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Making multi-team Agile management work

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It's a common Agile management challenge: Your company is growing, and you have been asked to build out additional teams. Developers and testers -- but not additional leaders -- are available to staff the new teams. As an Agile leader or Scrum Master, how can you effectively support multiple teams? How does managing multiple teams affect team collaboration? Are the teams still productive?

In this article, I answer those questions and offer tips on scaling Agile when leaders need to support multiple teams without adversely affecting team velocity.

Sharing team leaders in roles such as Product Manager, Agile Project manager or Scrum Master is feasible. How do you go about it? What are the potential concerns? First, you need to consider the personality characteristics Agile leaders need to be successful. For example, in order to manage multiple teams, your leaders must, of course, understand the concept of teamwork. Treating team members as peers and communicating effectively are essential skills. It's also important for these leaders to have a technical understanding of the products the teams support and to spend time actively involved with each team. When Agile leaders have those skills, there is no need for team members to explain every single aspect of the product. When leaders treat each member equally and respectfully, team collaboration is enhanced, and that improves the team's velocity.

When leaders treat each member equally and respectfully, team collaboration is enhanced.

Agile leaders managing multiple teams are most successful when they have a visible role and they produce tangible work. They should be in charge of setting priorities and building out work. In cases where you have both a Scrum Master and a product manager in place, the two leaders should meet and set priorities for each of their shared teams. They should collaborate on business objectives and on the detailed requirements needed for the team members to complete their work.

To do this effectively, it's in your best interest to for Agile leaders to manage teams that are working on the same product, or products that fall into the same general product area. This approach results in less disruption for leaders, enabling more effective Agile management.

Eliminate distractions

Given the demands of managing multiple teams, Agile leaders need to focus. In order to do that effectively, they must control external distractions. External distractions include additional projects that don't directly contribute to the tasks the team is working on. These projects don't enhance or contribute to the product, the quality, or the team's productivity. Basically, external distractions take the leader's focus and attention away from team tasks. Agile leaders cannot support multiple teams successfully when they are pulled away by unrelated work.

Finally, in order to successfully share Agile leaders across multiple teams, you need to increase the communication among teams. Most important, teams that share leaders need to work together and plan meetings so that leaders can be involved. This approach lets Agile leaders remain equally involved with each team. And it also allows team members to become more independent -- over the long run, they will be less reliant on the day to day functional activities the leader performs. It also provides a growth path for team members interested in moving into leadership roles.

In summary, getting leaders to support more than one team is a workable Agile management strategy -- provided the following considerations are taken in account: the personality traits of your Agile leaders and the ability to eliminate external distractions and to communicate effectively within, and across, Agile teams.

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This was first published in April 2013

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