From project teams to stable agile teams

Any organization when they first start working with scrum or other agile frameworks do so in project teams. These teams stay together for the duration of the project, meet regularly and deliver the project within a short time frame. Usually, such an experiment already yields considerable advantages compared to the old situation because these teams start to rapidly and regularly deliver customer value. They constantly take the latest customer insights and feedback into account when developing their product, and improve their own way of working.
29 November 2018
Bart Claassen
  • Stable teams
Organize Agile

What do we mean by stable agile teams?

By stable agile teams we refer to cross-functional teams that can carry out an assignment from end-to-end. This kind of team works together on the same assignment full time and is not dissolved when the assignment is completed. They are rather given a new assignment. This change is fundamental if you want to start working agile structurally. Instead of bringing people to the work, bring the work to the people (existing teams). In other words, you keep your teams stable. When a new project pops-up, the work is either taken to the most relevant free team or divided over (the backlog of) multiple teams.

By stable teams we explicitly do not refer to homogeneous teams that divide their people over multiple projects or assignments. We would rather refer to such a silo as a department. In such a situation, teams do not work end-to-end but rather work flows through multiple (specialized) departments.

The value of stable agile teams

As a team member of a stable team you are in one team at any given time. This means you do not have to divide your attention over multiple project teams. This decreases the amount of the required task-switching and increases focus . This ensures stable teams to deliver more value more quickly compared to non-stable teams.

Within IT and software development these types of teams are commonplace. Outside these fields many organizations cling to the idea of (relatively) short-lived project teams. If you want to stay relevant as an organization, you need to make the step towards stable teams.

The best predictor of teamsucces is not what you might expect. It is not intelligence, skills, synergy or even leadership. It is safety. What makes people feel safe? Working together in a focused way for a longer duration of time. Every time you break up a team to form a new team, you have to start this process all-over again from square one. Often it is better to give a mature stable team an assignment that does not completely matches it skillset, than forming a new team that needs to go through the forming, storming and norming phases of team development, before they start performing. High performing teams will quickly pick up the required skills, become a high performing team is a much lengthier process.

Many organizations tell us that setting up stable teams in their situation is impossible. There are too many projects and employees simply cannot focus on a single assignment at a time. This points to a more fundamental problem: the organization is unable to make real choices and prioritizes badly. Paradoxically, as the amount of different things you need to get done increases, it becomes exponentially more important to focus on one thing at a time. Only by focusing and finishing tasks and projects one by one, you will succeed to rapidly and continuously delivering customer value.

Another fundamental problem is the amount of time and information that is lost through slow and sub-par communication. This too can be tackled by using stable teams that work together, preferably at the same desk. When team members are seated closely together, information is easily shared and problems are quickly resolved. If two team members are discussing an issue, and a third has a solution, it can be solved without a need for long email conversations or meetings.



Would you like to get started with stable agile teams?

The easiest way to get started with stable teams is to simply keep a project team together after the project has been completed. Give the team a clear purpose and allow it to expand its scope to form a full time, dedicated, stable team. Another way to get started is to seek out a group of pioneers; a group of highly motivated colleagues that is ready and willing to experiment and to take on a challenge in close collaboration with a product owner and their stakeholders.

We recommend you to start out small, focus on one or two teams. They will help you to rapidly find any obstructions in the current structure of the organization that block progress. They are the trailblazers that will clear the way for other teams.

Are you also working on too many projects at the same time? Is everything both urgent and important? Do you spend most of your time at work in meetings? Are your team members unmotivated and do you miss commitment? Would you like to know how your company can start to reap the benefits of stable teams?

Feel free to get in touch. We would be happy to discuss things over coffee.

Bart Claassen

Agile Coach