How to Scale Agile Product Teams

In our ever-growing environment of developing apps and keeping up with growing demands, it’s imperative to design our agile teams to be as productive as possible.  

Building agile product teams is a way to do this, but while most people think that scaling is intuitive, there’s a lot more thought and methodology that goes into scaling a team that meets the eye.

This post will outline the methods you need to scale agile product teams properly. Additionally, we will go through what scaling means and how you can utilize this term to create a hyper-productive team that can handle the demands that come when you experience rapid growth.  

Scaling agile teams is a challenge all successful organizations face

Large tech companies that once used to be startups have also faced the challenge of scaling their teams. To be successful at scaling up their teams, startups need to define their team’s growth, build a strong company culture, establish systems and tools, identify their absolute goals and define key metrics. 

When transitioning from a startup to a large tech company it’s important to have a clear mission and vision, as well as to maintain consistency across the board when the teams increase. 

An example of a startup that transitioned to a large tech company is Postman. which managed that through building a strong and shared company culture, striving to make everybody efficient, promising to listen first and one of the most important company principles is transparency.

What does it mean to scale agile product teams?

At its core, scalability is about balance. It’s about creating a team that can excel your business into growth. Scalability is about capacity, capability, and equipping your teams with the means to handle company growth. 

As such, it’s essential to ask yourself such questions as: have you designed your teams to allow your business the ability to grow? Can your company’s infrastructure handle growth?

While some people may overlook the importance of scalability, scaling a company means creating systems in place to support your company during its most challenging (and exciting) times. It means being able to grow your company without being burdened by extra costs. However, to reach scalability, you must plan, invest in technology, hire smart, and have a vision.

Simply put, if you want your company to grow successfully, you need to scale agile product teams. 

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What does the scaled team structure look like?

Before we dive into how to scale agile product teams, you should have a strong grasp of what your team will look like. 

More often than not, a strong product team will have a UX Designer, developers, and a QA Engineer. It’s also crucial that you arm your team with a Product Manager, Content Strategist, and Graphic Designer. 

It shouldn’t need to be said (but we’ll say it anyway) that the key to creating a cohesive team is finding team players, people without big egos, and people with an innate drive to learn and gain new skills. You want to find workers who are technically skilled at their jobs, but more importantly, people who readily collaborate. 

Dilemmas every organization faces when scaling their agile teams

Every company faces dilemmas when it comes time to scale up its agile teams. Some of the questions that product managers and owners ask themselves are: 

  • When is my agile team too large?
  • How do split up agile teams?
  • How big can an agile team grow?
  • Is it efficient to scale agile product teams? 
  • What does it take to scale agile product teams?
  • How much work is it to scale agile product teams?
  • Whose job is it to scale agile product teams?
  • Who needs to be involved to scale agile product teams?

As sometimes, the tendency is to hire more people, review your situation very carefully, and not hire for the sake of hiring. When asking yourself if the product team is too large, take a step back and carefully analyze your existing agile teams and the way they spend their time, and analyze their workload and priorities. 

If you notice that the daily meeting lasts more than 15 minutes it can indicate that the team is too big or that it is less efficient. Another sign is when there is less common ground during meetings. It may mean that the meeting is too big and it is time to split it. Separate meetings and processes for each team may also work well as team members will be more focused and better at creating their processes. 

Shared resources between teams and choosing unconventional roles such as the “team chaser” is also helpful. 

Splitting up agile teams 

Before splitting your teams, it’s important to think about the “why?” Why do you want to split up the team? What’s the need behind that? 

Having clear boundaries and clear ownership is one of the most important reasons why those teams should be split up. However, for at least 6 months a team needs to maintain the same structure to make sure you make the best decision and know what to adjust. 

There are three general criteria for splitting up a team and responsibilities:

  • completeness, 
  • independence and 
  • balance. 

In addition, there are 5 methods for splitting responsibilites between team members such as using layers, using functional modules, user personas, customer journey phases and using goals. 

How big can an agile team grow? When should you split it up?

As you are likely to go through a phase when there are too many people in one team, it’s important to identify the signs as early as possible to avoid inefficiency. 

According to the Scrum Guide, an agile team needs to have between three and nine team members without including the product owner or scrum master unless either of them is in charge of the sprint backlog items.

You should split up a team when everything is taking much longer than it used to. One solution is to split the teams by upcoming themes. Giving each new team a strong new identity is helpful as well. 

Think about the math behind

An optimal Scrum team size has actually some math behind it. For example, every team member is like a node who links up to other nodes, which represent the interpersonal relationships between colleagues. When a team grows, the number of these links does not grow linearly. A bigger team of about 15 people would mean more than 100 links, which could be less efficient if the tasks and duties are not clearly defined and if they overlap or if there are any sub-groups. 

How to scale agile product teams efficiently?

