Monday, 30 May 2011

Elastic teams absorb shocks

I've come across the idea that because cross-functional teams need a variety of skills, members of the team should aspire to be generalists. I think that is overstating the case somewhat.

Agile teams need to be able to handle workloads requiring varying mixtures of skillsets. In order to cope, teams need elasticity, that is they need to be able to temporarily boost their capacity in a particular kind of work as the situation requires.

This can be better achieved by a mixture of flexibility and focus than by either radical specialisation or radical generalisation.

Specialisation has the obvious drawback that if the specialist in a given area is at full capacity the team cannot take on any more of this kind of work. This leads to the situation where some team members aren't fully utilised but the team cannot commit to taking any more stories to "done done" in the current iteration.

Total generalisation doesn't produce idle team members, but it does prevent a team from reaching its maximum possible potential. Software development is full of difficult and technically-specific problems that may not be understood by someone who has not deeply immersed themselves in that discipline. Furthermore, it's hard for someone who isn't fully comfortable with a domain to coordinate others at the same level.

I prefer teams where there is an expert ready to take charge in the face of any given challenge and who can rely on the rest of the team to fall in behind them. This happens best when team members are specialists in their own discipline and generalists in everything else.

To return to the metaphor in the title of this post, effective agile teams have a definite shape but they have enough elasticity to absorb the shocks of atypical workloads.

No comments:

Post a Comment