Agile squads were developed to encourage rapid innovation and faster product releases by tech startups. The term entered the limelight due to Spotify‘s early experiments to find a better way to work. Squads were intended to extend the thinking behind Scrum Teams and are alternatively known as a Product Squads or simply a ‘Squad’.

But what do these development teams look like for a tech startup? How do they work? Are they for every project and company? We take a deeper look at these questions.

Roles and Responsibilities in an Agile Squad

Squads re-configure the structure, roles and ways of working found in small to mid-sized development teams who work according to the traditional waterfall methodology. Much of the early thinking on Squads was initially published by Spotify and has since been re-intepreted by other scaleups.

Consistent with the Agile philosophy, there is significant flexibility to the definition and practice of a Squad. At the core of the concept, Squads are intended to be self-organizing and cross-functional. They’ll work in short cycles toward medium to long term objectives, with full autonomy to complete all work required to deliver the outcome. Each squad should be driven towards delivering the best product in the most appropriate period of time.

Squads are commonly implemented as small teams of less than eight people. A single leader will ensure the goals are clear and the team is working effectively, while all team members are expected to collaborate.

In practice, Squads are typically built around a product manager, a lead engineer and 3-5 other developers. The team may also include a designer and subject matter experts can be bought in as required.

Squads are generally self-contained with responsibility for a specific functional area. In a larger organisation, they may work with other Squads in a ‘Tribe’. These tribes are usually co-located.

The Strengths of an Agile Squad

Squads are intended to create numerous benefits over a similarly sized development team working according to a waterfall methodology. Working on a specific functional area, the structure and way of working is intended to:

  • Allow flexibility and collaboration.
  • Remove bottlenecks and ensure the most pressing problems are solved first.
  • Develop deeper functional expertise.
  • Be more effective and responsive.
  • Allow quicker integration of feedback from users and the market.
  • Create a better experience for team members.

The Weaknesses of an Agile Squad

Squads work best where shorter development cycles are beneficial and there is a clear commitment to the Agile philosophy. Without a commitment to iterative development, feedback and collaboration, it is unlikely that a Squad will deliver the benefits listed above.

In that light, Squads face some disadvantages:

  • Squads are most suitable in situations where innovation is prioritised over predictability.
  • Squads require a very different way of working. Hiring and management practice needs to reflect the required way of working.
  • They need goals to operate within, to encourage self organization.
  • The team has to be willing to fail and learn.

When is an Agile Squad the Right Choice?

Squads are unlikely to be the most suitable structure for your development team if you are faced with a long, linear development challenge.

However, Squads offer a highly suitable development structure for the rapid development and release of products. They’re ideally suited to situations where innovation is key and requirements are uncertain.

A Squad structure is most commonly found in larger scale-ups, as products grow in complexity. Squads often emerge as startups scale or are restructured, as a way to ensure all the design, development, testing and delivery resources are available within a team focused on one function.

Establishing a Squad in Vietnam

Metasource can get your own offshore development team started in Vietnam in a wide variety of different structures. We’re specialists in remote and offshore teams, and we’re happy to share our experiences with your company or project.