How to Structure an Agile Development Scrum Team

Business

How to Structure an Agile Development Scrum Team

Arul Raju

Published December 2, 2021

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Change is a certainty in every aspect of life, whether personal or professional, at an individual level or in society and the world as a whole. The inquisitive and problem-solving nature of human beings draws them towards innovation. This leads to further change in the way the world works.

With technology innovation, the change affects everyone, including businesses. And like people, businesses need to adapt to these changes and deal with them in the best possible manner. Innovations are also the key to a business's survival. Every organization aims to bring innovative services and products as solutions to problems that consumers face.

There are many approaches to how a solution is arrived at for a problem. In project management and software development, various methodologies help see a problem through. One such methodology is Agile.

What is Agile Methodology?

Agile Software Development Methodology or simply Agile uses an iterative approach to project management and software development. The iterative approach helps teams deliver value to customers regularly, at short intervals, and faster pace than other methodologies. Instead of waiting for one final big solution, an agile team delivers it in small incremental consumables. 

The requirements, plans, and results are subject to continuous evaluation so that teams can respond to the changes quickly within the stipulated time.

Agile is an umbrella term used for a defined set of frameworks and practices. These are defined based on values and principles as articulated in the Manifesto for Agile Development. Agile methodology, as its name suggests, offers flexibility in its approach. It isn’t restricted to a set of specific development techniques. It is implemented as a group of methodologies with a focus on feedback cycles and continuous improvement.

An Agile way of managing software development projects is Scrum. Scrum, owing to its popularity, is often confused with the term, Agile, itself. However, it is a framework for managing a process based on Agile.

In the Agile development approach to software development and Scrum framework, the focus is on the people doing the work and their collaboration. Solutions are the results of the collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams that utilize the appropriate practices for their problems. Collaboration and self-organizing teams form the core of implementing the Agile methodology and Scrum framework.

What Is the Scrum Framework?

Scrum, as a framework, helps to practice building Agile principles into daily communication and work. It is an iterative project management framework that lets businesses and teams implement the Agile methodology. Being heuristic, it focuses on constant improvement and learning to enable an agile mindset and collaborative project agile development.

Scrum is structured to help teams smoothly adapt to changing situations and user requirements. Short release cycles and in-built re-prioritization help the team constantly learn and improve during the process. Utilizing a few rules, the framework provides a flexible guideline to be followed and adapted as per specific projects and development environments. This flexibility makes the framework a sought-after structure across teams and organizations. 

The basic Scrum framework consists of the following elements:

  • Scrum team roles: product owner, Scrum Master, and development team
  • A prioritized backlog of user requirements Sprints
  • Scrum events – includes sprint planning and daily Scrum meetings, sprint review meetings, and retrospectives.

What is a Scrum Team?

Basically, a scrum team is a self-organizing, cross-functional team. Being self-organized, there is no overall team leader who can decide who does what or how a problem should be solved. These decisions are made by the team as a whole. Also, being cross-functional, everyone is required to take a feature or requirement from idea to implementation.

A scrum team is a dedicated group of people who are bound to a specific project and so become a close-knit and trusted group of co-workers. They usually are a "whole team" needing little or no interference from those outside the team. This is crucial to fasten the decision-making process as the people who need to make the decisions are part of the team.

Essential Roles in a Scrum Team

A typical Scrum team comprises five to nine people. Seven is often considered the ideal number and small projects can have a minimum of four members. A team with less than four members won’t essentially stay a Scrum team. 

Scrum teams essentially don’t have a structural hierarchy. Every member of the team is equally important, has an equal weightage of opinion, and together they have all the skills and knowledge necessary to deliver a working product.

However, there are three distinct roles within the Scrum team structure: Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is what a Team Lead would be outside an Agile environment. The Scrum Master makes sure that the team applies the Scrum framework successfully. As support leaders, they ensure that the team functions smoothly and that the productivity blockers are addressed at the right time. They coach the team on the best practices, reign in overbearing product owners, minimize distractions and also lead the daily Scrum meetings. They help product owners outline the product’s value, manage the backlog and plan the work. 

