Cross Functional, Self Directed Teams A How To

January 13, 2010

Fundamental to all styles of Agile Project Management is the concept of self managed teams. In a self managed team environment each team member is allowed to choose not only their functional role, but also what activities to do and when. Fundamentally what you are doing is pushing decision making down to the team member level and therefore facilitating empowerment. While at the outset this may seem easy to implement, in most cases it is not. We are so used to the command-and-control style of management that we have a hard time letting go of decision making. What follows is a list of practices that project managers need to stop doing and practices that they need to start doing in order to successfully build a self managed team.

Stop doing (things the PM used to do, but should delegate to their team)

  • Not letting your team members participate in full-lifecycle activities – The more that your team is involved in the full-lifecycle activities, such as requirements gathering and planning, the more they will feel a sense of ownership. Allow your team to take part in these crucial meetings, not only will they better understand what is being built and why, they will also help these activities be more productive and successful.
  • Assigning work to team members – Start with a cross functional team and let everyone choose their own role. The software engineer can be a database analyst (DBA), the DBA can be a quality tester (QT), the QT can be the business analyst (BA), etc. It doesn’t matter which role they choose as long as they are committed to getting the tasks assigned to the role completed.
  • Telling team members when to get their work done – Once the scope of the sprint or iteration has been set, then get out of the way and allow the team the freedom to work it in any order that they choose.

Start doing (things that the PM did not do, but now should)

  • Clear road blocks for the team – The fundamental role of the agile project manager is that of removing barriers to progress out of your team members way. Road blocks can be anything such as the need for new hardware, communication issues between departments, or even office politics. Any burden that you can take off your team that isn’t directly related to their functional role is key.
  • Serve as a facilitator and coach – Just because the team is self-managed doesn’t mean that there won’t be conflict. The agile project manager must work constantly to help keep their team on track and focused on the goal at hand. The agile project manager must also work to develop the individuals on their team by coaching and mentoring them.
  • Help the team to be accountable – be sure to give the team ownership of the solution, ask them to plan and make commitments, all of this builds to the team taking on accountability for their work and progress.

By transforming your team into a group of self-managed individuals, you are helping to cement agile practices within your enterprise. In order to achieve this goal you must stop doing a number of activities including; shielding your team from key meetings, assigning work, and deadlines. In addition you must start; clearing impediments to progress, facilitating, and holding your team accountable. By truly embracing the role of an agile project manager you will be helping your team to become the most productive team that they can be.

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