Process, People, and Pods


Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Ideal Skill Ratios in Pods

So are, we have talked about pods, ideal team Agile team structures, and the proper mix of developer skills in the pod. In this post, I would like to describe the needs for other skills in the pod.

An ideal pod would contain:

  • 4-6 pairs of developers (8-12 total)
  • 2-3 business analysts
  • 2-3 testers
  • 1 ambassador (aka project manager or iteration manager)
  • 1 customer or customer representative (rotating on need)
So adding to our pod formulas:
Analysts + Testers + Managers + Customers = 80% (Developers)

So if I calculate how many programmers a project should need, I add another 80% to cover the other roles. So between this ratio and the productivity uplift I give to the programmer skills (5:2:1 for Masters, Journeymen, and Apprentices), I have the tools for doing my Agile project plans for a pod. Of course, this is just the starting point for the plans. I adjust skills constantly throughout the project.

For example in the first release of the project I am currently working on, we ran it successfully with 3 pairs of developers, two analysts, a single tester, and a single project manager. The next release had the same 3 pairs of developers, but only a single analyst and a single tester; metrics showed we should have had a second tester, however. Overall, however, the project is successfully running light on non-developer resources.

On the other hand, an early project on which I worked at ThoughtWorks ran its last release with one project manager, one combined customer/business analyst, 3 pairs of developers, and over a dozen testers! The customer was writing the stories herself, perfectly able to keep work flowing to the developers. The developers were a Master-heavy mix, and produced accordingly. This high productivity drove the need for up to 17 testers at one point; no investment in automated acceptance tests had been made.

Despite these examples to the contrary, I like the above ratios for planning. It is my starting point, and I adjust accordingly.

30 comments:

Susan Davis said...

That's an awfully big team. From past experience, I've seen cohesion maintained successfully with 10... but once you introduce that fifth pair, it stops being true that every pair can overhear every other pair because there's nobody in the way. From a seating perspective, that fifth pair would need to sit on the end cap of the project table, where they really have trouble hearing the two pairs at the far end of the table, especially if there's talk among or between the two closer pairs.

Fred George said...

thank you for sharing your experiences. Have you had projects that ran at 10 and higher? How did you accommodate the stress?
I will get into more detail about why I like pods as large as I am specifying. I agree: The sweet spot is 3-4 pairs. If I get to 12 programmers, I want two teams. I did a project with 50 programmers. We broke into 5 tables with each team having about 5 pairs. Work demands caused some teams to drift larger for an iteration or two, but it was undesirable and tolerated for a short term only. We rebelled vigorously when it was suggested the 50 could break in to 4 teams, and won our point.
I have trouble splitting a 10 programmers into two teams: 5:5 isn't good for pairing, and 6:4 leaves little rotation for the "4". So I will generally keep 10 programmers together, and split 12.

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