Agile Team Structure: How to Build High Performance App Development Teams

Agile Team Structure: How to Build High Performance App Development Teams
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Agile development isn’t just a series of principles or procedures: it’s a mindset that every team must foster in their own way. Let’s run through some key strategies to building that culture in an organic way — ones that will stick with your team for the long-run.

Agile development comes with its own vocabulary and set of processes that everyone on your team must learn if you hope to implement it. But no matter how familiar your team is with the principles of Agile, it won’t be able to execute them without a culture that values teamwork at every step of the development process. We’ve listed some steps you can take to go beyond the basics of Agile to facilitate and encourage the habits that lead to high performance in Agile development teams.

1) Encourage a Culture of Psychological Safety

When Google set out to identify the qualities that made for successful teams and companies, it came to a surprising discovery: more so than teams with a few “all-stars” in their field, teams in which people felt a sense of “psychological safety” performed best at their respective tasks.

People generally succeed when they feel free to criticize and build upon their coworkers’ ideas, and that’s especially true when it comes to heavily collaborative tasks like Agile development. Building an accepting culture doesn’t happen overnight, but it starts by encouraging feedback during every step of the development process, and allowing team members to take big risks on big ideas.

2) Hire for Skill and Cultural Fit

The Agile process requires the right kind of talent: rather than hiring people proficient in a specific technology, focus on finding recruits who are able and willing to work with others and accept criticism. 

The same goes for skills and knowledge sets. Agile is all about building a shared foundation of knowledge through regular, iterative collaboration, which means that companies ought to bring on team members who are highly familiar with methodologies crucial to Agile, like refactoring and visual prototyping. The more of those skills you bring into the fold, the more your company culture starts to reflect Agile values — even well after particular employees or collaborators have left the company. 

3) Put Development First

There’s plenty we can learn through exhaustive research and planning, but at the end of the day, our most instructive experiences come through the actual execution process. Too many companies loop in developers too late: rather than handing ideas off to development for execution, get them involved from day one, and make a point of including developers in the ideation and prototyping phases. All in all, teams should operate under the assumption that any critical conversation regarding the product should include the development team at the outset. 

A huge objective of Agile is to deliver quickly and often so that the mistakes made on paper can be spotted and worked out well before the launch date. By the same token, including developers in every conversation from the get-go makes these iterative deliveries more effective and efficient, ensuring that no single iteration fails or stalls due to faulty design. 

4) Co-Locate Your Team

Call us old-fashioned, but we believe that collaboration and learning is easier when it happens between two people sitting side-by-side (or face-to-face). Agile requires rapid prototyping, which means there’s no time to wait for a developer in a different timezone to wake up and test your latest version of the code. It’s also harder to build a consistent culture across different geographies: after all, do you have a closer relationship with the coworkers you only talk to over Slack, or the ones you work next to every day?

In fact, we take this value one step further by encouraging team members to not just work in the same office, but at the same computer. We’re big proponents of pairing — an XP technique that puts coworkers literally side-by-side as they conceive and pass tests, alternating roles. This encourages knowledge sharing, reduces blockers, improves concentration, and renders software bugs far less common. While pairing may not be right for every team, it’s critical that you take every step possible to maintain direct communication and clear feedback loops.

5) Put it All Together

At the end of the day, software development is a process that should be agile and collaborative above all else. So make sure to involve all key parties from the get-go and maintain a culture of cooperation and open knowledge sharing throughout. Not only will your employees prove to be happier and more productive, but that dedication will be reflected in a more successful end product.

Debbie Madden

Debbie Madden

Founder & Chairwoman

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