How to Structure an Agile Scrum Team

Although it’s one of the most widely adopted Agile practices in the world, not many know that Scrum teams got its name from the rugby term. When you consider everything Scrum and rugby have in common, it makes sense.

Both the Agile framework and the game focus on teamwork. Team structures consist of a small group of people, and everyone has a crucial role to play in the achievement of a mutually understood goal — whether it’s winning the match or delivering a functional low-code application.

The best way to succeed with Scrum is to sort out your team composition. Continue reading for a look at who is on the Scrum team, how work is allocated to the team in a project, Scrum team best practices, the recommended size of a Scrum team, and general tips on Agile team structure.

What is a Scrum?

Scrum is an Agile team structure in product development.

Gartner explains that Scrum teams use an iterative and incremental approach to solving complex problems by working in short timeframes of about 2 weeks, also known as sprints.

As a project management framework, Scrum is enormously popular due to its lightweight nature. Gartner has even crowned the practice as the dominant Agile framework.

The ideal Scrum team structure

There are three major roles that play a part in the Scrum team:

  • Product owner
  • Scrum master
  • Developers

Stakeholders and business specialists are also involved at varying degrees with most Agile projects.

In larger enterprises, there are usually several business team members involved in the development process.

Ultimately, a Scrum team should consist of less than 9 people.

For large enterprise projects, the ideal Scrum team size is 7 people (product owner, scrum master, and 5 developers).

Smaller projects typically consist of 4 team members (product owner, scrum master, and 2 developers). Teams smaller than this wouldn’t technically be Scrum, as there would be a lot of overhead with all activities.

How to divide work in a Scrum project

Product owner

The product owner is in charge of defining the direction of a project. They have a clear understanding of what the business and users need, and they translate these needs to the Scrum team.

Product owners make sure that the product delivers maximum value for the business and users. This role also prioritizes work and manages the product backlog to move production along.

Scrum master

The Scrum master ensures that the team follows Agile best practices, and is in charge of addressing and removing any productivity blockers that may come up. Essentially, the Scrum master is the authority in Agile and Scrum.

Scrum masters should be supportive leaders. They help product owners define the product’s value, plan work, and manage the backlog. They also help developers self-organize.

The development team

The development team is a group of people with the skills needed to build the product as envisioned by the product owner. Beyond developers, the following roles are part of the development team:

  • Architects
  • Writers
  • Designers
  • Any other specialized roles

Developers self-organize and are the authorities of their domain when it comes to figuring out how work is performed and planning the backlog.

As a Scrum rule of thumb, collaboration is part of their day-to-day roles. The development team determines how to perform the work to create the product, and works autonomously to manage and complete their work.

The business

Many enterprises work closely with the business team to gather and clarify organizational requirements for the product in development.

The business team has experience and knowledge that can be extremely useful to a development project, but they are not considered an official part of a Scrum team. Instead, a representative from the business team — sometimes called the business owner — acts as a sponsor for the Scrum team.

Subject matter experts (SMEs)

From the Scrum team’s perspective, an SME is a person who possesses crucial knowledge that the team needs for successful product delivery.

For example, if you are building a new app to automate the invoicing process, your SME might be someone who is an authority in the billing or finance department. They will know the ins and outs of the invoicing process and can offer their expertise to ensure that the new app serves both business and user needs.

The Scrum team might need SMEs for different purposes and at different times, and SMEs are responsible for answering questions and performing tasks to improve the product. During planning meetings, SMEs need to know when information or actions are expected from them.

A Scrum team member can follow up with the SME to complete the action on time to prevent delays in product delivery.

SMEs are also considered stakeholders, but not all stakeholders are SMEs. A team member of one Scrum team can even be an SME for another Scrum team. But remember: An SME is not part of the Scrum team. And as such, this person is not held responsible or accountable for any work they do for the team.

5 features of a successful Scrum team

Below is a list of characteristics that are important to consider when creating your Scrum team.

1. Self-managing

The members of each Scrum team decide how the group will work together. Each member is equally important (there’s no hierarchy), but responsibilities are clearly defined. This means that each team member should get an equal opportunity to voice their opinion. Together, they can come to a solution.

Ultimately, the product owner gets the final say about prioritization, and the Scrum master guides everyone to agree on a solution.

2. Communication

Scrum is all about close collaboration. Ideally, the entire team would be sitting in the same room with no barriers to communication. But remote work has made things a bit more difficult.

Remote teams need to stay connected and engaged. For a successful Scrum team, create open communication channels with scheduled check-ins, weekly meetings, and a Slack channel.

3. Dedication

Every member of the team is assigned to the project full time. Any distraction will only delay work.

Focused work is far more effective than switching between assignments or dividing your attention between two projects. Being dedicated to a single project is also the best way to take ownership and responsibility, which allows for better self-management.

4. Long-lived

Avoid making frequent changes to your Scrum team structure. New Scrum teams need time to learn how to work together. Even changes between projects will require time for the team to adapt.

5. Cross-functional

The team should possess the specialized knowledge required to deliver a working product. This includes team members with expertise in:

  • Development
  • Quality assurance
  • User experiences
  • Integrations

However, it isn’t always realistic for Scrum team members to have detailed knowledge about integrations with other systems. In this instance, ensure your team has access to all the knowledge they need.

Depending on the size and complexity of the project, it might make sense to include the integration expert, QA-er, or UX-er as a full-time Scrum team member. But if you’re working on a small Scrum team, introducing those experts would create too much overhead. In those instances, you need an SME.