Agile Team Structure: How to Design One for Your Enterprise

Agile is one of the most popular and widely accepted modern approaches for software development among technology organizations. It offers…

By Testim,

Agile is one of the most popular and widely accepted modern approaches for software development among technology organizations. It offers an adaptive, iterative, and incremental methodology. The project management team uses the agile model to build and deliver products in uncertain environments, meeting the rapidly changing market condition.

But to put the agile model in action on the ground level, you also need a team that can work together conforming to the four values and 12 principles of agile.

So, if your team or organization is going agile, it’s essential to understand how to form an agile team with assigned roles and responsibilities. In this post, we’re going to look at designing an agile team structure that will be adaptable, responsive, self-manageable, and cross-functional.

But since agile is an abstract model, it has only specific guidelines. The agile methodology does not provide actions that we need to perform to execute agile development. Hence, the formation of agile teams varies depending on the situation, the organization’s needs, and what agile-based frameworks such as scrum, extreme programming (XP), and kanban you have adopted.

Following the agile guidelines, these frameworks clearly define the team roles and responsibilities. So, let’s first discuss a team structure in a lightweight, simple, and most popular agile framework: scrum.

Scrum Team Structure

Scrum is a simple iterative framework developed by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. It is especially well suited for small teams; it provides solutions to complex problems that are adjustable in new environments.

It also involves effective and productive team collaboration that can deliver value as quickly as one month. Unlike a traditional development model such as waterfall, the scrum team does not contain any subteams or manager roles.

Instead of a hierarchical structure, it follows a cross-functional and self-managing team structure that comprises up to 11 members. Each member has well-defined roles divided into three main categories:

  • Product owner
  • Scrum master
  • Development team

According to the scrum guide, out of 11 members, the dev team size should be between three and nine members, and you should have one person each for the product owner and scrum master roles. Now, let’s take a closer look at these roles.

Product Owner

The role of a product owner is assigned to an individual member who manages the product backlog. They’re responsible for creating backlog items and ensuring transparency to bring maximum value from the team and reach the product goal.

The product owner can act as a proxy owner who knows what end product the team has to build. Hence, they also make the final call on any decision throughout the development process. However, every team member is free to discuss ideas and suggest any improvements to the product owner.

Scrum Master

The scrum master is responsible for guiding the team on applying agile values and principles in the development process. They monitor the goal status to keep the team going on the right track.

However, team members are not answerable to the scrum master if they fail to practice what the scrum master says. The person who fills this role acts as a mentor. They only coach the team on how to increase teamwork, collaboration, productivity, and effectiveness.

In addition to supporting the development team, the scrum master even helps product owners find techniques for backlog management.

Development Team

The development team consists of the rest of the members, including developers, designers, and testers. The developer team is actually involved in finding out how to build and turn the product owner’s vision into a deliverable product.

To adhere to the goal timeline, developers also create a sprint backlog consisting of tasks completed during the scrum sprint.

Extending the Scrum Team Structure

Even though small scrum teams are cross-functional and self-managing, they may not be sufficient for a large, complex project. This is because such projects require more people to take delicate care of every development operation.

For instance, in rapidly advancing technology where cyberattacks have become a new normal, security testing is one task the software development process must include.

Hence, large organizations now introduce a new member: the subject matter expert (SME). SMEs are experienced and knowledgeable within a particular domain. They address concerns like security testing and quality assurance (QA) for successful product delivery.

SMEs are not part of an agile team, but they sit and engage with the scrum team. SMEs generally support the agile team and help improve product development for millions of users.

However, in some cases, organizations may not want or need SMEs. But since testing is crucial in development, you may still want another solution like available testing tools or platforms by trusted companies.

One such solution is Testim’s TestOps (test operations), which you can use to scale and manage test automation efficiently. Even if you’re not sure if your team should have a dedicated QA member, you can still use TestOps to make your product ready for a large audience.

As your application grows with more users, TestOps helps you stay in control, gives you the power to organize and manage growth, and enables you to maximize delivery speed and application quality based on insights.

In this way, you can even avoid hiring a dedicated expert member for testing/QA roles. If you want to get your hands on Testim right now, you can start for free and build up an automated test suite. You can further iterate and improve test suites as you want.

Agile Team Structure

Putting it all together, an organization transitioning to agile development can design its agile team structure to include the following important roles:

  • Product owner
  • Team lead (scrum master)
  • Developers
  • Subject matter experts (additional support)

Speaking of agile team structure, there are mainly three types: generalist, specialist, and mixed.

Generalist Agile Team

Generalist is the most common agile team structure. Here, each team member holds broad technical skill sets. This structure is best suited for a small team where you don’t have or want domain-specific experts.

Although members are not SMEs, they still have enough understanding of product development. Even generalists can play diverse roles to deliver business products effectively.

Specialist Agile Team

As the name suggests, the specialist team structure includes experts. They have excellent knowledge and experience in their areas of interest, including UI/UX, machine learning, and DevOps.

Such a team can build and deliver high-quality, impactful products in a concise cycle. However, it can also sometimes add overhead because these experts may be overqualified for regular work in a small team. Hence, the specialist agile team structure is most suitable for large enterprises with challenging projects.

Mixed Agile Team

The combination of generalists and specialists leads to a third agile team structure. A mixed agile team brings together qualities from members of both types of teams to build a very balanced team structure.

It is the most efficient structure that any organization should actually try to build. In such a team, expert members help generalists and work in close cooperation with them.

A Team of the Right People

Having a better agile team structure in an organization is what makes the implementation of agile methodology successful. A good agile team provides early and continuous product delivery and makes it flexible and adaptable for adding new requirements at any point of project development.

However, it’s also challenging to choose the right people for the role and fit the correct team and structure. Now, it’s up to you and your requirements to decide how you choose people, structure your agile team, and make it work.

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