Jun 162015
 

Agile Development Requires Agile Staffing
The impacts of the growing agility requirements within staffing cross a broad territory, currently limited only by the relatively small number of individuals involved. However, these impacts will continue and likely grow in importance as Agile principles become prevalent. Some potential issues and needs to look out for include:

  • Revising existing job descriptions and establishing new specialties. Businesses should create new Agile jobs, such as product owner and ScrumMaster. These are not management jobs in the traditional sense, but they do require resources and responsibilities. Older project management positions should be altered or eliminated. Similarly, Agile development team members should develop collaboration and communications skills and may need training in the use of collaborative technologies, particularly where there are geographical or cultural divisions between teams or team members. There is an ongoing debate, particularly in the Scrum community, over the advisability of incorporating remote teams, though this may be necessary for many reasons.
  • Encouraging “T-shaped” development of general capability around deep specialties. All members of the project team should have shared proficiency in basic tasks, but team members also need deep expertise in specialty areas relevant to a specific project. Some advocate the use of permanent teams that can move between projects to encourage cohesion, although this can decrease flexibility depending on department size and specialization requirements. Overall, encourage acquiring deep specialties in hiring, training, and advancement.
  • Establishing management and oversight of Agile groups that do not get in the way of self-organization. Agile teams need to be self-organized and self-directed, but they still need to be accountable to business leaders, activities need to be assessed, and they need to respond to the strategic needs of the firm. These teams require integration with the firm and must interface with the existing organization across innumerable areas.
  • Developing work practices around a team and project-based organization. Agile development is organized around the team and its activities, which makes matrix management difficult. The team should be highly cohesive and self-directed. It’s important to ensure effective communications with stakeholders in projects; the integration of team activity with outside departments may need adjustment. Fluid operation across traditional boundaries may become critical.
  • Providing training capabilities and role assignments consistent with Agile practices. Because of the rapid evolution of technologies and changing needs for new skills, training and role assignment should be more flexible in an Agile environment. Training is often preferable to hiring, and the availability of training and training materials is a priority.
  • Ensuring training and hiring practices are consistent with Agile practices and do not break down group cohesion. Although it may seem quicker to fill Agile roles with experienced new hires, adding new people can disrupt teams by displacing trusted team members and forcing teams to undergo reorganization. Practices should ensure that team members can be effectively added to, or removed from, teams with minimal disruption, if necessary. This requires understanding team dynamics and personality issues as well as the skills and knowledge that will be added or lost.
  • Developing new sources for locating and vetting Agile performers (i.e., through open source communities). Organizations will likely face changes in the types of skills required; for instance, there is greater emphasis on collaboration. There are also new roles to fill, so changes in recruiting are likely.
  • Understanding team dynamics for Agile projects when developing departmental or geographical divisions. Since Agile teams require cohesion and communication, splitting teams across geographical areas proves difficult (though not impossible). Clearly, these splits will occur, particularly with complex projects requiring numerous participants and complex specialties. Organizations need to handle the divisions in a way that is most conducive to collaboration, and they must adapt processes such as daily meetings to function across these divisions.
  • Incorporating a widening range of activities as Agile practices move toward a more generalized DevOps operational practice. Agile practices will expand through the enterprise, creating new staffing and integration challenges. Experience gained in handling Agile development staffing requirements is invaluable in meeting the needs of next-generation Agile requirements.
  • Integrating Agile job requirements in performance reviews, such as the ability to collaborate, job facilitation, ScrumMaster skills, and so on. Revamp your internal career paths to Agile needs, and adjust compensation accordingly.

The most critical issues likely revolve around team makeup. In today’s fast-moving world, there is a tendency to hire specialties as needed rather than seek them inhouse. However, hiring in a project- and team-based environment can create resentment. Even though the results of hiring might seem more immediate, the results of providing training for those willing to undertake new roles can be immeasurably more successful. Teams take time to establish themselves and become efficient, and can become even better over time. This also means that disassembling and assembling new teams every time a project comes up may not be an ideal solution. It is probably more effective to have a range of teams already available and choose the best fit for the new job rather than following the “storming, forming, norming, and performance” phases of team development over and over again.

Agile teams need empowerment to perform their allotted task as well as an environment that supports team cohesion. They also need to be integrated into the business environment, with suitable incentives, training, and career paths to ensure sustained effort.

Overall, Agile development demands agile staffing. It is important to consider the effects of HR decisions on the team at all times. Individuals who fail to perform or who fail to adequately cooperate within the team can easily derail Agile efforts. Perhaps more importantly, though, organizations will forfeit the benefits of agility if Agile principles are not sustained, causing teams to revert back to a fragmented command-and-control organization.

Photo by Enrique Fernández via CC license.

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Brian Dooley

Brian J. Dooley is a Senior Consultant with Cutter Consortium's Data Analytics & Digital Technologies practice. He is an author, analyst, and journalist with more than 30 years' experience in analyzing and writing about IT trends.

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