The cooperation with external people may be a challenge for agile teams. These people are often experts working as a smaller or bigger part of an agile team. As long as an expert is not a full-time and dedicated team member involved in development lifecycle, this is a challenge to organize common work in a consistent way. We consider factors making the cooperation inconvenient. There are also produced common working agreements supporting organization of mutual collaboration.
Who is an external expert?
It’s easier to define that such a person isn’t a regular team member. He/shy usually is a part time member and has influence on the team work. We call those people experts because they very often act as experts with specific knowledge and skills. The key factor which allows to differentiate an external from regular team member is limited availability and limited conforming to team rules. We follow a pragmatic approach to external experts in terms of their efficient contribution to the team effort. According to this assumption, contractor becomes a regular team member for a certain time period if he behaves and acts in a way as the whole team do.
Factor 1: Availability
Full time and dedication make the expert ideal partner for the team. It’d make him even a regular team member. Depending on the impact making on the work, the expert should participate in team’s selected key events. In Scrum Teams, the expert may participate in daily Scrum, sprint planning, sprint review and sprint retrospective events. In addition to those events team and expert should develop and follow their common working agreements. It may be sometimes sufficient to delegate the Ambassador role to communicate with the expert. Thanks to the role, the rest of the team can save time. The ultimate goal is getting things done. Weekly status meeting might be acceptable for certain teams, for certain projects. Availability tailored to the team’s actual needs is a professional approach.
Factor 2: Team rules
Every team has developed work rules. Some are formal, others not. Experts must not disturb the work. They are to help the team. It implies that experts should at least not interrupting team following they rules. There will be also rules set to experts and they have to respect them. Agile teams are allowed to expect commitment from experts.
A team is agile, but how about an expert? Getting the expert with no agile mindset may cause an effort for the team to cooperate fluently. It’s crucial to recognize it in the beginning and take appropriate actions. Agile teams are aware they achieve their goals by continuous inspection and adaptation. These two agile pillars are helpful here in developing common relationships. Experts provide value to the team. They are the addition with vary factors and they support achieving the goal. Who, when, whom and why becomes an expert available for the team usually is out of the team control. This means this is team’s externally made association. Experts are busy and this is the team job to reach them. Experts have rules too. They have experience, knowledge and different habits. If agile teams are to remain agile, there is no place to compromise agile rules.
Common working agreements
It’s all about to know and understand mutual expectations with a purpose to meet and respect all of them. The team should have rules, experts should have rules and they all work on their common goal with a mutual respect. Usually this is a team’s initiative to start organizing the cooperation. Teams should avoid with deferring it to the inaccurate future. This neglection might generate a high cost. This doesn’t have to be too formal, however it should create a common picture to refer to it. Once people have a common agreement this is easier to force respecting decisions. In agile environment those agreements require validation in time.
Sample working agreements:
- Set of meetings the expert joins
- Time when the expert is available for consultancy
- Reports that the expert creates
- Processes and tools in which the team communicates with the expert
- Deadlines, the team provides input to the expert
- Deadlines, the expert provides results to the team
Agile team cooperation with external expert has to be well prepared and firmly executed. It requires taking actions in the beginning of the collaboration. Moreover, as it is in every agile environment, it requires continuous inspection and adaptation. Creating a mutual respect between team and expert is the foundation. Each team and expert are unique, thus it expects unique consideration and implementation.