Esther Derby writes about self organizing teams in StickMinds.com. I too have heard "leading agile consultants" speak about the virtues of self organizing teams. They usually speak in the absence of any context, business domain, and many times in the absence of experience other than managing trivial projects. By trivial I don't mean unimportant. I mean projects that have mission critical behaviors. ERP, Enterprise integration, product development with multiple moving parts (hardware, software, COTS parts, regulatory compliance in some way). Non-Trivial means some measure of coordination between all the moving parts is needed for success.
The fundamental missing element in most of the "leading agile consultants" understanding is:
This is the role of management. This is not "directing" in the Command and Control sense. It is directing in the "required business value" sense.
Esther has some good points, but a broader context for management is needed:
- In self organizing teams serve their customers, who "manages" the customer, when the customer is not prepared to behave in a "well manner" way?
- If there is more than one self organizing team working on the same project, who coordinates the activities between these teams?
- When there are conflicts in resources, funding, requirements, who coordinates the resolution?
In Esther's Soccer Team analog, it is suggested the team members organize themselves on the field and respond according to the emerging play of the other team. Maybe Esther hasn't watched children's soccer, but there is a coach on the side lines directing the play. At the professional level, the coach is still on the sideline. Not directing each play, but certainly coordinating the players, guiding the flow of the game by substitutions, timeout consultations, and reinforcing all untold number of hours "practicing" these supposed "emerging" plays prior to the game.
Esther speaks of the roles of a self organizing team.
- Managing work and monitoring progress
- Managing team membership
- Setting direction within the organization
The paragraphs that follow describe a reasonable approach to these activities. Emphasizing that "setting direction" is rarely the self organizing teams role, when there are external customers or larger business issues - enterprise IT and ERP being two examples.