Rethinking Agile Development: Why Smaller Teams Need a Different Approach
How switching to a more flexible workflow can help small development teams be more successful.
As a lead in tech with experience in managing teams of different sizes, I have seen first-hand how Agile development methodologies and strict sprint schedules can lead to great success in large development teams. However, when applied to smaller teams, the same methodology can prove to be counterproductive and overly cumbersome. Here I’ll go over why Agile development and strict sprint schedules may not be the best fit for smaller teams and how a more flexible approach can lead to better results.
One of the cornerstones of Agile development is effective communication among team members. While this works well for larger teams, smaller teams can often accomplish the same level of communication with a more informal approach. The meetings and ceremonies associated with Agile methodologies, such as daily stand-ups, grooming, and retrospectives, can become a burden on smaller teams, consuming valuable time that could be better spent on actual development. Using more informal tools like Slack or similar platforms can address the same requirement in a much faster fashion.
Limited Resource Pool
With fewer developers on a small team, each member may need to wear multiple hats and be responsible for a wider range of tasks. Following a strict sprint schedule can lead to resource allocation issues, as it assumes that each developer has a specific skill set that can be applied to a particular task. In reality, small teams may need to adapt and reassign tasks based on individual strengths and availability, which can be difficult to accomplish within the rigid confines of a sprint.
The fixed timeframes of sprints can make it challenging for smaller teams to adapt to changing priorities and requirements. As the team size is limited, small teams need to be more agile and able to pivot quickly to address new needs. Strict adherence to a sprint schedule can prevent the team from reacting to unforeseen issues, limiting their ability to respond to customer feedback, changing requirements, and last minute bugs.
Inefficient Feature Launches
Agile development encourages the rapid release of features, which can work well for larger teams with the resources to handle the associated workload. However, for small teams, this approach can lead to incomplete or untested features being released to meet the demands of the sprint schedule. Rather than rushing through development to meet arbitrary deadlines, smaller teams should prioritize a more thoughtful approach, ensuring that features are thoroughly tested and polished before being launched. The overall resources around a launch also add unnecessary pressure on a team already trying to do more with less.
Alternative Approaches for Small Teams
To address these challenges, small development teams should consider adopting a more flexible approach that prioritizes adaptability and collaboration over strict schedules. I worked on including formal, hybrid and custom alternative methodologies for consideration. Those include:
- Kanban: This workflow management method focuses on visualizing work and limiting work in progress (WIP) to ensure that the team is not overwhelmed. It allows for greater flexibility and adaptability, making it well-suited for small teams.
- ScrumBan: A hybrid of Scrum and Kanban, ScrumBan combines the iterative structure of Scrum with the adaptability of Kanban. This approach can provide small teams with the structure they need while maintaining the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.
- Customized Agile: Small teams can also opt to create their own customized Agile framework, incorporating the elements that work best for their specific needs and discarding those that do not. This approach allows teams to tailor their processes to the unique challenges they face, maximizing efficiency and effectiveness.
While Agile development and strict sprint schedules can be highly effective for large development teams, smaller teams may find that these approaches hinder their ability to respond to changing priorities and requirements. The goal here isn’t to specifically put you on a specific methodology but to try break team out of the one methodology approach used in most companies and agencies. By adopting a more flexible, better suited process, small development teams can ensure that they are able to adapt to the unique challenges they face, ultimately leading to more successful feature launches and overall project success.