Check it out what you will find on this article about agile squad:
- The agile organization and the agile squad
- Benefits (and needs) of the agile squad
- Agile squad success stories
- A testament to the transformative power of collaboration
With many organizations today looking to boost their productivity and efficiency while also keeping employees happy, motivated and creative, many have tried different workforce management and team management styles and methods. Many of these methods lie outside the lines of what defines traditional corporate and management culture, and while unconventional, many of these alternative methods are working — thanks to an evolving workforce that has different needs and priorities in life. One of these methods is the use of the agile squad.
Basically, an agile squad is a small multidisciplinary team that is largely self-managed and are excellent at cross-collaboration and teamwork. As the name implies, they are derived from agile methodology, which puts an organizational premium and focus on individuals and actions, commitment to finishing tasks, customer collaboration, and a fluid and dynamic process (also called a “sprint”) of finishing tasks and projects. The concept originated from software development companies, who found the traditional method of project and workflow management was stifling in many situations.
The agile organization and the agile squad
The agile squad is the smallest unit in the agile organization — multiple agile squads are collectively called a tribe. Chapters, on the other hand, are individuals in the workforce who have similar roles in the workplace; they come together regularly in a sort of “support group” type of meeting where they discuss common issues and challenges, and true to the agile ethos, collaborate and brainstorm on how these issues and challenges can be surmounted.
Needless to say, agile management and the agile squad have met with massive success not only in the software development space, but also in companies in different other industries. Agile teams have been instrumental in giving employees a greater sense of purpose and value in the organization, since the agile squad relies less on top-down “pulling rank” style of management and leadership, and is based more on collaboration and cooperation between its members. This gives everyone a chance to pitch his or her ideas, and the small-sized nature of these squads make the brainstorming transformative and effective as opposed to counterproductive — a hurdle that a larger team would often fall into. And since the teams are largely self-managed, members are free from the stifling influence of micromanagers and have much more leeway to develop their own solutions and discover new things that can help not only the completion of the task at hand, but could also potentially positively affect the organization in a larger context down the road.
The agile squad is a haven for creativity and giving employees the chance to maximize both their inherent skills and learn new things from other members. This kind of dynamic interaction leads to a greater deal of specialization and specialized knowledge, as well as contributes to the individual’s and team’s larger capacity of interdisciplinary knowhow — a combo of skills that were previously unheard of and largely unachievable in a traditional management setting.
Everyone has a healthy amount of knowledge about the task at hand
Probably one of the biggest benefits of an agile squad is the fact that all members have a good amount (if not full to begin with) of knowledge about the different aspects and factors that make up the project the team is currently working on. In effect, it’s easier to transfer information, knowledge, and other kinds of data; plus the team retains any important learnings that they can apply to the next project. The joint planning between the different project contributors help each member become more aware of each other’s roles, allowing them to help or even completely take over other members’ duties and responsibilities in certain situations.
Things flow predictably and largely on-schedule
Most, if not all projects function on a pre-existing and pre-arranged timeline. Sure, nothing is perfect all the time, but agile squads drastically reduce the risk of project delays due to the multidisciplinary, creative, and motivational nature of the team. Especially when project demands and deliverables change and evolve, the agile team lives up to its name — by quickly adapting and adjusting to those changes while minimizing any delays. The shared planning and constant communication between team members allow for greater team flexibility. Thus, they are able to work faster and more harmoniously to overcome any hurdles they encounter, there is little to no downtime, and the project milestones often progresses at a predictable and reasonable rate.
Faster and more cost-effective project completion
Since downtime is minimized, there is also less time and resources wasted. Squad members often assigned tasks (based on earlier intensive planning sessions) that allow them to work at a pace that is in-line with the flow and capability of the team as a whole. The adaptability and flexibility of an agile squad also helps with meeting challenges head on, minimizing holdups or even stoppages in work that a traditional approach would more often be burdened with when unexpected situations occur. Talent is always utilized to their fullest potential, and operations are always kept task-focused through the elimination of excess processes and other unnecessary parts of the workflow.
Better alignment and independent
If you’ve ever been a manager, you’ll know how tiresome and unproductive it can be to babysit an employee or worse, a team that can’t do the job they need to do. The very nature of the agile squad eliminates this, freeing up leadership and management to deal with other tasks (not to mention eliminates micromanagers and the accompanying destructive force they bring), only stepping in to check progress and intervene at certain times. The team is better aligned with the task that needs to be done as well as the bigger goals of the organization, in turn making them more independent, more functional, more motivated, and more creative. This results in a much better output from teams. Plus, the larger accountability that comes with the use of an agile team also allows managers and supervisors to easily see any non-performers, who can be further trained or completely removed from the workflow depending on the situation.
