Building An Agile Team From Scratch

@BrookeLynnLuxe tweeted to me: 

Brook, here’s some of what comes to mind:

Sprint 0

It’s worth reading up a bit on the Sprint 0 concept, but for now let’s assume that getting started requires that you have a project and a team. Ideally that should be a dedicated cross-functional team but it’s possible to get started with a team of people pulled from existing functional teams (i.e. design, development, testing).

The focus of this post is on the startup context, so there may not be robust functional teams already in place—arguably an advantage when it comes to making Agile stick. This means you’re in a good position to build an Agile marketing organization from the ground up.

Again, because you’re a startup, I’m going to assume that you have a small team of generalists … because that’s what most startup marketers start with. In other words, you’ll have a content person, a design/ux person, a developer (ideally full-stack), an Agile leader, etc.

The Agilist is critical because they’ll refine your method and scale your practice as you grow. They will also drive adoption horizontally across implementation teams and vertically into the leadership. I’ll come back to this role later when I touch on the follow up question about contractors.


Starter Method

Regardless of size I generally suggest that marketers start with a less prescriptive method such as Kanban (rather than Scrum). I talk at length about why in my book, The Agile Marketer but it’s best to iteratively add practices during your retrospective process than to have your teams reject an overly prescriptive method early on.

The four most important practices to adopt out of the gate are:

  1. Agree on a basic method to begin with (and the included practices).
  2. Populate and groom a backlog.
  3. Establish a planning meeting on a regular cadence at which you review the backlog, scope stories, and prioritize the next work items.
  4. Establish a retrospective meeting to review your Agile method and improve it.

If you choose Kanban then you’ll want to set work-in-process limits for each stage. You’ll also want to estimate average cycle time to make sure that you’ve set up your planning and retrospective meetings at the right cadence. You won’t know that at first so I recommend starting with two week cycles.

Note, the concept of timeboxed iterations is part of Scrum but that doesn’t mean you can’t use timeboxes to govern planning and retrospectives with Kanban. This speaks to the need to adapt and evolve methods over time for your project, team and culture.


Spin Off To Scale

As you grow your organization you’ll also specialize the roles. A good way to handle that is to break the initial Agile team into the leaders of spin-off teams. They can bring their experience and leadership to these new teams and help drive alignment across teams. As you scale you should also start considering how to organize teams into a matrix organization a la the Spotify model that I touched on in my earlier post: Combating Agile Objections: It Doesn’t Scale!

As you grow, I’d also considering implementing the Objective and Key Results (OKR) framework to keep the implementation teams in alignment with leadership. It’s never too early to start working with such frameworks. Finally, also from an earlier post, check out Boston Consulting Group’s white paper on The Agile Marketing Organization.


About Agile Contractors, Agencies, and Consultants

In general Agile marketers have realized that they need to bring Agile teams in house to set the stage for success. That said, there are circumstances when you’ll have to rely on contractors, agencies and consultants. I see each of these differently:

  • Contractors – This is most workable when you can find contractors that have a background in Agile and can supplement an existing Agile team. If contractors outnumber your core team I’d be very skeptical about success. I’d also be skeptical about short engagements with contractors. Finally, working with contractors can be a great way of sourcing talent.
  • Agencies – Generally speaking agencies are not well suited to integrating with Agile teams in my experience. Some agencies are trying to position themselves as being Agile but I have not seen a lot of success in this context.
  • Consultants – Consultants can be very helpful when it comes to change management. In the startup context, however, it’s more about setting the team off on the right path from the start. The consultants that are most effective focus on two areas. The first is executive education about the value of Agile—they can help you get your peers in the leadership on board with your process and approach. The second area is as a coaching function for your internal Agilist and teams. In this case they can provide education and training that will accelerate adoption, maturity, and scale.

There’s a lot more I could say on this topic (for example, how to start selecting the technologies in your marketing stack) but I’ll leave that to some of our guests on The Marketing Agility Podcast!