Why Agile Teams Need a Team Charter


One of the most empowering aspects of the agile mindset is that fact that agile teams are generally self-organized verses the traditional command and control protocols of traditional project management. While there are several benefits to self-organizing teams, it can lead to failure if the team misses some key planning aspects during team formation. Agile chartering is key to executing successful agile initiatives. In general, agile charters consist of the project charter and a team charter. The project charter defines the project vision and objectives, while the team charter establishes how the team will work together and how they can incorporate agile values as the team collaborates. A team charter is especially critical when organizations are new to the process of incorporating agile frameworks into the organization as it will facilitate knowledge transfer and identify key learning opportunities. With that said, here are some key reasons agile teams need team charters.

Why Agile Teams Need a Team Charter

A Shared Understanding of The Project Vision

The goals of an agile project is most often represented in the project vision, which helps the team determine and understand the desired outcome of the project. Failure to articulate a clear vision will cause division, counterproductivity, and a low-value product. Key components of the project vision includes the following:

  • Vision Statement – A clear and concise statement that represents the goal and objectives of the project. This helps the team understand why the change is needed.
  • Success Criteria – Objectives that are stated as defined and quantifiable metrics to allow the team to measure progress and determine if the goals and objectives are being met
  • Key Stakeholders – Identified individuals or groups expected to be impacted by the initiative.

Alignment on the Project Release Criteria

Defining acceptance and release criteria is essential to creating team alignment and a smooth cadence for the team. Failure to establish release criteria can lead to inconsistency and rework for the team. Some key release criteria that should be defined during chartering includes the following:

  • Definition of ready – This is the established criteria that must be met before a product backlog item is considered ready to be allocated to an iteration so that delivery work can begin. Incomplete and inestimable user stories and product backlog items (PBIs) are a result of not having clear definition of ready criteria.
  • Definition of done – This is the established criteria that must be met before a PBI is considered complete and ready to be delivered to the customer. If the definition of done criteria is not followed, low quality items will be presented to the customer.
  • Define iteration boards - This board is used during daily-stand ups to monitor and discuss team progress. The specifics of the board can vary based on framework and may be presented as a Scrum board, Kanban board, or storyboard. The boards may consist of different PBI statuses that will be allocated to some variation of 1 of 4 columns including To Do, In Progress, Waiting (To Verify), and Done. The team will need to agree which statuses will be assigned to each column. If the team is not on the same page with the iteration board structure, there may be extended wait times for the items to progress to the next board status.

Smoother Workflow and Less Conflict

Understanding how the team will work together is a key part of enabling a smooth workflow and better working relationships. Agile team members often have various levels of exposure to agile practices, rules, norms and frameworks, so agile leaders will need to take care to ensure that the team has a shared understanding of how to add value individually and collectively. This aspect of the team charter specifies how the team will create an agile environment. Failure to define the workflow and set working agreements can lead to conflict and roadblocks during the iterations, which can impact delivery and team morale. Common elements to discuss involving the team’s workflow and working agreements include the following:

  • Framework - While most organizations stick to one agile framework, if the organization executes various agile frameworks based on the project context, this will need to be established during the team charter.
  • Iteration Cadence - The length of an iteration can range from one to four weeks. While two weeks is typically standard, there may be cases when an alternative iteration period is warranted. In addition, the system (flow) of each iteration must also be established in order to create more predictability of the development work.
  • Roles and Responsibilities – This is probably the most critical function of the team charter. Newly formed agile teams will need to get comfortable working together and this can take some time. With many agile frameworks having a specified team structure, it is likely that members of the team will be performing duties outside of their traditional role. To increase the chances of success, each team member should have a clear understanding of their general responsibilities and how they can add value to the team. A key outcome of the team charter is understanding who the Product Owner (PO) is and their capacity to perform the expected duties. Often, if the PO is not fully dedicated to the project, some of the PO responsibilities may need to be distributed to other team members.
  • Knowledge Transfer - If team members will be adding value in new ways, the team will also need to establish a knowledge transfer process. This will designate cross-training in a way that will be least disruptive to the team cadence. This is critical for cross-functional teams, as each team composition will be unique per project.
  • Communication – While most agile frameworks have standard ceremonies including (planning workshops, daily standups, backlog refinement/grooming sessions, reviews/demos, and retrospectives) it is important that all team members have a shared understanding of the sequence, intended purpose, and the expected attendees for these points of communication. Defining communication norms facilitates the team’s ability to coalesce and form a whole.

Closing Thoughts

A common misconception is that agile frameworks do not require planning or documentation. While these aspects are streamlined and more lightweight in agile, they are still necessary aspects for a successful project. A team charters involves both planning a documentation at an appropriate level. I’ve conveyed how incorporating team charters in agile projects can foster a shared understanding of the project vision, alignment on the project release criteria, a smoother workflow, and less conflict. Failure to incorporate planning aspects during can lead to a number of internal issues that can degrade both the team morale and the quality of the product that is delivered to the customer. If your agile team is not currently exercising team chartering, give it a try and let me know if your outcomes improve.

Author: Dr. Michael F. White, Founder and CEO of The Business Analysis Doctor, LLC

Michael has an extensive background in business analysis, project management, and coaching. He has even been recognized as a top 100 visionary in education. Michael has driven innovation at some of the top financial institutions in the nation, holds a Doctorate in Business Administration as well as CBAP, IIBA-AAC, IIBA-CBDA, and IIBA-CPOA designations. To learn more about The Business Analysis Doctor, LLC visit https://thebadoc.com

Posted in: Agile Methods
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