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Antipattern of the Month: Unbounded Team

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Antipattern of the Month: Unbounded Team

Ah, the wonders of multitasking. Workstream multiplicity is certainly possible in an Agile framework, but there are some conditions for unbounded teams.

· Agile Zone ·
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Agile teams require commitment and focus, and these are in fact two of the core values which underpin the Scrum Framework. Moreover, it can be argued that without commitment and focus there is hardly an agile team to be spoken of in the first place. After all, a team must be able to frame a delivery commitment and be focused enough to meet it. Without that there is chaos.

Ironically though, the nurturing of such commitment and focus is not always valued within organizations, or it might be taken too easily for granted. The word "team" is often applied to a collection of people who have been brought together for some notional purpose, but the teamwork which would allow any goals to be met is not provided for. The "team" may not be truly self-organizing for example, and there may be managers who decide who works where and on what. Such decisions might be made seemingly at the drop of a hat, and on the mistaken premise that a reactive management style is concomitant with being "agile." Those notional team members will find themselves rapidly pulled out to work on other matters which are considered to be more pressing by the higher-ups who control them. In effect the team is unbounded, since it is unclear who is on the team and who is off it. No meaningful commitment can be framed or an achievable backlog of work planned for, and no focus can be established while the sands continue to shift beneath their feet. The team is reduced to firefighting and its goals turn to pixie dust.

Unbounded Team

Intent: Use team members for work that is outside of their remit or declared purpose.

Proverbs: "What we imagine is order is merely the prevailing form of chaos."

Also Known As: Firefighting

Motivation: The allocation of team members to certain workstreams implies that they will not be available for others. This is a constraint on organizational behavior, since it means that managers cannot assign people to multiple duties in a reactive or ad-hoc manner. Organizations can be tempted to compromise on such discipline for the sake of expediency.

Structure: A team member is assigned to a workstream but there is no limit to the number of assignments that can be made. Members can thus be expected to work on multiple concerns and this can include both project and business-as-usual work.

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Applicability: Most agile methods, including Scrum, do not constrain team members to single workstreams. To this extent the teams are susceptible to becoming unbounded. It should be noted, however, that agile teams are self-organizing. Self-organization restricts the ability of managers to assign members to different workstreams in an arbitrary manner.

Consequences: Unbounded teams make commitment-based planning difficult or impossible. Team membership is unclear, and the time that members can spend on a particular workstream may be unreliable. Sprint goals can be compromised and the quality of forecasting will be poor. The morale of the team will suffer as a result of poor cohesion, a failure to deliver, or an inadequate sense of purpose. Inefficiencies due to task-switching are often a symptom of the unbounded team problem. The reassignment of team members by external authorities implies that the team is not self-organizing and therefore not agile. Reassignment of team members to multiple workstreams can also imply that portfolio and program level management is unfit for purpose. 

Implementation: The Unbounded Team antipattern often occurs when organizations succumb to firefighting. Firefighting happens when inappropriate plans are made or the organizational response to change is poorly managed. The problem is also associated with reactive management styles and with incompetent managers who commit team members without appropriate consultation.

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Topics:
agile patterns ,antipatterns ,agile teams ,Inspect and Adapt ,teamwork ,Agile

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