Using Agile Pods to Realize the Potential of Your Team

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Summary:

Agile pods are small custom agile teams, ranging from four to eight members, responsible for a single task, requirement, or part of the backlog. This organizational system is a step toward realizing the maximum potential of agile teams by involving members of different expertise and specialization, giving complete ownership and freedom, and expecting the best quality output.

Agile is an ever-evolving field, and its rate of change has exploded exponentially in the last decade. Businesses are constantly trying to catch up with the market pace—and evolving their processes accordingly. Scrum has seen huge success and led to easier adoption of agile in a lot of organizations, but there is a demand to further speed things up while allowing for flexibility in resource and time management. This pursuit led my team to what we call agile pods.

Agile pods are small custom agile teams, ranging from four to eight members, responsible for a single task, requirement, or part of the backlog. This organizational system is a step toward realizing the maximum potential of our agile teams by involving members of different expertise and specialization, giving complete ownership and freedom, and expecting the best quality output.

My company, Winshuttle, started the transition toward agile pods by dividing our one large product team of about twenty people into smaller teams of four to five members and calling them pods. The requirements got divided as independent deliverables for each pod based on the expertise of its team members. Because the team members were responsible for the design, plan, delivery, and quality of the output, the ownership level increased dramatically. Also, because complete communication happened directly, the results were faster and more precise.

Pod Organization

An agile pod is designed as per the requirement of the deliverable, involving varying levels of management, development expertise, QA, and creative talent. These teams are customizable and may change depending on the current requirements, creating a relevant ecosystem leading to maximum innovation and faster delivery times.

Pod Features

Agile pod teams are designed to be self-sufficient. The team is self-organizing and works with minimum supervision, creating a higher sense of ownership and maturity. Also, because most required expertise is available at hand within the team, there is a minimum level of dependency on people outside the pod. The pods stay together until the requirements keep coming for their team—say, for one release cycle.

A pod consists of the following team members:

1. Core team: These team members are dedicated full-time to working for their pod. They are part of all discussions, decisions, and standup meetings. The competencies of the core team members add up to the competency of that pod. The core team members may be shuffled between pods during or after the release cycle according to the expertise required.

2. Part-time specialists: These team members are available as part-time resources to support specialized project needs of different pods. They may be working for multiple pods at the same time. Examples would be a UI designer, a white box tester, or an automation engineer.

3. Pod leader: The pod is led by a pod leader, who is responsible for prioritizing the work with the business management team, clarifying requirements, and replenishing the queue for upcoming projects periodically.

User Comments

4 comments
Tim Baffa's picture

Nishi, congratulations on a good article around employing Agile Principles in the workplace.

I have a few thoughts though about the concept of Pod Leaders.

I see the role of a Pod Leader as a potential single point-of-failure, especially as they seem to perform as the main liaison between the Pod and the business.   What remediation methods do you employ Nishi, in the event you are unavailable (illness, vacation) to serve your pod?

Also, the role of a Pod Leader seems to limit both leadership opportunities within the Pod and communication with the business around requirement prioritization and refinement.

I would perhaps either rotate the role of a "Pod Leader" within each team so that each Pod Member has the leadership opportunity to work with the business in that capacity, or I would be in favor of eliminating that role altogether in favor of the entire team being responsible for working with the business around prioritization and refinement.

October 31, 2014 - 12:21pm
Nishi Grover Garg's picture

Thanks Tim!

In practice, we used the same concept of rotational Pod Leader , as you highlighted! And it was made sure that the Pod Leader was not a Manager , but a member of the team playing the additional role - like a developer or tester. I myself have played the role of a Pod Leader when I was the tester in the team. 

The role in essence is not managerial at all , but just a point of contact for managing communication from th team to outside , like status reporting of the progress and getting issues resolved. So, it is like a servant leader role.

Hope that helps!

Cheers

Nishi

June 5, 2016 - 1:50am
Scott Duncan's picture

Who takes responsiblity to coordinate the time commitments of the people with specialities who are not part of the Core Team?  What if more than one team needs the time of such a person at the same time?  What do such specialists do if no team needs their time (over a certain period of time)?

June 2, 2016 - 1:35pm
Nishi Grover Garg's picture

Hello Scott

The constituent resources of the Pod and the rotation of resources is ideally managed by the Project manager, since he is managing the tasks and requirements and is aware of the outputs and timelines from each Pod. The common resources are kept independent and report to the manager. The Pods can raise request for expertise and resources required , and the manager assigns them fully or partially to the Pods as per need. In our case this happened mainly with the White Box Tester , UI experts and Automation engineer.

Hope that answers your question.

Cheers

Nishi

June 5, 2016 - 1:55am

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