Agile Team Launch – a Howto Guide for Managers

Starting off on the right foot is just as important as it ever was. However, with Agile Work, this takes on a significantly different meaning than it does in other methods as the emphasis of what is “right” is also significantly different. This is a short guide on how to successfully launch a team using Agile Work.

0. Do what you need to in your organization to get a project and its budget approved. This usually involves some sort of business case, project charter and approval process. This may sound obvious, but the organizational support that this provides is essential.

1. Management must have a basic understanding of the method and in particular the roles: Queue Master, Process Facilitator and Team. This can be accomplished in a number of ways: reading, attending a workshop, or bringing a coach in to do a brief presentation. By “management” is meant at least the person sponsoring the launch of an agile team.

2. Individual people must be identified to fill the Queue Master and Process Facilitator roles. At first, these people should be assigned to these roles full-time and relieved of their previous duties. Ideally, the people filling these roles are volunteers from a pre-selected group of appropriate candidates.

3. The Queue Master and Process Facilitator must both get some initial training. For this, the following books are recommended for both roles: Agile Estimating and Planning (Robert C. Martin Series), User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development (Addison-Wesley Signature Series), and Agile Project Management with Scrum (Microsoft Professional). Unfortunately, all of these books are software-specific and if you need to apply Agile Work in a non-software environment, there will be some effort in translating the concepts and practices. You may need more specific training depending on the criticality of your pilot project.

4. Form up the team. Getting this right is not easy: the team needs to remain relatively small (5 people is about right), but at the same time include people with all the skills necessary to deliver the whole project. You need people who are good at the various technical skills needed, the people skills needed, the problem-solving and analysis skills needed, and the administrative skills. All these people need to be part of the team right from the start. Again, for emphasis: do not start the project before all these people and their skills are dedicated to the team and they have been relieved of their previous duties. Forming the team includes logistical concerns such as where the team will sit, making sure they have the right equipment for their work, etc.

5. If you are trying agile for the first time, don’t consider using a distributed team or off-shore resources. Nor telecommuters. This type of stuff is better left for once your organization has more experience with agile methods.

6. Provide initial training to your team. Include the Queue Master and Process Facilitator in this training (they are considered part of the team). Also include any significant stakeholders in the results of the project. Give them, at a minimum, a one-day introduction to agile.

7. The Queue Master creates an initial Work Queue. The rest of the team should participate in this process. The creation of this Work Queue must be timeboxed. I advise that it should only be given 1 or 2 percent of the overall project time. Decide before you start on how long will be given to this. The end result of this is a Work Queue that has some number of work items defined, understood by the team, valued, costed, and prioritized. The Work Queue does not have to be “finished”. It is more important to hold to the timebox than to get the Work Queue “right”. Remember that the Work Queue will continue to be refined as the team progresses in its work. Do not under any circumstances create the initial Work Queue in the absence of the team!

8. Run a brief project workshop. In this workshop, the team answers basic questions about the nature of the project run with agile methods such as:
– what is the length of our iterations?
– what are the team’s core hours (when do all the team members commit to working together as opposed to working on administrivia)?
– what other teams/groups do we need to work with?
– are we missing any critical skills (now that we have seen the initial Work Queue)?
– what are the priorities of the project (quality, scope, time, budget, experimentation, etc.)?

– Consider doing a workshop on corporate culture and agile methods to help the team understand some of the challenges it will face and where it can find support
– Consider doing some initial team building exercises. Particularly if people on the team haven’t worked together previously, this can help the team to get over some initial hurdles.
– Consider getting junior members of the team some additional training on the techniques, technologies or tools used in the team’s work. This can be arranged so that it is done simultaneously with some of the team’s early iterations.
– Consider engaging a coach or mentor for your Process Facilitator. This coach can be someone inside the organization who has extensive experience with agile methods or an external consultant who comes for a limited time to help your Process Facilitator.
None of these optional items should unduly delay the start of the first iteration.

10. Start your first iteration. There should be little or no delay or waiting between the creation of the team and the start of the first iteration. At this point the Process Facilitator is responsible for the process, the Queue Master is responsible for the value delivered, and the Team is responsible for delivering results.

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