The Agile Development Team: Who does what?

agile development team




What does an Agile development team look like? Who’s involved? How does the process work?


To fully understand how to build an Agile development team, it’s often best to go back to basics. So let’s first get a grip on the concept of Agile itself before moving on to explore some of the key roles on development teams.


Speaking on our podcast, Kelly Waters, CEO of 101 Ways, outlined how the Agile methodology came about and how it benefits development teams.


The traditional sequential waterfall process of development takes some time. But during the 2000’s web evolution began a process rapid acceleration with all sorts of new and innovative ideas coming out all the time.


As a result, the sequential development process was no longer fit for purpose. Even if the list of requirements was accurate at the beginning of a project, it almost certainly wouldn’t be by the end. In the best case we’d deliver on time, but it often wasn’t what was needed anymore.


Agile came about because of the need to build things more quickly in a less linear and sequential way. All the different phases of development were brought together and overlapped. Teams immediately get to work understanding a handful of the initial requirements and figure out the rest as they’re actually building the product. Testing also begins much earlier in the process rather than being left till the very end.


Overlapping the analysis, develop, and test phases shrinks the time to market and allows you to deliver something valuable much quicker and more incrementally. During development you can pivot quickly to adapt to a continually changing situation. Agile enables you to keep up with goalposts that are continually moving.  


Agile fundamentals


The two main styles of Agile project management are Scrum and Kanban, which both utilise a board to visualise tasks in columns of to-do, in progress, and done. In the rest of this post we’ll focus specifically on the Scrum style. But the list below outlines the fundamentals of an Agile workflow which apply to both Scrum and Kanban:


  • Daily standup – A daily meeting in which contributors and managers discuss what work was done yesterday, what they’re working on today, and any questions that come up.



  • Regular reviews and retrospectives – An Agile team manages itself, but there are built-in measures to make sure work is being delivered at a consistent quality. Peer review and reviews by managers occur before tasks get completed and after the sprint is over.


The 3 main roles on an Agile team


With short task spans and demanding schedules, an Agile workflow requires a coordinated team. Roles have to be circumscribed enough so that people know what they ought to be doing at all times, yet flexible enough to allow people to take the initiative and exceed expectations.


A Scrum team is small, lean, and results-driven. The ideal team size is 5-6 people. An Agile team working in Scrum has three roles:


  • The Product Owner – Represents the voice of the customer and is responsible for the prioritised backlog and maximising the return on investment (ROI). Part of this roles responsibility includes documenting user stories or requirements for the project.


  • The Scrum Master – The Scrum Master is most akin to a project manager. They are guardians of process, givers of feedback, and mentors to junior team members. They oversee day-to-day functions, maintain the Scrum board, check in with team members, and make sure tasks are being completed on target.


  • The Team Member – Responsible for the project’s creation and delivery. The team members will normally be comprised of developers, QA, and documentation. They are responsible for planning, design, development, testing, and project delivery.


The Product Owner leads


The Product Owner is responsible for moving the team towards a defined end goal. To do so they create the backlog of to-do items and reviews deliverables before the product is delivered. They are passionate about the product and have a clear idea on why it should exist. This prevents time being wasted on elements that aren’t necessary. To be successful they need to be clear communicators and create maximum transparency within the team.


The Scrum Master hold the team accountable


The Scrum Master is perhaps the most agile of roles since it requires so many different skills. They are a trusted manager who has worked on successful product teams before, is comfortable measuring progress qualitatively and quantitatively, and knows the ins and outs of Agile workflow.


The Scrum Master maintains the Scrum board on a daily and task level, conducts analysis to find out how to reduce workflow friction, calls daily standup, and demands accountability from the Product Owner and individual team members. If the Product Owner is not clear enough about expectations or a team member is not hitting their deadlines, then the Scrum Master needs to step in.


The Team Members focus on the product


Typically there are three or four team members on an Agile team with each one bringing a unique set of skills and experience. They are responsible for getting stuff done. The accept assignments, work on them independently and collaboratively, consult with each other and the Scrum Master to solve problems, and ward off distractions during prints.


Team members should be self-starters. This is because the Agile model encourages autonomy and creativity. As long as products are shipped on time, there is a lot of flexibility in terms of how problems are approached and solved.