A Testament to the Agile Team

I wrote a number of blog posts on a “behind the scenes look” at how the TeamPulse team works.  You can read all about them here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

As you can see, we truly value and embrace the principles behind Agile and have worked very hard to get the team to where it is today.

When I started with Telerik and began to think about how I would form the team, I can’t deny that I hand picked specific people with specific personality and technical traits.  In fact, I will be completely honest and admit that I chose people for the team more on their personality and attitude than their technical abilities.  I knew that in order to build a world class product, I needed a world class team – a team not based on technical heroics – but who dog food the reality and discipline we’re trying to support.  That said, I’ve seen many organization do amazing things with heroes on their team – however, after almost 20 years managing teams – I know that using “heroics” as a development methodology may give you a quick start but it’s not sustainable, repeatable, or predictable.

On day one of the project, our team was not agile.  Agility is a journey – and we had just begun.  If you know me, you know that I love the term “Maturity Model” – to me, a maturity model is recognition of a journey.  There are lots of flavors of maturity models in the industry – from CMMi to the Agile Maturity model (by David Anderson in his Book “Agile Management for Software Engineering”).  I may not subscribe to any of these specifically.. but I do subscribe to the fact that you can’t go from “zero to Agile” in one swift move.  I do this with everything I get my grubby hands on.. I even apply maturity models to sales and marketing processes.  To me, maturity models give us a roadmap for improvement – a direction of value.

So.. we began building TeamPulse.. we slowly added to the team in Winnipeg and in Bulgaria.  The goal for my role was to work myself out of my role – this helped scale the team and hopefully helped the team to be more and more self-managing.  In the beginning, we didn’t have much self-management – team members still wanted a Team Leader or Point Person – of course, I know that this is part of a maturing team and one of the reasons one of my first picks for the TeamPulse team was a long time Imaginet employee named Robert.  I’ve worked with Robert for a decade.  His presence in a room was always calming.   He always brought perspective.  He always made sure sure the team communicated well.  As a result, Robert easily became a focal point the team needed – and so the team grew healthier and healthier.

Education can only take you so far down the maturity model.  The rest of the way must be done through experience.  This is likely one of my biggest frustrations (only because I suffer from impatience) – because I can’t just “tell” a team to be self-organizing – I can’t “teach” a team to self-regulate – I can only provide the conditions by which smart people learn and come to the same conclusions and ultimately change their behavior.  In fact, when Steve Porter came onto the team to replace me as the Product Manager (remember, my goal is to always work myself out of a job) he was truly the tipping point for team maturity and mindset shift.  Since Steve has been on the team, the entire team has made a giant leap to a very well run, cross functional, self-managing team!!!

Why is this important?  Well – for one thing – it’s made us tremendously flexible.  A few months ago one of my senior team members in Canada went on parental leave –the team didn’t skip a beat – they knew they had lower capacity, adjusted for it.. and did great.  The team member came back from paternal leave as if they had never left – starting the day with a daily scrum of course.  This goes far beyond paternal leave – the team has gotten really well at “cycling” code – making sure that no single person has exclusive investment into any area of the application.  No one, by the way, is driving any of these processes any more.. (well, Steve has a huge amount of influence that’s still true).. decisions are made by the team.

This week, sadly, is the last week for the very first person I brought on to the team – Robert is leaving the TeamPulse team.  We love Robert – and we will miss him.  However, I do want to point out that upon hearing the news our cautious Unit Manager in Bulgaria wanted to make sure we’ve done transition planning (very very valid point) – here was the ultimate test  – the reality is – there is no need to have any transition planning.  The team will operate as they did before – with lower capacity of course – but there will be no loss of knowledge, no loss of insight, no loss of leadership for the simple reason that those things exist in the TEAM, not in the individual.

In the book called PeopleWare, DeMarco refers to a team such as mine as being “gelled” – I couldn’t agree more and I couldn’t be happier to be part of a globally distributed team that has achieved this level of success.  Any of you who have ever worked on a world class team can attest that there is absolutely no better feeling.

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