. Because let’s face it: having a diverse skill set doesn’t help if you can’t see its applications.
From demand generation to customer experience to lead nurturing, Agile team members are chameleons who move from one environment to the next with little disruption in output. They often display a well-developed understanding of the professional environment that suits them best, which helps them find the most productive spot in whatever situation they’re in.
You don’t get continuous improvement from an Agile team that lacks curiosity. They need to constantly ask, “What if?”
What happens if I change this meeting?
How could we engage with our audience a little better?
Are we really doing the right work at the right time?
They don’t break things just for the sake of breaking, but they are genuinely interested in the results of experiments.
Traditional teams follow orders, but Agile teams won’t have their work dictated to them. This means they need to take initiative for forming campaigns and projects based on the stated business value visible in the backlog.
For some, this is terrifying, but those who operate in the Agile spirit will delight in inventing new ways to deliver results. An entrepreneurial spirit serves to guide them toward groundbreaking ways of thinking that can improve the team’s process and its output.
An Agile environment rewards group success, not personal heroics. As Jeff Sutherland puts it in Scrum:
“A team that depends on regular heroic actions to make its deadlines is not working the way it’s supposed to work.”
Balancing this team-centric mindset with an entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving can be challenging, which is why team norms are so important in an Agile environment.
7. Committed to excellence
Agile teams allow us to produce more work in less time, but we shouldn’t be content to just create more average stuff. To get the most out of an Agile approach, we need to embrace it as a way to produce better, more effective, more impactful projects.
To succeed, therefore, Agile teams need to be fully committed to doing the best work they can. “Best” doesn’t mean “100% perfect,” because perfect is the enemy of done and it will mess up your Agile workflow every time.
What it does mean is that Agile teams find a way to do the best possible work in the time available to them. They’re not OK with delivering shoddy campaigns just so they can finish before the Sprint is over.
When you’re looking to hire new members of your Agile team, keep those seven characteristics in mind. But what about the people already on your team?
Many project managers aren’t prepared for how some of team members may react when transitioning to Agile. It turns out the transition to Agile can be tough, just like any change.
Remember that while it’s deeply team-centric, the Agile methodology doesn’t work without an Agile team. You may have to make tough cuts, but they’ll make your team stronger in the long run.
Picking the right lineup may take time, but like all things Agile, it should be a process of continuous improvement. Each team member should make things a little bit better until you’ve got a tight-knit Agile dream team that any coach would envy.