Getting started with Agile – how do I ring-fence my teams?
Updated: Jun 10, 2022
A step-by-step guide to ring-fenced teams
If you’re here, you probably need help on how to ring-fence teams within your organisation. Let’s start by clarifying exactly what we mean by a ‘ring-fenced team’.
A ‘ring-fence’ is a structure to separate and protect assets. To ‘ring-fence’ a team is to protect a group of specialists from being assigned to ad-hoc work so they can focus on achieving a specific goal. A good example of a ring-fenced team is an Agile and Scrum team.
Protecting a cross-functional Scrum Team dedicated to their product is not always easy. ‘Laksmi is the only architect’ and ‘Peter is our performance specialist for 3 products’ are lines heard across organisations far too often.
If you’re encountering this hurdle with Agile & Scrum then rest assured - you’re not alone. It’s something we have helped many organisations overcome. So here’s some practical advice from the trenches.
Select your team, communicate that they’re ring-fenced and get started. There’s never an 'ideal' time to transition to Agile so don’t wait for it. The time is right before you need to deliver better/faster/meet that deadline because it takes time to sort these things out. We have often trained organisations only to find it was just too hard to get started because they had so many projects in flight they felt they couldn’t pause, select and ring-fence resources and start work. They either never start, or try to start with part-time teams and are frustrated when it doesn’t work.
Prioritise ruthlessly. If X is really important then ring-fence the right people and deliver it….which means Y has to wait. We understand that organisations need to finish projects and operate, they can’t flick a switch and change tomorrow. That said, it’s a question of prioritising what’s really important - to quote Michael Porter in an old HBR article, “the essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do” and the same rationale applies to pulling these teams together.
Question: Do you suffer from multiple projects that are limping along due to resource issues? Many organisations suffer from too many projects and flatly refuse to acknowledge that prioritisation and stopping some is the best possible course of action. So what can you do? There’s a great HBR article, well worth a read, which proposes a rationale and structure for doing this, so rather than me reinventing the wheel, check it out!
Make the change incrementally. If the same people need to do something else in parallel (although ideally, I’d say look at point 2!) you can ring-fence them 100% and split out their workload, say 70% X and leave 30% of their time for Y. It’s not ideal but it’s a starting point. Measure every task accurately and within a couple of Sprints, you will see the reality of the workload and how it’s split. That is a common situation and it means you can decide where to move the lower priority Y work as you can now quantify it.
What other capabilities do you need outside of that ring-fenced team? What and who do you need not 100% of the time, but at points in your lifecycle? Plan ahead, walk them through your Roadmap and although they are not ring-fenced, they can plan ahead and ring-fence their team when you need it.
Are all of the Stakeholders and end-users committed to the time you require? By this I include Legal, Finance, Marketing and whoever else will be impacted or you will need to sign off.
Are Support/Operations involved at the outset and available throughout the product delivery?
Are Procurement briefed and ready to buy licences, hardware and anything else you may need in a timely manner?
Is everyone aware of the consequences of not being available – ie you will stop?
Is there business value in everything you deliver and is it all prioritised?
Finally, but importantly…
What can you NOT do?
Perhaps the last point is your biggest challenge. The fact that resources were tight in the first place shows us that you need a reality check in organisational capability, so make sure you keep people abreast of your Roadmap and ring-fence their time as and when necessary.
We help organisations with the practical reality of these challenges on a daily basis. If this has piqued your interest, reach out for a no-strings 30-minute consultation about how Quantum of Value can help you select and ring-fence your teams and improve your delivery.
Here’s what our clients say about working with us….
“Our business is seeing massive impacts since engaging Quantum of Value. For example, our support functions have seen a 58% decrease in outstanding tickets just from you improving our processes.” - COO
“The coaching approach worked really well with our stakeholders and team. The results: Faster turn-around and great customer feedback” - CTO
“In just 5 months we saw the great result of a 4x increase in throughput. Client satisfaction also dramatically improved” - Head of Technology
“We have significantly reduced our time-to-market whilst bringing quality into our Sprints, rather than a long regression cycle. It has shifted our focus from delivering as much as we can as quickly as we can, to looking at quality and Tech Debt.” - Product Manager
“Quantum of Value gave me tools that really add value across the whole team and environment. It felt like I could engage with the coach on a deep solid level because it wasn’t just Agile, it was how to apply the new way of working in my situation.” - Scrum Master