team’s response. Such a plan would be
out of date as soon as it was conceived.
Once the soccer team steps onto
the pitch, the coach can only do so
much. As the game unfolds, team
members take leadership roles at
Similarly, leaders may emerge at
different stages of a project. In an iteration
focused heavily on design, a team
member with strong design capabilities
may step up and help the team make the
best decisions. For a user story that has a
strong database component, a different
team member with strength in this area
may take the lead.
I once worked as a technical project
manager on a project to improve
the workflow of producing images
for a digital collections website. One
user story in the project involved automating
the process of aggregating terabytes of images
to other websites. We had a tool that could do
part of the processing. The problem was the
tool would require an end user to spend a huge
amount of time creating images. We were trying
to modify the tool when a team member pointed
out that although completely re-engineering the
tool would take more time than modifying it,
the amount of time it would save the end user
in the long run was exponential. We decided to
re-engineer the tool.
This example illustrates both the role of the
agile project manager and the team members.
The team member had to step forward to a
leadership role and use her expertise to guide
the team toward the best solution. The project
manager had to step back from the details of a
problem, hear a completely different approach
and judge it on its merits. It is the role of the
agile project manager to create an environment
Gerald O’Connor, PMP, is a project manager
and analyst for digital collections, Trinity
College Library, Dublin, Ireland.
that encourages this type of creative thinking—and
get out of the way when it happens.
A collection of great individuals doesn’t
automatically make a great team. Great agile teams
are built on trust, empowerment and ability. Trust
is the most important factor. Team members must
trust each other, the project manager and the
organization. After trust is built, empowerment is
allowing the team to complete its commitments.
The least important factor in great agile teams
is ability, because a good environment can be an
incubator of ability.
When a team is in the formation stages, the
strengths and weaknesses of team members will be
exposed, creating vulnerabilities. As members learn
each other’s talents and gaps, they begin to understand
and trust each other. That allows each individual’s
strengths to shine through, and team members will
learn to compensate for weaknesses in a teammate.
Teams I have worked on that trust each other
didn’t have to experience the frustration or
negativity that comes from one’s ideas not being
listened to and encouraged. If a team member
points out a way to do things better and the team
agrees it is worth pursuing, that team member
will be empowered to run with it. Trusting and
empowering people to implement changes that will
help the group should be encouraged. Having this
approach also means members of the team will
only suggest ideas if they are willing to follow them
through, thus ensuring the suggestions made are
practical and well thought-out.
All of this trust is necessary because when agile
teams commit to certain iteration goals, the team as
a whole will be judged as having met its targets or
missed them—in the same way that the entire soccer
team is judged on its wins and losses. PM
can be an