Product Owner

Product owners represent the interests of the client or the stakeholder. They have a clear understanding of business and user needs and are responsible for defining the direction of a project. They define and prioritize the work required for the product being developed and communicate the needs to the Scrum team. This role involves: 

  • Creating and managing the product backlog
  • Ensuring everyone is on the same page through communication with the business team
  • Guide the team on each iteration’s deliverables
  • Decide the timelines of product development and delivery.

Scrum team members collaborate and discuss how to handle the work. However, the product owner has the final say on what to prioritize and when. 

Development team

A group of people with specific skills required to put the product together form the Scrum Development Team. The team includes developers and testers and can also comprise specialized roles like those of architects, writers, designers, etc. Once the product owner outlines the priorities, it comes down to the development team to determine how to get the work done.

The development team’s members are self-organized and authorities of their domain. The team, as a Scrum rule, is highly collaborative and close-knit in performing their day-to-day roles. 

Large-scale projects may also involve Subject Matter Experts or SMEs in the Scrum team. They might not be actively involved in the daily activities of the team, but offer their services as and when required by the core team.

Check out our blog: Scrum Team Roles And Responsibilities

Selecting the Right Scrum Team Structure

The Scrum team structure varies with the job specification at hand. Most of the teams fall under the following categories:

Generalist Team – In a generalist team, anybody can pick up any task at any time. This team structure works efficiently on a well-understood project and with people who are good in diverse roles. This is a great option if the team size is small, the project is simple, well-defined, and doesn’t require specialist expertise in any domain. Passionate people who are self-motivated and self-driven perform well in such a team structure and are capable of pulling the project successfully. 

Specialist Team -- In a specialist team, every member has a different and specialized skill set. So this team would be composed of a high-quality software developer, a tester, a data analyst, and skilled people in specific areas. Larger team sizes, say, 15-20 people in a team, can work effectively in a specialist structure. 

However, such a structure lacks predictability and often resources sit around waiting for their next task. One can look to minimize this idle or downtime by cross-training the team members. 

Transitioning Team – A transitioning team is more of a supportive team. When a team is transitioning to Scrum, it is a good idea to set a team up to support that transition. The workload of a transitioning team can be managed by running sprints. The transitioning team helps teams get a grasp of Agile as they shift their focus from traditional methodologies.

Parallel Team - In a parallel team, there are no set roles, and everyone’s job changes with every sprint. So everyone knows how to write a code and then test it. This structure is good for cross-training. While it may sound difficult to manage, there are certain conditions like client specification or resource crunch that can make a team opt for such a structure.

Product Sub-Team - In a large organization, a larger team is subdivided into specialized scrum teams that collaborate to build the larger solution. Each product sub-team is responsible for a deliverable that adds up to the complete and final product or solution. Often, the teams act like relay teams handing over the product or sub-product of one team as input to the other.

This structure works well when the whole organization adopts Scrum as its preferred methodology of development. However, it can also work in a situation where one team is Scrum and the other is not. The idea is to capitalize on the best features of Scrum and the other methodology like Waterfall.

Scrum being flexible, the above aren’t the only feasible structures. An organization may choose to differ and use an entirely new structure or use a combination of given structures to fit their requirement.

Check out: Is Scrum Right For Your Team?

What Makes Scrum Team Structure Popular?

