Team Shapes – Simulating the challenges with component teams

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A common pitfall for large and medium size organizations who are adopting Agile is to organize teams based on software component boundaries instead of feature teams. Some of the aspects of long term code ownership are more straightforward this way, but the negative consequences in terms of business agility and costs of coordination are huge. A few years back I designed a simulation exercise that I call Team Shapes which illustrates some of the issues and now I would like to share this simulation with the community.

The comparison of feature vs component teams is covered in depth in the chapter on feature teams in Scaling Lean & Agile Development by Larman & Vodde. I recommend any coach working with software development organizations of medium to large scale to take the time to read that chapter. 

The Team Shapes simulation is fairly quick to run and really simple. It is run in two different organizational setups, the first based on component teams with a separate integration team and the second based on feature teams. The teams are tasked with producing integrated features in terms of simple geometrical shapes drawn on post-its of different colors.

team-shapes-participants

A feature team delivering integrated shapes end-to-end

Initially it was just me using the exercise when teaching Agile to new employees joining my customer. However, over the last couple of years several of my colleagues at Crisp have picked it up and used it in their training as well, apparently with great results. What has been most rewarding form me is how other trainers have been able to introduce variations to the basic exercise to enable additional learning.

Now I would like to share the exercise with the community. My hope is that the insights learned will help as many as possible to transfer from the coordination swamp of component teams. Please check out the attached exercise facilitation guide and the exercise materials and try it out.

If you decide to start using the exercise and come up with some novel variations I would be thrilled to get feedback so that I can incorporate the best ideas in future versions of the faciliation guide.

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