Fitting Specialists into Your Scrum Team | TechWell

Fitting Specialists into Your Scrum Team

Puzzle pieces

In principle, Scrum is simple: The development team is self-organizing, cross-functional, and accountable as a group for delivering value. Most introductory conversations about Scrum focus on this single team.

But as projects grow in complexity and organizations grow in size, your Scrum team may discover gaps in certain skills. When that happens, organizations often make one of two mistakes: overgeneralizing their current Scrum model, or ignoring the concepts that help Scrum work. If you keep the pillars and values of Scrum in mind as you organize skills, you can handle decomposition and specialization without seemingly reverting to a waterfall approach behind a Scrum facade.

Skill sets create a sort of shared resource challenge. While you may try to create Scrum teams composed entirely of people with T-shaped skills, you might still have gaps in certain specialized areas. Integrating the work of specialists with the concept of a cross-functional team is a difficult problem.

There are some options, such as treating the group of specialists as a component team, or each team having a dedicated specialist, but they present some challenges. Specialist work isn’t the same as component work, and there may not be enough specialists to allocate them across teams. And depending on the specialty, a given team may not need the specialists all the time.

Rather than limiting yourself to feature and component teams, consider forming “specialist teams” to organize experts in areas that require certain skills. You can have these specialists temporarily become part of the Scrum teams for fixed periods that align with sprint boundaries. In addition to helping the team get work done, these specialists can also work with the team to help them become more self-sufficient in their specialized skill sets. And they can use their experiences across teams to learn about common needs, identify solutions, and connect teams.

For example, if your organization only has a few people with deep performance testing expertise, people from the performance specialist team could work with teams to help them identify how to set up performance environments and resolve problems. And some of the output of the team (code or conventions) can be developed in a way that it is easy reusable.

Cross-functional teams are the best way to meet Scrum goals in many cases, but in some situations, you need specialists. Scrum works most effectively when you inspect and adapt, and when it comes to team organization, adapting in a way that is consistent with Scrum values will give you better results.

Steve Berczuk is presenting the session Resolve the Contradiction of Specialists within Agile Teams at Agile Dev East 2017, November 5–10 in Orlando, FL.

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