The Agile Architect

The Agile Boy Scout: Characteristics of an Agile Team

An agile team is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly…

In my last column, I mentioned that I do a lot of work with the Boy Scouts. It got me thinking about how the similarities between agile and Scouts draw me to each.  So let's see how the Boy Scout Law relates to agile teams.

The Boy Scout Law states, "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent." Let's take these one by one:

An Agile Team Is Trustworthy
Trust is a cornerstone of a functional agile team. The members must trust each other to do the work properly and with high quality. They trust in each other's abilities and in their willingness to ask for help when needed. They trust in their organization when they publicly post their information radiators that indicate how well they are proceeding toward their goals. They trust in their retrospective facilitator to allow them to discover their own solutions to problems.

An Agile Team Is Loyal
Teammates are loyal to each other, to their project and to their company. This doesn't mean blind obedience -- far from it. It means that they act in good faith and for the benefit of the desired outcome of their project. Sometimes, being loyal means doing things you don't like because you know they need to be done. (Fixing a broken build comes to mind.)

An Agile Team Is Helpful
Agile teams commonly have a rule, spoken or unspoken, that if someone asks you for help, you aren't allowed to say no. Being helpful often comes in the form of sharing information. This contributes to the whole-team approach that spreads knowledge across the entire team, eliminating knowledge silos and thus significantly lowering risk.

An Agile Team Is Friendly
Let's face it. When you spend all day, every day with the same group of people, working in close quarters, and pairing constantly, everyone needs to be friendly. It takes 10 positive actions to make up for one negative action by a teammate. Thus it is very easy for a single unfriendly team member to spoil the positive attitude of the team.

An Agile Team Is Courteous
Similar to Friendly but with a subtle distinction: Even when we are not feeling very friendly to our teammates, we can still show good manners, treat people with respect and maintain a professional attitude.

An Agile Team Is Kind
Kindness is another important attribute of an agile team. Supporting each other, being aware when someone else is struggling and reaching out to them to offer aid, and random acts of kindness all contribute to a positive environment that helps take a group of individuals and shape them into a well-functioning team.

An Agile Team Is Obedient
While most agile teams do not have much hierarchical structure, the team must still be obedient to their own charter, process and decisions. A team ruled by anarchy is not agile, it's just a bunch of people doing whatever they want. If team members are not willing to abide by the rules that the team makes for itself then the team will not be very effective.

An Agile Team Is Cheerful
It can be hard to be cheerful sometimes, especially when your metrics are not looking good and the team is struggling with an irksome task or seemingly impossible deadline. (Yes, those still exist in agile.) Maintaining a cheerful attitude is important to keep the team focused, productive and maintaining a sustainable pace.

An Agile Team Is Thrifty
Thrifty doesn't necessarily refer to money. It means using the resources at your disposal effectively and without waste. Indeed, waste is a concept that agile has adopted from Lean that teaches us not to build things we may not need. It drives us to be thrifty with our time, spending it only on the most important work. It drives us to be thrifty with our requirements, writing only the stories that we need right now to drive development. It drives us to be thrifty with our tools, choosing the right suite of tools for the project and avoiding a plethora of ill-suited tools that promise results but don't deliver.

An Agile Team Is Brave
An agile team shows the courage to stand by their principles even when the going gets tough. We don't abandon them for expediency or due to pressure from outside the team. The team has the bravery to be completely transparent in their activities and their results. Metrics show the state of progress, good or bad.

An Agile Team Is Clean
Keep the war room clean, dammit! Even more important, keep your code clean. Keep your build system clean. Keep your code repository clean.

An Agile Team Is Reverent
While there are many flavors of agile and each one has their promoters and detractors, the one constant in everything is the Agile Manifesto. If agile practitioners are reverent to anything, it is that.

Final Thoughts...
An agile team works best following many of the same principles as a Boy Scout Troop. In the same way that the troop will work together to summit a 14,000 foot mountain or backpack 100 miles through the wilderness, so too must agile teams accomplish their challenging goals through simple rules of honesty, integrity, courage and resourcefulness.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Balbes serves as Vice President, Architecture at WWT Asynchrony Labs, and leads multiple Agile projects for Government and Fortune 500 companies. He received his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Duke University in 1992, then continued his research in nuclear astrophysics at Ohio State University. Dr. Balbes has worked in the industrial sector since 1995 applying his scientific expertise to the disciplines of software development. He has led teams as small as a few software developers to as large as a multi-national Engineering department with development centers in the U.S., Canada, and India. Whether serving as product manager, chief scientist, or chief architect, he provides both technical and thought leadership around Agile development, Agile architecture, and Agile project management principles.

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