Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Self managing team – myth or reality?

Recently I have been musing over the self managing team and whether such a thing really exists.

One of the pillars of agile is the self managing team that is always looking to improve what they are doing and committed to delivering working software at the end of every iteration.

Whilst in theory this all sounds fantastic in practice things don’t always work out like that and what happens when the ‘self managing team’ doesn’t manage?

All the various literature about this describes a group of motivated, empowered individuals, who want to succeed and want to ensure that the work is completed and delivered.  This group of individuals will work together to over come issues that they experience and will ‘manage’ themselves ensuring that if anybody in the team is not performing as expected they will either compensate or ‘encourage’ the person to perform as expected.

In reality a team may bear little resemblance to this with some people not wanting to bear any responsibility for the work “I did what you told me, if its wrong its not my fault”, others doing work they associate with their role “I’m not a tester – that's your job!”, some people simply want to work by themselves and be left alone, etc. It is with a team made up of these types of individual, the dysfunctional team, that the agile ideal of a self managing team seems to fall flat if not simply fail. 

So does the self-managing team exist?

To be honest I think that it depends on the environment that you are in with larger companies having a better chance to create and sustain a self managing team than a small company.  The reason for this is down to resources and larger companies often have the resources to pump into an agile adoption that smaller companies don’t.

If you read books such as Succeeding with Agile by Mike Cohn then self-managing teams seem to be the norm for agile/scrum environments and in companies that have had the pleasure of Mike coming in and coaching them I’m sure that’s correct, but in smaller companies that don’t have the resources to be able to bring a coach in they can struggle. 

One of the key things is top down adoption with management understanding what agile adoption means for the company and supporting it (another thing mentioned in Mike’s book) and if this doesn’t happen in an organisation big or small the self-managing team will not be a reality as command & control and death march projects will be the norm.

So are self-managing teams a myth or reality? I firmly believe that in larger organisations committed to agile they are a reality but for large organisations not committed to agile or smaller organisations with limited resources I tend to doubt they exist.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. We've had some success rotating the scrummaster role around the team for successive sprints to really help give team members a better view of the whole team's goals and how best to accomplish them, rather than seeing things only from their perspective.

    Even if the sprint doesn't go well, it can be useful to gather feedback in the retrospective about what they think about the role in general to see if it's given them a more rounded viewpoint.