The Team Consultant

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAKjAAAAJGEyOTcwYzM5LWM0NGQtNDM5MS1hNmZiLWE5ZTgyMDMyMDE1YgCurrently I’m reading ‘The Scrum Field Guide’ written by Mitch Lacey. So far it’s an excellent book that offers me some interesting, practical insights. One of them is the concept of the team consultant. This idea suits a matter I’ve encountered quite often. In this blog post I’ll share some of the thoughts of Mitch Lacey on this topic and complement it with my own personal view and experiences.

The best team sizes are between five and nine people, all of whom are fully dedicated to a project for the duration of the project, and who work together in a cross-functional way to deliver working software at the end of every sprint.

Many organisations struggle to create teams that live up to these conditions, for example:

  • Some specialised knowledge might be thus scarcely available and highly wanted, that the people having this knowledge can’t be allocated to just one team;
  • Some people have such highly specialised skills that a Scrum team can’t offer them enough relevant and suitable tasks;
  • Some people don’t have the personality to be the ideal Scrum team member. Ilan Goldstein wrote an excellent article in which he makes the distinction between ‘rock stars’ and ‘studio musicians’.

So how can you compose a team that is dedicated to building the desired product, respects the fundamentals of teamwork but also takes the given realities as described above into account?

The answer Mitch Lacey provides is the concept of the team consultant, to use his description: “A team consultant is someone in your organisation who is available for some amount of work and directly fills a skill gap between the team and the project. Team consultants are not core team members. They have no team, per se. They choose instead to offer up their services as internal “guns for hire,” providing specific expertise as needed. Team consultants often work for multiple teams and are typically very specialised, so specialised in fact that they might not make good core team members. Team consultants help others by teaching, giving advice, coaching – whatever the team needs during a sprint. They typically will not work fulltime on a project. They are hired specifically to solve an immediate problem or to contribute a limited number of hours per sprint.”

Advantages of the team consultant

  1. The typical ‘rock star’ described by Ilan Goldstein is a genius person but has an attitude that doesn’t really fit the ideal Scrum team. I’ve met these kinds of persons in every organisation and have always found it difficult to deal with. Without any doubt, their skills are very valuable, but putting them in a Scrum team is asking for problems. Giving them the role of team consultant seems the ideal solution. Their capabilities and knowledge are preserved within the organisation, they can support the Scrum team on demand but their attitude doesn’t interfere with a tight team bonding.
  2. The team consultant is an ideal role for people with a very specific role like an architect, designer or technical experts with thorough knowledge of a certain system or domain. The goal of every team consultant should be sharing all the relevant knowledge to the core team members. This also emphasises the need for personal development, which ensures the added value of the team consultant.
  3. The core team will remain sustained, which allows them to grow as a team. The team consultants are the flexible layer around the teams, which can be up- or downscaled without doing much harm to the fixed Scrum team.
  4. The chance of a swift progress of the project is increased because specific knowledge can be added to a Scrum team without many problems concerning the availability of certain specialists. Of course also the team consultants have their own planning, but because they are prepared for helping other teams, it will be easier to arrange.
  5. It offers people the chance to become a guru with solid in depth knowledge. For sure, this is also possible when you are part of a Scrum team, but as a team consultant, gaining knowledge on a certain domain will be increased considerably.
  6. The commitment of the core team and team consultant is increased because the core team has the freedom and responsibility to ‘hire’ the team consultant they think is necessary. Secondly, the team consultants are responsible for living up to their own planning and offering the expertise for which they are hired.

Disadvantages of the team consultant

  1. Although becoming a team consultant might be a solution for the typical rock star. When helping the Scrum team, the typical rock star should leave his ego at the door. Otherwise the rock star attitude will bring more damage than it offers a solution.
  2. As mentioned earlier, the team consultant won’t join the team fulltime and probably also not for the entire project. Therefore it won’t always be profitable to have them join all the Scrum events. The consequence might be that the team consultant lacks important information that is necessary to quickly solve problems or build the right feature.
  3. Sharing knowledge is an important part of the role of team consultant. This may however contradict with his ambition to stay the ultimate guru. They might be afraid to lose their position as a team consultant when they share too much of their knowledge.
  4. Team consultants are accountable to the people they sign up to do work for. This accountability is something you should be aware of and be able to deal with. Not every team consultant will have the personality necessary to deal with this accountability.
  5. Team consultants are responsible for their own planning. This might be a challenge because due their specialised knowledge they probably need to help multiple teams. Even though they will only help the teams for a few days per week, planning all these activities will only be more difficult. Because underestimating is in human’s nature, overcommitting is a realistic pitfall.
  6. Team consultants are considered a replacement for dedicated teams. As Mitch Lacey describes: “The idea of team consultants provide teams and companies the flexibility to stay within the boundaries of Scrum by having a dedicated, cross-functional team while enabling that team to call on experts, team consultants, to help out as identified and needed by team.” The team consultants are definitely not a replacement for fixed Scrum teams.

This blog post briefly describes the idea of the team consultant. In his book ‘The Scrum Field Guide’ the author Mitch Lacey gives a far more comprehensive explanation. If you like this concept, I can definitely recommend reading his book.

Personally I haven’t consciously used the role of the team consultant. I have used roles that resembles with it. But when I’ve really used the role of team consultant as described in this blog post, I’ll definitely share more of my experiences. For now, if you have got any experiences with, or ideas about this role, I would really like to hear them.