If a project is showing signs of impending failure often the next step is to reinvigorate the team to lead it out of the wilderness. But are there any special considerations to getting the right team on board when the project failure is an Agile one?

The review has been completed, the answers are clear, and the steering committee and executive team are aligned and agreed about the path forward. The Agile project that was starting to fail needs a recovery team and a new approach if it is to get back on track.

But how do you ensure that the next team is high-functioning, multi-dimensional, and aligned, not to mention focused on maximising the successful outcomes that have previously eluded the project?

It’s All About the Team

Getting the right recovery team to turn around a sinking project is one of the key ingredients for recalibrating for success. But what constitutes the “right” team?

A high-functioning team is about discipline, structure, cultural alignment, the right capabilities in the right roles and clear ownership. These are essential to cultivating success. The right team is also influenced by the complexity of the project, its organisational risk profile, and – ultimately – budget. For example:

  • The greater the complexity the greater the capability and experience required
  • The greater the risk to an organisation the higher level of capability and experience is required
  • Finally, the smaller the budget the less likely you will be able to acquire the ideal capability.

The Cost of Failure vs the Cost of Good People

Failing to pay the right money for the right people can often sound the death-knell for a project in trouble. The cost of failing once is high. The cost of failing a second time can be catastrophic.

Experience, cultural alignment, and the ability to communicate and collaborate does not generally come cheap. People – and especially the right people – are critical to the success of recovery projects and they are usually in demand.

Being able to articulate the cost of a second failure to decision makers is imperative to helping secure the funding for the team you need, not just what can be afforded today.

Cross-functional People vs Cross-functional Teams

If we assume that the project sponsors have accepted the need for a greater budget to bring on the right people, then what is the right mix needed to get the project back on track?

Maturing Agile communities – and especially within organisations with a traditionally waterfall oriented approach – can confuse the concept of cross-functional teams and the idea that each team member must have the capability to be an expert across multiple capabilities i.e., developers can also be testers and BAs.

AgileConnection.com states that managers who want high-performing Agile teams may think this involves finding people who possess every required skill.

In addition to being unlikely and costly to find such unicorns, it’s also a bad idea.

If you think of a rugby union scenario, it’s the equivalent of asking front rowers (those big stocky blokes) to also have the agility and silky ball handling skills of a fly-half (more often than not the coordinated good-looking ones) whilst being able to absorb 2500kg per square centimetre of pressure in a scrum (the rugby version, that is). They do exist, but they are extremely rare.

It is the mix of perspectives that gives benefit and value to a project. Finding SMEs with individual skills who can utilise soft skills such as collaborating well with others is a better approach.

Rather than focusing on cross-functional people, the recovery team should instead focus on being cross-functional, encompassing the characteristics of high-performance teams such as:

Have a Strong Bench

Another area that persistently creates confusion is the concept of having the same team for the life of a project. This is influenced by the Agile method that is being used, e.g. scrum, Kanban and Scrumban. Each have differing guidelines on how static teams should be.

As a project evolves, having the right skills on the bench means that the right people can be dropped into the project at the right time and this can save time, costs, and ensure that each team member plays to their core strengths.

Communication and Cooperation is Essential

Recent research on Science Direct found that cross-functional cooperation is a strong predictor of project outcomes, fuelled by strong communication and cooperation. The inverse is also true.

The key is to ensure that there is space within a project for the team to come together and find their rhythm, particularly in a pressured recovery environment. Strong leaders in critical roles are invaluable here: Finding experts in the individual skill sets needed vs finding an Agile Everyman means that they can focus on finding the right people to complement and work with the team.

To put it in the rugby vernacular, the All Blacks have a mantra “great people make great All Blacks”.

Mix this group with support, training, mentoring, and time to get to know each other’s work processes. Stepping back to watch them grow organically into a high-performing Agile team can be highly rewarding. Of course, it’s a tricky situation to achieve in recovery mode and that is where the product owner needs to work closely with the team to shield them from the business pressures.

A Shared Vision and Commitment to the Goal

Scaledagileframework.com talks to ‘collaboration and culture’ focused Agile teams, stating that they are motivated by a shared vision and commitment to delivering value to the customer.

Outcomes are achieved when each team member is dedicated to a single, focused team that continuously and actively engage with other teams to manage dependencies and resolve impediments. Relationships are based on trust, facilitated by a common mission.

Evolving the Agile Recovery Team – At a Pace

With recovery projects, it’s rare that such teams are in place and available, which means that they need to be fostered into service. The first step may be to ensure that each tangible delivery of value is recognised, encourages trust, reduces uncertainty and risk, and builds confidence. This needs to happen within the team first, then expanded – slowly – out into the wider organisation.

The Recovery Team will meet their responsibilities only through constant communication and collaboration and through fast, effective, and empowered decision making. The bigger the wins, the higher the energy and the greater the collaboration, the quicker the results can come and the pace of their impact can increase across the wider organisation.

Recovering Agile projects is not easy. But if the team is well set-up with the right people focused and unified behind the vision, the better the chances of a successful recovery.

Talk to us about recovering Agile. Contact us here or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...