Self-organising teams

“You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way in to a new kind of thinking.” — Henri Nouwen

On the subject of self-organising teams, the Scrum guide says simply,

“Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.”

But what does that actually mean in practice?

The background to this is that final clause, “rather than being directed by others outside the team.”

Turning the backlog into software

Agile and Scrum emerged from a context of traditional project management where a project manager would break down the requirements into work packages and assign them to team members. I’ve worked alongside developers who were involved in a PRINCE2-run project like that. It frustrated them. They wanted to use their creativity, their imaginations, their experience and problem-solving skills but felt they were being treated like robotic code monkeys.

To address this, Agile shifted this responsibility from a project manager to the team; the hierarchy was flattened. It was recognised that the best people to understand the requirements from a technical perspective and estimate how much effort was required to turn each requirement into software was the development team themselves.

So, on one level, that is what it means to be a self-organising team

Cf. Management

Q. What about the context of the business?

Maybe focus on contexts: requirements within the team and the wider business context.

Self-organizing (The team has the autonomy to organize itself to best complete the work items.)

“They are self-organizing. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality”

in the context of software development it means, among others things, bottom up estimation and planning at least at the sprint/team level, Development Team peer pressure to balance workload (the Development Team knows who is not pulling their weight), overall proactiveness from the Development Team to go after what needs to be done to achieve the sprint objective instead of waiting for task assignments.

Henri Nouwen said, “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way in to a new kind of thinking.”

Originally published on my work blog.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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