Building an Agile Team: How to Organize Your Team [Video]
Test and Monitor | Posted January 12, 2016

One of the key components of building an agile team is making sure your organization is staffed with the right people to execute on your goals.

As Jillian Haffner, Director of Cloud Solutions & Integrations at Turbine/Warner Brothers Games, and Jennifer Davis, Software Engineer at Chef explain, this means hiring people at different levels of experience and giving them opportunities to grow.

In the third video of our Building an Agile Team video series, Jillian and Jennifer offer their advice for how to organize your team for success.

Watch the video and read the recap of their discussion below.

Jennifer Davis:

We can’t develop people if we’re not challenging them to try new things.

That was one of my biggest problems at bigger companies. The mindset was always — we need more senior people. But if all your senior people are doing junior level activities, why are you paying them so much?

Jillian Haffner:

Not only that but managing a bunch of senior level people can be dreadfully boring. There’s nobody to train, there’s no problems to put out, and there’s no interpersonal relationships. You’re not really developing people; you’re not helping people grow. It gets boring very quickly.

Give me a team with a really hot senior staff-level principal engineer, a couple mids, one senior, and as many juniors as you can fill in there. The salary cap ends up coming out to be the same and you get way more productivity.

You’re going to get people coming and going, and that’s okay. But the ‘bus factor’ is still gone.

Jennifer Davis:

Yes, and everyone has a path! That’s one of the things people don’t address when building out teams —that concept of where am I going next? And if everyone is at the same level, there’s still going to be people saying “I want to go to the next thing. How do I get to the next thing?” But if you have that growth, you’ll be in a better position.

How do you guys handle that growth for senior-level people? Is it management or other senior-level activities?

Jillian Haffner:

Well, I can’t speak for Warner Brothers but I can speak to my experience at other places. At my last company, we hired a lot of junior engineers and brought them up. We had exactly the setup that I said — we had three or four junior engineers, a few mid-levels, and three or four junior engineers and I was essentially an architect at the time, managing and mentoring all that.

That really worked well but you have to be okay with the attrition. We were only a small company — 50 or 60 people total — and I told management, these people are going to come and go and it’s no fault of ours. Do exit interviews, talk to these people, and find out what we did right and what we did wrong so we can learn from it. Let us hear that feedback.

You don’t have to tell us that they hated us but we need to know where we’re falling down. Don’t make the reflection of people leaving bad on us. That’s the worst part. You’re leaving because you’re done here. You finished what you were here to achieve. We set goals with you, we adjusted this, you worked with us, and did great work. Now you want to move onto another challenge — we can’t fault you for that. We need to make sure management doesn’t fault us for that either.

That worked really well there. At Warner Brothers it’s a larger organization, so we have more freedom to move people between groups. Each group is about fifty people, while my last company was about fifty people total. People who need something different or want new challenges can move to a different group and try something different.

Jennifer Davis:

That’s one of the things I don’t think people think about with big companies. I was on a panel a few weeks ago and they asked me, “I hear that if you’re in a job for more than two years, you’re stagnating and maybe you’re not so awesome…” But at a big company it’s different.

You don’t have to go to a startup to find all the smart people. At a big company, if you’re able to move around and do different things, that’s actually a great thing. I think that’s something that enterprise-level companies have. In a startup, you may be able to wear many different hats but you’re wearing them at the same time, where at big companies, you can change your hat.

Looking to build an agile team? Visit the SmartBear YouTube Channel to watch the entire Building an Agile Team video series.


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