The Scrum team structure is becoming a preferred way to manage teams due to several advantages that it offers: 

  1. Shorter feedback cycle – Shorter feedback cycles mean the team receives quick feedback and has enough time to respond to it. The incremental approach lets them share shorter releases to the user, receive feedback and make changes in the requirement and the product before it's too late. This weeds out any misunderstanding in the requirement way too earlier than developing the entire product and hearing a no-go.
  2. Quick adaptation to change - Scrum teams are intended to expect and adapt to change. The Scrum framework makes it easy for the team to make quick changes based on user feedback and altering requirements. This protects the development process from getting derailed or delayed due to disruptions. 
  3. Higher quality products -- Scrum teams can deliver higher quality products based on regular feedback and the testing done at every sprint. This lets them identify and handle issues as they occur in each sprint and deliver a quality product with greater consistency. 
  4. Transparency -- Transparency and communication are inherent to the Scrum framework. The product owner and stakeholder(s) participate actively in the development process and the communication is open-ended. Transparency and good communication are critical for the work to align with the product goals and requirements.     
  5. Higher user satisfaction -- Higher user satisfaction comes from quality outcomes, responsive feedback loops, and clear communication. With every detail taken care of and the process managed transparently and responsively, user satisfaction is better achieved.     
  6. Shared team purpose -- The lack of hierarchy, freedom of making decisions, and the collaborative nature of Scrum teams instill a sense of ownership in the team members. This sense of ownership gives the team a shared purpose, improves morale, and encourages everyone to work more productively. 

When to Use a Scrum Team Structure

The real test of any methodology lies in the ease of its implementation. The benefits of Scrum and Scrum team structure can be availed only when an organization understands how and when to implement them.

Scrum teams can work on all sorts of software development projects, including full software packages, client or internal work. It is a flexible and valuable approach applicable on several projects, there are a few situations where it can be best applied. 

When requirements are not clearly defined

Sometimes clients lack clear requirements and all they have is a general vision. This lack of clarity can hinder the time and cost estimation necessary for fixed-cost projects and traditional methodologies. The Scrum framework becomes a natural choice for projects with undefined scopes as it is built to adapt to dynamic requirements.

When changes are expected during development

If a team anticipates changes during development, Scrum is the way to go forward. Sometimes changes are expected even when the requirements are clearly defined. 

These changes can be a result of factors such as changes in the business environment or technology. Scrum’s flexible structure and iterative nature make it easy to accommodate changes throughout the development process.

When the project is complex

Complex problems are difficult to address and often need to be broken down into smaller problems to be resolved effectively and efficiently. Complex projects are prone to issues that arise as the development process moves forward. Scrum, as a framework, is better equipped than traditional methodologies to handle such complex projects as it breaks them into iterative modules. 

Deciding on Scrum Practices

In each Sprint or short time-boxed period, the Scrum team works to complete a deliverable or set amount of expected work. Getting sprints right means that the product is shaping upright and that Scrum teams are working as they were expected. 

As a member of the Scrum team, one wishes to stay on the track of success, and following the best practices ensures the same. These best practices can help improve the team’s efficiency.

Daily Stand-Ups

This daily meeting needs to be short, crisp, and centered around the following:

  • What I did yesterday
  • What I’m doing today
  • What my obstacles are

The goal of daily stand-ups or daily Scrum is to get everyone on the same page, aligned with the sprint goal, and plan their upcoming working hours.

Estimates

The team members estimate each potential sprint backlog item to be addressed during a sprint cycle. These are called Story points and are popularly demarcated using Fibonacci Sequence wherein a higher value indicates that more time is required to finish the task. It is advised to keep the stakeholders in the loop during estimates meetings so that they understand how and why each task is taking up the resource that it is taking.

Retrospective

A retrospective is conducted at the end of each sprint cycle. These sessions are centered around:

  • What went well?
  • What could be improved?
  • Takeaways for the next sprint

A retrospective helps the Scrum team to identify the areas for improvement. It helps them build on their past achievements, take lessons from the issues, and move forward with a better vision of the successive sprints.

As per the 14th State of Agile Report, 97% of organizations practice Agile development wherein 58% prefer to use Scrum. The Scrum team and Scrum best practices have been empirically proven to produce results for the organization. Scrum being an adaptive approach is open to experiments. Making it work for an organization, team or project depends on how committed a lead or Scrum Master is to the process. As a Certified Scrum Master, one must understand the requirements and draw on the expertise of the team. Finally, implement and keep making changes until one finds a way to make the Agile development Scrum teamwork for everyone on it.

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