If your company wants to compete in today’s market—amidst constant digital innovation—you need to look at its structure. In the past, the waterfall method of development was the norm, where companies relied on individual teams that were completely separate, with little communication across departments. With this methodology, development took months and months and was segmented into specific teams made up of only product owners, for example, or only developers. There was very little cross-pollination between teams. The company of today, however, truly can’t survive with that type of inflexible structure. There will be excessive bottlenecks, less transparency, and ultimately problems that don’t get addressed until six months in—which is akin to years when you’re competing in the global market. So what’s the solution? Going agile.
In order to be a more efficient, cutting-edge company, you need to have an agile structure. In agile, you break up development into smaller increments, adopt DevOps, promote open communication, and ultimately reconfigure your teams so they include people from different departments who are responsive to problems as they arise—not six months down the line. As a methodology, agile isn’t exactly new, but it is becoming essential for the modern company’s survival. Organizations that have either started out as agile or swiftly made the switch to agile have been able to thrive in today’s digital marketplace. Companies like Spotify and the Dutch baking group ING are perfect examples of how agility leads to innovation.
Spotify in particular has also done something forward-thinking with the way they label different working groups: they reconfigured their “teams” into squads and tribes. Development teams became “squads” which feels like a more inclusive word for what it should be in an agile structure—it’s not just developers, you’ll have people from design, development, testing, delivery, etc, all on one “squad.” Each squad works in a collaborative, transparent environment and uses their strengths to get the best product to market in the best amount of time.
A tribe is considered a collection of squads within the same business area. For example, there could be a tribe focusing on mobile. The squads that make up a tribe usually sit in the same area and share what they’re working on that other squads within that tribe might find valuable. Although it can vary on the size and scale of your company, there are usually less than 100 people per tribe. You can even name a “tribe leader,” who oversees that the right environment is being provided for all squads within that tribe to succeed.
In 2015, ING also shifted its traditional organization to this agile model, reconfiguring its company into 350 nine-person squads in 13 tribes. According to CIO Peter Jacobs and Ben Schlatmann (recently the COO of ING Netherlands), the switch has helped with their time to market, boosted employee engagement, and increased productivity.
For companies like Spotify, agile was a part of their DNA from the beginning. But if you’re a company who’s looking to transition to agile, you’ll need support and motivation from the team to make the switch. Here are just a few of the many benefits your company can see from going agile—and why doing so is necessary for your success. Use these to make your case for why going to the tribe/squad agility model is the way of the future.
Being agile isn’t just about changing the IT department or holding daily stand-up meetings—it’s about changing the employee experience as well. In an article from McKinsey titled ING’s Agile Transformation, Bart Schlatman of ING noted that agile structure is about “minimizing handovers and bureaucracy and empowering people. The aim is to build stronger, more rounded professionals out of all of our people.” Because you’re combining people with different knowledge backgrounds, everyone’s career experience is enriched. People are able to see development from different perspectives because of their newfound exposure to departments that perhaps previously, they would have never engaged with. That rigid, more waterfall-esque structure is not how companies need to proceed if they want to be innovative.
In addition to creating a more enriched employee experience, companies should go agile to save themselves time and money. In an agile development structure, bugs and problems are addressed as they come up. The alternative—the more waterfall method of development—might require you to wait 5-6 months before making bug fixes. At that point, you’d have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch, wasting your company time, money, and resources. (Not to mention damaging your reputation and diminishing the user experience.) With agile, your employees have open and transparent communication daily within their squads, each bringing their unique perspective to problems as they arise in real time. Productivity increases and your time to market becomes quicker, both of which benefit your company’s bottom line.
As your company expands, you want to minimize growing pains. For example, in a small start-up, employees tend to start out with vague roles, assuming an all-hands-on-deck mentality where everyone works to get done whatever is necessary to survive. But as you grow, you might start to notice people overlap one another with their tasks; conflicts arise and confusion can abound when people’s roles are so loosely defined. In agile leadership, you have teams that maintain end-to-end responsibility for what they build. They’re fully autonomous and whole within themselves. Going the extra step of restructuring and renaming your teams “squads” serves as a better match for what these teams will actually be like, because you’ll have people from design, development, testing, delivery, etc., all within one squad. They’ll be working in a collaborative environment and utilizing their strengths to produce the best they can in the best amount of time. If your company needs to produce a new type of product or goes into a new market, the agile squad/tribe structure will lend itself more readily to that opportunity for growth.
In the end, simply renaming your team won’t solve problems. Make the move to a more agile structure, and reposition your teams as squads when it actually reflects their nature: collaborative, fully autonomous, and cross-functional. Restructuring your company in this way will benefit your employees, your development, your company, and your bottom line.
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