The Right People

An Agile project needs good people. But what makes good people for an Agile project? They need skill in the work at hand, of course. But you need more than just skills. There are some other competencies that are critical to helping an Agile team work well. Here’s a short list of key competencies.

Courage – Agile developers need to have the courage it takes to try things. They also need to have the courage to commit. Both of these imply the courage to make mistakes and to admit them openly. Without courage your team will be too tentative. They will tend to over-estimate effort (whether you’re using Story Points or something else). They’ll be afraid to set a target and work toward completing it. Worst of all, they will make excuses rather than face up to their problem areas. Courage to face your weaknesses gives you the opportunity to improve or help the team compensate. If a team member makes excuses rather than addressing their weaknesses they eventually have to leave the team. (Of course, you need to give them room to be courageous. But that’s the subject of another post.)

Transparency – This goes along with courage. Agile developers need to be willing to share exactly what’s going on, the good and the bad, in the work they’re doing. They need to be quick to ask questions and ask for help. They need to share their blockers so the team can work to unblock them. It’s can be frightening to be so transparent, especially if your experience is punishing bad news. People will try to hide the bad and hope for the best. That kind of delay in admitting a problem makes dealing with it all the harder. An Agile team needs to deal with the truth if it’s going to succeed.

Ownership – Your team members need to feel that team success is their success. You don’t want people who are complacent about delays or problems with their work. And you really don’t want people who don’t accept responsibility for how the team is doing. Obviously, things happen that team members can’t be responsible for, but team members need to take enough pride in their work to want to produce good results on time. You want people who will find ways to meet their commitments, not shrug when they miss them. Team members need to own their targets and do what they can to achieve them.

Ability to Plan – Many people think Agile methods don’t require planning. But nothing is accomplished without a careful look at how it can get done. Agile team members need to be able to break their work into steps and create a plan for accomplishing them. Having a plan allows the team to assess how it’s being executed. The more granular the plan the more effective the team will be at spotting or even avoiding potential problems. A good Agile team member can make and work a plan, and make noise when the plan runs into trouble.

These are some of the competencies, beyond skill in the role, that an Agile team member must possess. If you’re just focused on skilled people, you’re not going to succeed with your Agile team.

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