Squad-Based Software Development – What it really is

Hey everyone!  In today’s blog post, we’re going to give a brief intro about Squad Teams and why they are such a hot topic in the Software Development – agile – world.


What Is A Squad

Similar to a Scrum team, Squads are cross-functional, autonomous teams (of around 8 individuals) that focus on one feature area. Each Squad has a unique mission that guides the work they do, an agile coach for support, and a product owner for guidance. Squads determine too which agile methodology/framework they’ll end up using.

Inspired by Spotify’s engineering teams, Squads are small, flexible teams that are responsible for the end-to-end delivery of each product. Each squad is cross-functional and plans together. While “squad” is just a name for the way a team is organized, in practice it offers many advantages.

Each squad works in a collaborative, transparent environment and uses the strengths of each team member to get the highest quality product to market in the least amount of time. When combined, multiple squads make up a tribe. (A tribe is considered a collection of squads within the same business area).


Benefits of using a Squad-based development process


Less formal process and ceremony

The Squad model focuses on organizing around work and not around unnecessary processes and ceremonies. This provides the organization with greater flexibility when it comes to how Squads work. Instead of requiring Squads to change how they do their work (“you must use Scrum, etc”), it focuses on aligning them with each other and driving towards individual team outcomes.


Faster Development Speed

Squads allow to reduce waste and minimize downtime. Each member of the squad is involved in sprint planning so that every person is allocated specific tasks that cumulatively match the capacity of the squad. That way the squads can adapt and pivot quickly to meet evolving project demands. As a result, they will avoid common downtime issues like waiting, non-utilized talent, and excess processing. Squads then allow to reduce waste and minimize downtime.


Intrinsic Knowledge

One of the biggest advantages of squads is that every member has full knowledge of every aspect of the project. This makes knowledge transfer easy, eliminates silos, and allows the team to retain knowledge for product maintenance or future phases. Since the squad plans together, the developers, designers and product owners are all aware of the roles and responsibilities of one another. This approach reduces both personnel risk and knowledge risk to help keep project velocity consistent and predictable.


More self-management and autonomy

The Squad model encourages autonomy and creativity by trusting people to complete the work they are doing in the way they see fit. Do you need to ship software? That’s up to the Squad. Do you need to change direction? That’s also up to the Squad. The model focuses then on decentralizing decision making and transferring that responsibility to the Squads themselves.


Challenges of using a Squad-based development process


Just copying the model

Unfortunately, many organizations try to copy the Spotify model. To some, it may seem like a simple matrix organizational structure where people report to a functional area but work with a cross-functional team (Squad). However, it’s always more complex than that. Although it may look like a matrix organization, the key cultural elements of the model need to be in place to allow the structure to thrive, such as trust and autonomy. If an organization doesn’t shift its behaviours (and ultimately its culture), the benefits of the Squad model will never be realized. If you simply rename teams to Squads, you’re just putting lipstick on a pig.


Autonomy and trust is key

As we’ve just mentioned, giving as much autonomy as possible to the people is key in order to help them pivot quickly.

Allowing teams to pick their own development tools and modify another team’s code are just some examples. Within your organization, determine if there are decisions that can be pushed to the teams instead of being mandated by parts of the organization that are disconnected from the day-to-day work.


Encourage mistakes – Let them become crystal clear

Teams will fall down and stumble in this journey. But that’s okay. The improvement involves experimenting and learning from both successes and failures. Spotify went through many iterations before they attained the model we know today, and have since continued to experiment to constantly look for new ways to improve the way they work. Doesn’t this ring a bell? Encourage the same within your organization!


Squad-based agile development helps to reduce these risks by encouraging cross-functional teams that have a 360-degree view of the project.

The easy transfer of knowledge within squads allows any of them to adapt quickly if there is a personnel issue, without starting again from the ground up. Easy knowledge transfer, team alignment and autonomy will allow your teams to deliver better products more quickly in a faster path and with a lower risk.

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