It may be inevitable to scale agile product teams, hence it allows your business to thrive and handle company growth. Especially now, with more and more remote teams, it’s vital to have a firm handle on your team.

Below are steps to best scale agile product teams. 

Don’t rush growth

Sometimes managers or company owners will want to over-prepare too early and wind up hiring too many people unnecessarily. The key to managing proper scalability is to grow your teams naturally with the company. If you force growth, you’ll run into some significant issues that will ultimately hinder your team’s productivity.

One of the largest issues you run the risk of is having too many cooks in the kitchen. With so many people working on one product, the design can often get muddled and convoluted. Not only that, but it can also lead to high tensions in your team, which can stifle creativity. 

And from a practical standpoint, hiring too many developers before your company is at that level will cost you unnecessary expenses because you’re employing team members who don’t need to be there.

Don’t Start Too Late

Just as it’s important not to grow your agile team prematurely, it’s equally important to begin the scaling process early enough before your unit becomes overwhelmed. 

Once your team becomes flustered with too much work, it can seriously disrupt productivity. Some managers fall into the trap of frantically adding people to their team to meet a deadline, which almost always fails because those newly added team members often struggle to catch up to speed. As a result, their presence typically adds more confusion and stress.  

Rule of thumb: follow the revenue growth

How do you know when to scale agile product teams and start adding new team members? You want to scale agile product teams so that your teams’ expenses are not raised when your revenue increases. So, it would be best to find a balance to have your team members’ expenses not increase their revenue.  

Suppose you notice that profits have sharply increased and the projected forecast of your product will likely continue to increase. In that case, you need to add team members to keep up with the demand for your product, but you need to optimize the team’s structure to manage the same increase in profit with as few people as possible.

Utilize Technology 

When utilized correctly, technology can help properly scale agile product teams. Ultimately, some sophisticated software also helps complete the same results with less labor. 

For example: 

  • Automation helps manage your company under significantly lower costs, which helps add to the balance of team scaling. 
    Automating feedback management can be a great first step.
  • Systems integration can help a company’s many systems work together cohesively to help communicate between teams once your company experiences growth.
    We recommend story mapping that can bridge the information gap between management and development teams.

For more ideas, browse products to help you save time, save costs, and improve internal communication within teams. Examples of such products are marketing automation, sales management, inventory, manufacturing, accounting, and so forth.  

Involve Scrum Masters

Going back to equipping your team with the right people, a scrum manager can help with this, and as such, you should utilize this person when constructing your team. 

More people do not necessarily equal more productivity, so you must handpick people with the necessary qualifications to make your team as productive as possible.

It would help if you also found people who can work well with others and whose strengths and weaknesses complement the other team members. For example, you don’t want a team made solely of leaders because then conflict will arise, and you won’t get things done. Another example is that you don’t want to have too many creative people because logistics will fall behind.

Your scrum master can help immensely in this. They will help find the right people to construct the right team. They will help consider skills, motivations, and a willingness to work well on a team. 

Employ Hierarchy

The key to properly scaling agile teams is to ensure that they work as effectively and efficiently as possible. More effective teams can result in fewer employees, which helps in your endeavors to scale. 

One significant element to creating an effective team is to employ a hierarchy in your team’s structure – or better said, set out responsibilities. When you think about it, the best teams in the world have very clear roles. From the military to sports teams, assigning people to delegate is essential to running your team with as few employees as possible.  

Split the Product Up

Sometimes when a product becomes successful, it almost becomes too big to manage. In these cases, sometimes there are simply too many features, which leads to too big of an audience. When this happens, your product can quickly become a bit of a jumbled mess. 

That’s why it’s excellent to unbundle or split the product up so that you can become more specific with your product and, therefore, create a more specific target audience. The more specific you can be with your target audience, the more successful you will have with your product.

Not only that, but when you split your product up, your teams can better manage the specific needs of each product and can be much more effective. 

Secure the Sales

An essential element to scaling your product means ramping up a plan to increase your business. As such, you need to design a plan to increase profits. 

Important questions to consider are if you have a structure in place to generate more sales. Do you have a good sales team to close leads? Do you have a high-functioning system to manage not only sales orders but a system to process billing effectively? 

All of these questions are essential to figuring out how to best secure sales. When scaling your business, make sure not to forget about arguably the most crucial aspect: growing your company. 

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Final Thoughts 

Scaling your team is a delicate act, one that demands excellent foresight and planning. On the one hand, you want to grow your business, so you need to know how to scale agile product teams. On the other hand, you don’t want to add needless employees should you become overwhelmed by sudden growth. 

In the end, learning how to scale agile product teams properly takes patience, planning, and experience. Sometimes the balance takes a bit to adjust to, so cut yourself a bit of slack if you don’t nail down the precise balance.

Since every team is different, scaling teams takes communication and a sharp eye for team management.

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Author bio:

Romy Catauta works at Toptal in the marketing field and is passionate about writing on web design, business, interior design, and psychology.