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Are We Self-Organized Yet?

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The Agile Manifesto calls for teams to be "self organized," but this is often easier said than done. The manifesto states, "The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams." 

This can be a challenge for some team members. Project managers on traditional teams may be more comfortable working alone than working closely with each other, as Agile demands. So how can they implement self-organization?

Here are some ways to know if your team is self-organized:

1) Actions taken after Scrum meetings.
Good teams have frequent exchanges during the daily standup meetings. Are people mentioning problems and are teammates offering help? Do members take collaborative actions to solve those problems after the meeting? Watch for teams where people remain individually focused.

2) Flexible roles.
Members on self-organized teams will be able to support each other by handling tasks outside their usual specialties.

3) Communication.
Self-organized teams will use immediate forms of communication: text messages, instant messages, phone and even walking to each other's desk.

4) Role of the project manager.
On self-organized teams, the project manager will spend less time assigning work, and more time facilitating the team as work is "pulled" from the backlog.
5) Role of the manager.
The project manager's boss does less hands-on direct planning, but more coaching, rewarding and gathering resources for the team.

Teams may also benefit from better understanding of diverse personality styles (See my post: Making the Most of Team Differences).

The benefits of self-organization are not just a better product. You will sense renewed energy in the team.

Is your Agile team self-organized? What benefits do you find in that structure?


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Great post Bill.

I find it hard to organize others on the team, but feel as the project manager, I lead by example trying to have everything on my end organized for others, hoping it will help others will follow and be organized to provide the project team with items that this project effect their daily job/department. It's a tough challenge. Enjoyed reading your tips. Thanks.

I'm curious about the way modern project management applications have helped improve our organization efforts. Can a good PM tool compensate for poorly organized personnel?

I would think that self-organization would promote more specialization rather than cross-training. The team would recognize that Bob deals with X type of work and Mary deals with Y type of work and would not try to take those things on themselves unless directed to by Bob or Mary (but not the PM!).

In number 5 I am not sure I understand what is meant by "manager." In all the PM positions I have been in and observed the PM is the one that does the planning, coaching, etc.

Numbers 1, 2, and 3 are not indicators of self-organization, but of team work. These are not unique to Agile. They happen on non-Agile projects just as often in my experience.

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