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7 Tips to Work with Agile Specialists

Interested in learning how to work with agile specialists? Look no further!

One of the primary features of the agile methodology is the existence of agile teams. These development teams rely on the contributions of generalists and specialists to ensure a sprint’s success. It is worth noting that specialists provide unique opportunities for streamlining and enhancing agile projects.  

So how does a team engage a specialist?

In this article, we outline 7 tips to consider when determining how to incorporate agile specialists into your project team.

Let’s explore them below.


7 Tips to Work with Agile Specialists


1. Define Their Scope of Work with Clarity

Before incorporating a specialist into the agile team structure, it is important to know the specific requirements of the agile project. 

This includes the demand for knowledge and expertise as well as the scope of work that warrants the engagement of a specialist. The agile teams benefit from this information as it ensures they select the right specialist who will contribute to the entire team’s success. 

Another factor to consider is estimating the amount of time it takes the specialist to complete tasks, which also impacts team performance metrics.


2. Distinguish Between Specialist and Generalist Tasks

Companies operating within the agile methodology encourage a generalist approach to the tasks that agile development teams complete. This means that team members have the liberty to assume any task at any time because their roles are diverse.

As such, these team members take on work that is not unique to the specialist’s qualifications. When this occurs, the development team gains insight into the ways in which they rely on input from a specialist. 

Making this distinction streamlines the software development process since the entire team has a thorough understanding of their roles.


3. Encourage Knowledge Sharing Among Specialists and Core Teams

A primary feature of agile teams is the intersection of skill sets and sharing of expertise. Since specialists are skilled in a particular area of software development, it benefits the development team when they share these skills before they leave. 

The objective is to increase the autonomy of the core team by providing enough context that allows them to adopt the role of the specialist.

Consider using the following methods for sharing knowledge: 

  • Pair Programming: This agile software development method enforces the collaboration between two programmers. Generally, one developer writes the code while the other reviews it, and these roles interchange regularly.
  • Code Review: Also known as peer review, it is a way for multiple developers to collaborate, measure, and mitigate the quality of the source code before bringing it to production. Arguably, code reviews are less effective than pair programming in this instance because the focal point is on code quality rather than gaining a complete understanding of the code.
  • Brown Bag Sessions: These are informal meetings during which specialists impart their knowledge and, as a result, train the entire team in an efficient way.


4. Outsource Specialists to Component Teams

Component teams are essential to the agile team structure as they are a cross-functional group and use their technical skills to focus on specific elements within the realm of software development.

When a company engages a specialist, it is because their skill set is unique, making them suitable for certain tasks. Therefore, placing specialists within component teams works to the advantage of the software development process because they leverage the skills they have in common to work toward the objectives of agile teams.

An example of this is having one team work on the database (DB) while an alternate team works on the user interface (UI). The idea is to break down the product into manageable and logical components allowing the agile teams to work in an asynchronous manner.

A downside to this approach is that, to a certain extent, it does not consider the end-user experience. It also impedes the flow of deliverables because agile teams spend more time testing the separate components rather than focusing on the overall user stories.


5. Include Specialists in the Development Team

In order to avoid the disadvantages of using component teams, consider making the specialist a member of the development team. This proves effective as long as the project team substantiates the need for a specialist; in other words, the specialist has a sufficient workload.

It makes sense that, within this team structure, the specialist takes on a more active role in attending daily scrum meetings, sprint planning, and sprint review, similar to any other project team member. What is important, is maintaining cross-functionality between the specialist and other development team members, to complete the product backlog items by the end of the sprint.

For example, including a member of a legal team (specialist) on the development team means that the team now handles any legal aspects and software development elements in the backlog at the same time during a sprint.

This approach is not without its downfalls. Most companies don’t have enough specialists to assign at every team level. Also, the development team doesn’t need to have a specialist on the team permanently.


6. Employ Specialists as Consultants

In this instance, the specialist is no longer a member of the development team and, as such, does not attend meetings. The specialist does, however, assist the development team by completing tasks that require their unique skill set.

This method is an alternative that promotes flexibility among agile teams and, by extension, the whole organization. When the development team has a more demanding workload that requires a specialist, the consultant works on a near-permanent basis. Likewise, when there isn’t a need for specialty work, the consultant works fewer hours during each iteration.

This pattern does, however, present its own drawbacks. Similar to the previous instance, a full-time or part-time specialist is not always available for each team. To add, when one consultant has assignments on multiple agile teams, it creates delays which in turn affect the productivity of the development team.


7. Reduce the Continuous Need for Specialists

Whenever a development team engages a specialist, they arrive at a consensus with regard to the requirements at the service level. Decide, with accuracy, which circumstances warrant the use of a specialist. 

Consider creating guidelines for team members that give them insight into the specialist’s role which in turn allows them to assume responsibility for resolving any challenges that arise.


How to Work With Agile Specialists: Key Takeaways

The agile mindset welcomes the engagement of both generalists and specialists throughout the software development process. Specialists, however, provide the unique opportunity for development teams to maximize their efforts toward producing deliverables of high value.

Specialists achieve this through having clear objectives and sharing real knowledge and expertise at the team level. When they become part of component and development teams, they assume active roles within the organization but maintain the flexibility to be either temporary or permanent team members.

Although engaging specialists benefit the overall development process, it also has its limitations: Requiring input from specialists creates delays and even has the potential to halt projects. To add, on occasion, there aren’t enough specialists to fulfill roles within the organization.

In the final analysis, there is no one-size-fits-all when determining how to work with agile specialists. Take each factor into consideration and apply it to the whole organization. There is always scope for a culture change that functions in accordance with the company objectives.

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the co-founder of Product HQ, founder of Technical Writer HQ, and founder and head of product of Squibler. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.