Cuts down on personnel risk and knowledge risk
Personnel risk is when team members call in sick or need time off, or even resign from their post. Knowledge risk, on the other hand, stems from miscommunication and other similar issues, or a lack of teamwork, which often results in people only knowing what they need to do but not of what other teammates and teams are doing. Using an agile squad minimizes these risks due to its cross-functional and multidisciplinary nature that allows members to see the task not only from their specific point of view, but from a larger and more holistic perspective.
Benefits (and needs) of the agile squad
While we’ll be quick to concede that the agile squad style of task management and workforce management may not be for everyone, it would also be foolish to dismiss the concept right away. Using agile squads do have several real and tangible benefits that have been proven in many real-life company settings (more on that later) — benefits that every organization and leadership should at the very least consider carefully.
At this juncture, it is important to point out that any change, such as adopting agile squads, need a good faith commitment and serious support from leadership. Utilizing agile squads need a shift in the mindset and culture of a company, and leadership needs to be at the forefront of that change. Part of that commitment entails investing in the effort, such as:
- Bringing in outside experts to help guide the process.
- Managing expectations and bracing for initial adjustment problems.
- Setting the appropriate management and oversight, as well as organizing team members.
- Leading by example (such as undergoing training for a better understanding of the process).
- Removing the “chain of command” mentality and putting value on the contributions of ALL members of the organization.
It may seem a little daunting, especially for older companies and leadership that is used to the traditional way of doing things, but doing so does pay off, as we’ll see in the following success stories of organizations that benefitted from adopting agile squads.
Agile squad success stories
Let it not be said that an agile squad looks good only on paper — because it has real-life applications that have resulted in massive success for many companies. Massive music streaming service Spotify is one of them.
Spotify began considering and eventually applied the use of agile squads when it began to scale. The company, which was already very successful then, wanted to maintain the high level of creativity, productivity, and innovation that were instrumental to its early success. Spotify recognized the fact that it would be difficult to do so (at least in the traditional sense) when its headcount needed to grow (from hundreds and now into thousands) in order for it to accomplish the level of scaling it was aiming for.
What it did then (around 2012), was to maintain the smaller teams that were integral to the company’s early days, organizing employees into teams comprised of around six to ten people. The teams were then assigned a single task. Members were collectively equipped to meet tasks requirements, and the collaborative nature of the team easily allowed members with less expertise to catch up fairly quickly.
For all intents and purposes, the methodology has paid dividends for Spotify, catapulting it into on of the worlds major players in the music industry. The company now has an active user base of around 191 million who have access to more than 40 million songs, which helped the company generate $4.8 billion in 2018. The organization is supported by more than 3,000 employees.
It’s hard to find someone who isn’t familiar with Lego. While the company has a pretty storied heritage and has been around for some time, it did not allow itself to be burdened by a needless clinging to tradition. It adopted the use of agile squads in 2015, under a SAFe framework.
Under Lego’s system, teams were assigned more specialized tasks to complete — but all geared towards the accomplishment of a common goal. Before teams had multiple deliverables, which led to people working overtime (which demotivates employees and is not cost-effective), deadlines being missed, and any defects and other issues took a long time before they were addressed and resolved. Lego’s current agile squad system now makes teams — and their members — more aware of what other teams are doing, minimizing duplicated efforts, promoting greater transparency and collaboration across teams, and gave team members a greater sense of accountability and direction.
Bank of America
The change in Bank of America’s approach began roughly around 2010, when it hired a new chief information officer, one who championed the use of agile methodology. The company decided to try out agile squads in order to improve the delivery times of its technology projects, as well as give team members a greater capability to respond to project changes. In addition, Bank of America also wanted to cut down on key-person risks. While the initial run had its share of birth pains. the trial run for these agile squads were so successful that the bank then committed to long-term use of the methodology and its principles.
Through the use of agile squads, the teams at the bank did not only meet their preset goals and deadlines once they were accustomed to the process — they also managed to clear up and complete previous task backlogs. The company also met all the three initial goals it wanted to achieve, and now also boasts better collaboration, improved delivery predictability, greater trust among members of the teams and the organization as a whole,, a faster pace of innovation, and better business knowledge for employees and team members.
A testament to the transformative power of collaboration
The agile squad is a true testament to the potential and power of collaboration. The case with Spotify, a large and global organization is proof that alternative methods of teamwork and workflow management can work wonders if applied correctly. Such an initiative would also require the use of the right tools to facilitate the transformative power of utilizing agile squads.
Runrun.it’s innovative and pioneering suite of workflow management software is the perfect example of the kind of tools an organization would need to better utilize agile and agile squads. The nature of Runrun.it’s tools, that among other things, help you better track the amount of time spent on a project and manage the tasks assigned across teams and the individuals who comprise those teams, and also generate all sorts of data and metrics on past and present tasks help management and leadership see any points of improvement and step in to intervene when needed. Try out Runrun.it’s free trial here to see how these tools can help your organization become more dynamic, efficient, cost-effective, and forward-looking.