The Right Size for a High-Performing Agile Development Team

Sector: Digital Product, Technology

Author: Nisarg Mehta

Date Published: 07/21/2022

The Right Size for a High-Performing Agile Development Team

Generally speaking, smaller teams are better, and so do the agile teams.

An agile development team should be between 3-9 people. However, modern CIOs believe that 7 is the magical number of an agile team.

If the count is what you were looking for, now you have it. But you should know that the structure and the size of an agile development team depend on several factors, including project complexity, delivery timeline, project stage, project manager capacity, cross-functionality of team members, etc.

In the rest of the article, we’ll discuss everything you should know about incorporating an agile development team.

Let’s start with understanding what an agile development team is.

What is an Agile Development Team?

In an IT environment, an agile process relies heavily on the involvement of the entire development team. Here, the Scrum Master plays an essential role in ensuring that Agile principles are followed throughout the process.

The conventional team structure is altered in agile development teams, resulting in different roles, responsibilities, and hierarchies. We’ll look at the responsibilities of every member of an Agile development team in the later stage of the article.

First, let’s discuss the factors that help determine the size of an Agile team.

Why 7 is the Magical Number for Agile Team Size

Due to its efficiency in defining the number of possible combinations, 7 is often considered the recommended number for agile team size.

The formula used to calculate the possible combinations is: N (N-1) / 2

For example, in a team of 9 people, the possible combinations will be: 9 (9-1) / 2 = 36

Whereas for a team of 7, the possible combinations will be 21 and so on.

The number of combinations contributes to the organizational overhead. In addition, the combination adds to the time and efforts spent on planning the work and team collaboration. And this is the reason why experts suggest that the smaller, the better.

This theory also correlates to the Ringelmann effect, which suggests that the productivity of individual team members goes low as the size of the team increases.

On the contrary, there should be enough members in an agile team to perform a specific task. This is why seven is considered to be the magical spot for general agile teams.

3 Factors Affecting Agile Development Team Size

A high-performing team can accomplish a lot of work. We once had a team of five people who ran circles around a team of nearly thirty people. The whole is greater than the parts if the team is the right size, has the right people, and is in the right context.

However, it won’t magically accomplish the work of thirty people if five people are put in a room (unless your luck is on steroids). So the first thing you must consider when sizing up the team is the skill level of the person who will lead it.

The team lead must spend enough time with each team member to iron out personality issues early, remove any roadblocks, and nurture and engage the team. This work is in addition to their other duties and responsibilities.

That’s why the following factors seem prominent in deciding the size of an Agile team.

1. Team’s Cross Functionality

The team-size formula we previously discussed is a guideline, not a rule.

Agile principles emphasize team cross-functionality. You will require fewer team members if your team is more cross-functional.

The more experienced and organizationally skilled your project owner is, the more team members they can effectively handle. However, the more positions your project owner has to fill, the effective maximum team size is likely to be lower.

For example, if your project owner doubles as a coder, this is especially true if you expect them to do so. A software engineering manager usually fills this role, but most either do not code or are minimally involved in coding.

2. Project Complexity

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Don’t misjudge that the more the complexity, the more the team size should be.

When a project is behind schedule, the Ringelmann effect suggests that adding more team members is not always the solution. It is very situation dependent.

Project complexity is one of the numerous factors that might affect it. For instance, some software applications are very simple, while others are extremely complex (taxi booking apps).

For example, Uber utilizes two to three applications with numerous modules for consumers, drivers, and administrators.

Every individual software component in agile software development is endeavored to be as self-sufficient as possible. So, for example, a GPS and mapping component of an app like Uber doesn’t need to be connected to the customer profiles or rewards module, although data may flow between them via APIs.

This pattern allows for two or more teams to work on different components simultaneously rather than in succession to accelerate time to market. In general, there is no need for a dedicated business analyst, tester, or DevOps specialist on such agile teams built around feature lists.

3. Project Stage and Budget

Software development has its own phases, and those phases are often correlated to the available budget. So, for example, if you don’t have rigid budgetary constraints, you can get your products to market more swiftly.

An entrepreneur can prove their business idea by bootstrapping their way to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to convince investors. They don’t need fully functional, full-featured software in these early stages. All they need is a prototype to demonstrate the concept and verify its viability.

During the MVP development stage, a project manager, a few developers, and a designer will probably suffice—you won’t need business analysts, testers, and DevOps engineers at this stage.

Moreover, when the software is funded, they may increase their workforce—keeping their funding runway in mind. Finally, established companies will still want to follow the MVP approach, but they may expand their workforce sooner if desired.

Development Team Roles in Agile Process

An agile development team’s pivotal part is delivering a working version of the product in less time. In agile methodology, the development group works as an integrated team to build the software. Additionally, on-time delivery of every sprint is the critical responsibility of the group.

Following are the roles and responsibilities most agile development teams have:

  • Product owner or active stakeholder
  • Project lead and scrum master
  • UI/UX designers
  • Software architect
  • Programmers
  • Quality Analysts
  • Domain experts
  • System integrators
  • Third-party QA or auditing team
  • System architect (at the product owner’s side)

The agile development team roles are distinct from conventional development approaches such as Waterfall, although the job titles are the same. Agile is a unique project management approach because the responsibilities are different.

We’ve previously discussed the roles and responsibilities of an agile team in detail.

What Qualities Should Your Agile Development Team Have?

A team using Agile development should have both technical and soft skills to enable transparency, coordination, and change management.

A Unified Outlook

The members of high-performing agile teams have a unified vision that inspires them to work together as a single entity.

The team working agreement can establish how the team functions by defining team member expectations and standards. Team members should support and cooperate with one another, and although they may disagree at times, they should then reconcile. By doing so, they emit a positive energy that others feel in the organization.


The agile development approach depends on efficiency in order to be successful.

Self-motivation is the most important factor in driving work efficiency. However, because agile teams lack hierarchy, keeping people motivated is difficult for project managers and scrum masters. Therefore, self-motivation is required.

Pair Programming

While working in an agile development environment, programmers should be able to collaborate with their peers. For example, in the most common scenario, one programmer would write the code, and the other would review every line of code in real-time. This is the beauty of agile. So make sure your resources comply with this requirement.

Supportive and Inspiring Leadership

An effective leader is crucial to creating a high-performing agile team. Instead of controlling team behavior, leaders of high-performing agile teams inspire the team constantly.

The leader’s communication skills are their greatest strength. When communicating with the team about the organization’s objectives and directions, the leader should query the status quo, set ambitious objectives, provide individual development opportunities, and always be available for any kind of help the team needs. By demonstrating complete faith in the team, the leader expresses their confidence.

Time to Build Your Agile Development Team

Now you know everything you should be aware of in terms of forming an agile development team.

Depending on your project size and timelines, you can form your high-performing agile development team. Keeping the requirements generic, we recommend you to keep your agile development team size between 5-9.

Lastly, if you have a big project, it’s better to divide your teams as per the feature lists. This way, you’ll achieve a high level of productivity.

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