Steve Fenton

Where does an X fit into an Agile team?

There is a question that crops up a lot with a lot of variations. It goes like this…

Where does a Business Analyst fit into an agile team?

And you can substitute the exact role for any number of roles: Business Analyst, Systems Analyst, Test Analyst, Project Manager, Development Manager, Architect, and so on.

The question is, in fact, wrong and the answer is obvious once we ask the right question. So how is it wrong? Let’s rephrase it quickly.

What can I build if I employ a Plumber?

The first mistake is ordering, the second is using roles.

Roles are fairly arbitrary names we give to a collection of skills. This is useful when we want to summarise a set of skills; it would be a lengthy process to list everything we expect of a Software Developer these days so the role gives us brevity. The problem is, they also blinker us. In our question of what to do with a Plumber, we are inevitably focussed on water systems – but we aren’t dealing with “a Plumber”, we are dealing with “Janet” who is a highly qualified Plumber, who is also highly skilled in electrics, plastering, and all aspects of heating. Janet’s favourite work is installing eco-friendly heating and power systems. Janet is a “Plumber” because that is the role she took on when she joined the team – but she has lots of other skills, and will learn even more before long.

The role does not sufficiently describe the individual.

As for ordering, once we know we want to build something we should be asking “What skills do we need to build this?” and then allow people with those skills to self-organise around the work. Not only will a small number of people be able to cover an astonishingly large range of skills, they will also learn from each other because they are individuals, and not “Plumbers”. When everyone has a job title of “Team Member”, the team is no longer open to “that’s not my job” or the even more insidious “that’s not your job”.

So if you are asking “Where does a Business Analyst fit into an agile team”, start by asking whether there are any skills the team needs and continue by asking the individual if they have, or would like to acquire, those skills.

Written by Steve Fenton on