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Five levels of transition to Agile self-managed teams

The agile transformation is often perceived as mechanical, procedural. At the same time, the other extreme focuses on abstract theoretical matters, state of mind. To digest agile transformation, we propose to progress a transition to agile teams in five steps.

I mean starting a basic team process to a high level of maturity and competence of self-managed and cross-functional scrum teams.

Self-management, self-organization, cross-functionality – the concepts are not static but dynamic. They provide for the constant growth of the team as a whole and each of its members in particular.

Official Scrum Guide defines self-managing scrum teams. In our previous article, we explain the concepts: “Self-managed teams: THE BEGINNING“.

Maturity Problem

We noticed several problems that did not allow us to realize the potential of the scrum approach:

  1. Lack of understanding of how the teams operate in the Scrum (process challenges);
  2. Internal obstacles to development (technology challenges);
  3. External obstructions that occur regularly (interference by managers, stakeholders, and outsiders).

Many companies already tried Scrum at least once but never went to a satisfactory level. At first glance, all the signs of the Scrum approach are present; there is a scrum team with the product backlog, spring planning, daily scrums, demos, and retrospectives.

Key players are also in position: developers (all kinds of specialists involved in product development), one product owner, and one scrum master. Only the company’s executives turned to us for help because “something went wrong again.”

We have found that the low efficiency of Scrum in most cases caused by the stagnation of the scrum team. It happens when the key players are trying to reach their maximum just overnight and then say that they don’t want to spend any more effort, this is who they are and yada yada yada. If you don’t like their Scrum, then, well, get used to their “unique version” of Scrum. And management believes it, even worse – agile coaches buy it!

“The reason for the low efficiency of the scrum approach is the stagnation of the scrum team.”

Slava Moskalenko, the first professional scrum trainer (PST) from scrum.org in Ukraine, co-founder of Agile.Live.

How to Grow

Usually, a team leader or a scrum master who can act as a change agent turns to us and says, “I want to work in a new paradigm. I want to change the team’s culture.” Based on our experience, we designed a strategy for a progressive transition to Scrum.

Why “progressive”? The fact is that most enthusiasts who have decided to follow the path of radical change have failed on the way for several reasons:

  • resistance or misunderstanding within top management, who used to work as usual;
  • lack of experience and skills to adopt a new way of working together;
  • lack of other competencies related required to move transformation forward

A progressive transition helps to achieve the desired result in a natural and much more effective way.

Five levels of team transition to Scrum

Level 1. Controlled

At this basic level, the team is already formed as cross-functional. Still, it cannot yet start effectively without a formal leader. Usually, a team leader or tech manager takes the scrum master role.

The manager plays the role of “responsible” for some time. Teaches the team the Scrum basics, start all meetings, actively guides the team in sprint planning, often give feedback, and point out mistakes.

To advance to the next level, the manager should:

  • encourage the opinions and ideas of team members;
  • strengthens the practice of whole team discussion of the problem;
  • reduces the “dominance” of the key people, including himself, in the product development process.

Level 2. Transitional

A typical situation with a “transitioning” team is when somebody says: “I don’t know what to do next. Tell me what, and I’ll do it” – expects decisions from the “boss”.

The second level of maturity is quite dualistic – on the one hand, the team leader supports team members and helps them when needed. But, on the other hand, it should provide space for self-realization and initiative.

The team leader’s task is to accustom the participants to self-sufficiency and transition them from passive performers to proactive contributors. The inability to change at this stage raises the further suitability of the person to work in a new paradigm, which requires autonomy, initiative, communication, mutual support between all participants in the development process.

Level 3. Self-managed

At this stage, everyone already has a habit of taking responsibility for specific tasks, understanding their strengths and capabilities.

Further on, the team should no longer be ignorant and passive. Instead, development team members should be proactive, at least within their competence, strengths, and skills.

Interestingly, managers still control some areas (e.g., teamwork, coordination with other teams, removal of external obstacles). They also observe and sometimes can speak their word. However, at this stage, the development team is already autonomously planning and deciding on task assignments.

Level 4. Autonomous

Since everyone knows their strengths and weaknesses at this level, they are interested in professional and personal development – both for themselves and to strengthen the team’s competence.

The fourth level provides space for development – the desire to acquire new knowledge and acquire new skills, to expand the limits of their capabilities. The team demonstrates the ability to take more responsibility for coordination with other groups and solve any problems independently. Participants actively perform any task to achieve the goal of the sprint (Sprint Goal).

The leader or scrum master in such a team offers a service role:

  • Removes organizational limitations;
  • Resolves conflicts between participants (when they grow into a hot phase);
  • Increases the motivation of the individuals for professional development.

Level 5. Synergistic

It’s about the mentality; it’s about the culture that makes teams successful, helps companies stay ahead of the competition, not to mention its beneficial effects on the lives and health of participants.

Level 5 professionals work with the team in mind. So, let’s look into several ways of thinking.

“The success of the whole team depends on my success as a leader” (old paradigm) vs. “My success depends on the success of the whole team” (new paradigm).

“I’ve already done all my tasks; I’ve put all the ticks. Who’s good? Me.” vs. “Great! I’ve done all my tasks. Now I’ll find out what I can do for the team to succeed” – this is the level of maturity; this is a mutual help that helps achieve miracles.

All team members are aware of specific flags when mutual support is needed. For example, a colleague does not have time to complete the task on time, the emergence of impediments, and the need to pull another participant’s experience.

The fifth level is the magic of self-orchestration and team diversity. At this level, different talents, psycho types, and pace (slow perfectionist or someone is fast marriage) interact successfully – everyone realizes their strengths in interaction with others. We call it team synergy, which exceeds the productivity of one, even ingenious, person.

Naturally, the question arises: what if there is no person with specific knowledge or skills in the team? Of course, in this case, it is best to involve a specialist from the outside. Another option is to acquire new knowledge on your own (usually when it comes to troubleshooting) that does not take much time to find out.

Bottomline

  1. One of the most influential difficulties with the low efficiency of the scrum team is the lack of an agile mindset among the team members.
  2. The synergy of a cross-functional self-managed team far exceeds the productivity of one person.
  3. It is necessary to establish an agile culture (Agile).
  4. Agile culture adopted gradually, using the strategy of five levels.
  5. The scrum approach is most effective in product development when performed by a level five team.

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