Is the Recipe for an AGILE Team 45 Years Old?
45 year recipe for agile

When hiring more developers to create a new team and picking a blend of skills to fill the roles it caused me to reflect on a recipe that is 45 years old. I could call it something more complex but a recipe is a collection of ingredients which if combined in the correct proportions can deliver a great result every time.

Apples

The base ingredients of a recipe comes in a variety of types, flavours and costs. It may be the items that come locally from the tree next door or the specialist flavour imported from far away or the bag from the supermarket with very consistent batch. You can either start with the apples you have or better still start with a recipe. Then work back to what apples you need, that way the end result is likely to be a lot better.

Apple Pie – General recipe for a scrum team (from the book)

The quick and simple recipe for a team

  • 1 x scrum master.
  • 1 x product owner.
  • 1 x development team (cross-functional professionals, 3 to 9 people).

Classic French Apple Tart – Refined scrum team recipe

The typical recipe I follow to make a scrum team is:

  • 1/2 x scrum master 
  • 1/2 x product owner 
  • 4 x developers 
  • 2 x testers

The scrum master is often a senior developer (or tester). This person has typically stepped over the chalk line that says “I only want to be hands-on coding all the time”. Typically this means they have mastered new skills and find they can manage up to 2 teams at a time.

The product owner again can typically handle 2 teams if they are balancing the depth and breadth of their job.

From a purist perspective, the team should be capable of coding and testing but a degree of specialism works wonders. It also plays to peoples strengths and passions. Developers may be great at testing code to show it works but they often grey out when you mention testing. Especially if you ask for testing of sad paths, coverage tests, boundary tests, best leave that to the experts. A tried and tested ratio is 2 to 3 developers to every tester. So the team mix could be two developers and 1 tester or 4 developers and 2 testers. 6 developers and 3 testers is doable but starting to push the maximum size of the team.

The developers again should be a mix of senior, mid-level and junior. They all have something to bring and also this supports a career path and succession plan for the business. One of the developers may want to assume the title of “tech lead”, as the expert on the design and structure of the software. More than one person in this role causes problems, in the same way, a car is driven by one driver.

Alsatian Apple Tart Pastry – Overly Specialised scrum team recipe

  • Pastry – Front end team 
  • Apple Sauce – Back end team
  • Alsatian Tart – Full stack team

There is often a temptation to make a team highly specialised with the aim of getting perfection or as a way to combine and scale scrum. The risk is that each team can create lots of output but is valueless unless combined with the parts from another team. Any difference in the delivery timeline or flow rate causes an imbalance between the teams and loss of efficiency and issues.

The other type of possible specialism is to make the team with extremely niche domain experience and skills so that it becomes expert in one area but with a risk that it is unable to cope with an increase in breadth of features

The Best Mix

It is the years of experience of a cook that are used to determine the perfect blend of ingredients

Grannys Recipe of Olde

I reflected back to the 1975 book The Mythical Man-Month [1], and the chapter on the Surgical Team and how it describes the way a surgeon is supported by his team of nurses and anaesthetist and the way that structure works with a software development team and how to create a group of 10 people into an ideal mix. The recipe is remarkably similar to what we consider the new agile team to be, and interestingly the role of “tool smith” is proposed in the team, which is remarkably like the DevOps role we describe today. Again the most important takeaway is the mix of this creates one team that delivers an effective solution and gets the job done. Two teams can do twice the work but not necessarily a bigger job, and half a team doesn’t work, no one wants “half an operation”.

So Finally

Recipe books and formulas have a place to capture the knowledge and learnings so that others may follow and hopefully make less mistakes and benefit from the work of previous failed experiments and successes. The recipe for the software development team has been pretty stable for 45 years and still has the same structure and skills.

References

[1] Mythical Man Month – by Frederick Brooks, ISBN 9780201835953, Published 1975

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