A checklist for a well-organised team

I was coaching a software development team recently, and following the day’s Stand-up I asked the TPM* of the team a series of questions about how the Stand-up had gone, and how her team is currently working. It then struck me that these questions are not a bad checklist for judging the level of organisation of a team, so here they are:

  • Does everyone in the team know & agree the priority order of all its tickets?
  • Does everyone instantly understand what work a ticket describes?
  • Does everyone instantly know where that work has got to?
  • Does everyone give crisp, clear answers to what’s the next step and who does it questions?
  • Does everyone understand the whole work queue so that they know what they should be picking up next?
  • Does the board clearly and simply tell the truth about the team’s work such that anyone, inside or outside the team, can get a pretty good idea of What’s Going On in a 5-second skim?
  • Does the team have a good grip of the incoming work, and continually manage to process that work into tickets smoothly, efficiently & in timely fashion?
  • Are the often complex decisions & assignations around tickets that are made in the Stand-up (& at other times) clearly recorded somewhere for future reference and to avoid endless arguments, confusion and waste over what was actually decided?

The TPM’s answer was: “definitely ‘no’ to all of those, and in no team that I’ve worked on was that the case (well, maybe one, but they were so unhappy and under so much pressure that I wouldn’t call them a successful team)”.

This answer saddened but did not surprise me. My own experience is that it is absolutely possible to get teams to a state of self-organisation where such questions are asked, and easily answered; and moreover that such teams tend to be happy ones, since attaining this improved level of organisation involves reducing levels of waste, streamlining processes down to only those that actually help, and seeing the team’s work makes an actual, real-world difference. These things are enormously motivating.

So how to achieve this nirvana, asked the TPM. My short answer was that the preconditions for achieving this level of organisation can be divided into two categories.

The first category is attitudes within the team, where the following is required:

  • discipline
  • common sense
  • a desire to change
  • a willingness to try out new ideas & properly evaluate their impact
  • a commitment to thinking your way through problems
  • a commitment to continuous improvement

Secondly, there are some non-negotiable tactical tools that must function well in order to get to this good place:

  • an Agile Board that works right
  • a Stand-up that works right

As for the long answer – well, that answer is here 🙂

*TPM=Technical Project Manager. Also known as Agile Project Manager, or (if you’re running Scrum) the Scrum Master.


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