schedule Mar 19th 10:30 AM - 11:15 AM place Jupiter 1

Why are Agile teams supposed to be small? How big are they supposed to be? Most agilists tend to agree that a team of ten people works well.

But what is it about the number 10 that makes it the “magic” number?

Since the start of human evolution, people formed groups to be more effective. Whether it was the hunt for a mammoth or going to war, working in teams ensured a greater chance of success.

There have been various researches from Dunbar’s paper through the Scrum Guide to military formations about the ideal number of people in a team.

We’ll discuss the historical, scientific and cultural reasons why 10 seems to be the magic number of forming effective teams.

Does the number of team members really matter? Is 10 really the magic number. You will get an answer that will help you to create effective teams with the right amount of people.

 
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Outline/Structure of the Talk

45 minute of talk covering the following topics:

  • History of teams from roman legionnaires through tea houses to modern armies
  • Anthropology and team sizes, the Dunbar's number
  • Team sports, size of teams and roles within a team
  • Religions and team sizes
  • Biology researches, how do other species team up?
  • Team sizes in modern software development. Scrum, XP, SAFe, etc.
  • Conclusion on the magic number

Learning Outcome

Create effective teams with the right amount of people.

Target Audience

Facilitators, Trainers, Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches

schedule Submitted 3 months ago

Public Feedback

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  • Tathagat Varma
    By Tathagat Varma  ~  3 months ago
    reply Reply

    Alex, Gabor - this is an interesting topic (a personal favorite of mine as well). Not everyone finds this topic relevant but I think this is a great learning, especially when we factor-in the whole aspect of concurrency or parallelism into the tasks vs. the need to intermittently collaborate in order to complete a given task. I also believe establishing this unit-level team is a prerequisite to scaling up a team like a fractal lest it blows up underlying dysfunctions.

    I saw the slides have some rich information from relevant sources. However, as I mentioned in the earlier para, it would be helpful to understand how exactly these groups divvy up the work among themselves. For example, in a roman contubernium of 8 men vs. a sports team of 8 or 9 players on-field, is the kind of "work" similar, for example with a software team? That will help us relate to the datapoints much better. 

    • Alex Sloley
      By Alex Sloley  ~  3 months ago
      reply Reply

      Yeah, me n Gabor have discussed this. We’ve contemplated content around specific roles with examples from sports teams, military units, XP (which is why the deck lists roles on the XP slide), and even roles from Neolithic tribes.

      We have elected to keep it focused on team size, and not get into roles, primarily due to session timebox.

      I have been researching this though, on Wikipedia of course, and find tantalizing content like this:

      Nor was there a formal division of labor during the Paleolithic. Each member of the group was skilled at all tasks essential to survival, regardless of individual abilities. Theories to explain the apparent egalitarianism have arisen, notably the Marxist concept of primitive communism.[58][59] Christopher Boehm (1999) has hypothesized that egalitarianism may have evolved in Paleolithic societies because of a need to distribute resources such as food and meat equally to avoid famine and ensure a stable food supply.[60]

      So in dim human history, humans might have been truly cross-functional, and it wasn’t until the Neolithic that task specialization started to occur.

      Alex

  • Gabor Devenyi
    By Gabor Devenyi  ~  3 months ago
    reply Reply

    Dear Arijit, 

    Thank you for the question. 

    Spoiler alert :-). First we will propose it and "try to prove" that 10 is indeed the magic number. But as we are going through history, different software development frameworks, biology (e.g. Dunbar number) we reveal that there is no magic number.

    While 10 is definitely a good number for team formation, as you pointed out there are other studies. e.g. one of the studies we mention suggests that the best number for decision making is 4.7 (although I struggle to understand, what 0.7 person does :-)). 

    And I believe we can make it in a smaller window. Would 30 minutes be suitable?

    Kind regards, Gabor

    • Alex Sloley
      By Alex Sloley  ~  3 months ago
      reply Reply

      I think we can get to 30 mins if we need to! Or better, 25 mins plus 5 mins QnA.

  • Arijit Sarbagna
    By Arijit Sarbagna  ~  3 months ago
    reply Reply

    Dear Gabor and Alex,

    Thanks for your proposal.

    Are we proposing 10 to be the magic number or are we questioning it? :) Some other studies are proposing different numbers (e.g. 4-5) as optimal for team formation. 

    Also, can you please elaborate on the 45 min coverage? Or do you think it could be done in a smaller window?

    Thanks & regards

    Arijit Sarbagna


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