Agile Team Composition–The Tale of the Kindergartners vs. the MBAs


In the fourth chapter of the Agile Practice Guide, there is a discussion on implementing an agile environment.

After going through the material on the role of the servant leader (which may be called different things in different agile frameworks, such as a “scrum master” in Scrum), and contrasting that role with that of the traditional “project manager”, the Guide then talks about the agile team–its composition, interactions, and various identifiable roles.

This post will cover the composition of an agile team.   Agile optimizes the flow of value, and a team should be structured in such a way as to maximize this flow by rapidly delivering features to the customer.

If this flow is maximized, then the following good things happen:

  • People are more likely to collaborate
  • Teams finish valuable work faster
  • Teams waste much less rime because they do not multitask.

An example of this flow maximization in an agile vs. a traditional project management environment comes from a story from the book The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle.   He describes how a task was given to a) a group of kindergartners and b) a group of MBA students.   The task had to do with creating a stable structure using nothing but a box that contained toothpicks and marshmallows.

It was the kindergartners who finished the task first.   Why?   The group of MBA students spent a lot of time defining the goal, and then deciding who would take on which role.  The kindergartners essentially dove right in to the task without worrying about who had what role.   In addition, they were highly interactive, giving congratulatory remarks on someone who was able to complete part of the structure, or comforting someone whose part of the structure collapsed and encouraging them to try again.   It was the increased collaboration and the ability to work faster that caused them to outperform a group of people with vastly more amounts of formal education.

I’m not saying that the lesson to take from this to go out and hire a bunch of kindergartners for your next agile project; however, you could learn something from the way they cooperate with each other and encourage each other while reaching a common goal.

The next post will cover in more detail the composition of agile teams and how the members of the team should interact with each other.

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