How “Whole” Are Agile Teams in Practice?

We are often told that agile teams should be whole, that they should have sufficient people, funding, and skills to fulfill their mission.  The idea is that this reduces the dependencies that your team has on others, enabling them to make decisions and to collaborate more effectively.  But, is this actually happening in practice?  Are agile teams truly whole, or do they still need to collaborate with other teams (hopefully productively) to get the job done?  Being strong believers in empiricism over rhetoric we decided to look into this issue.

In November of 2016 we ran the 2016 Agility at Scale survey.  It was targeted at people who were currently working on agile teams, or who had recently worked on agile teams, and we asked them straightforward questions around the size of the team, how distributed it was, what complexities they faced, an so on.  The following infographic summarizes the findings from the question that explored whether agile delivery teams need to work with external teams or groups to get their work done – in other words, are agile teams truly whole or do they rely on others?  As you can see, 96% of respondents indicated that in practice their team had to work with one or more other teams, leading to the conclusion that very few agile teams appear to be truly whole.

Agile Teams Need to be Enterprise Aware

One of the fundamental principles underlying the Disciplined Agile framework is that disciplined agilists should be enterprise aware – they should recognize that they need to collaborate with others outside of their team, that they should work towards a common organizational vision, and that they should strive to do what is best for the organization and not just what is convenient for them.  Given that agile teams are collaborating with others in practice, it is clear that this philosophy of being enterprise aware is important.

The following diagram presents the results from the survey question in greater detail.  You can obtain the source data, a copy of the original questions, and a slide deck key diagrams at the 2016 Agility at Scale survey page.

Enterprise Awareness

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