Are you an agile development expert? Then you’re confident that you know the right mix to make your agile development team excel. When we asked experts on agile development to weigh in on forming an agile team, we got a few responses that contradicted one another.

Some agile development teams lean heavy on specialists for their efficiency. Others wanted a mix of generalists and specialists because that was more optimal for them. Here’s how our agile development experts broke down their ideal teams:

Agile Development Team Building: Specialists Only Please!

Going with specialists is a sound approach to building an agile development team because you know you have subject matter experts that can really propel your team and overcome obstacles. Generalists can lack the depth of knowledge required to maximize efficiency.

Kevinjohn Gallagher, CEO of Pure Web Brilliant, talked about why specialists are preferred over generalists, at least in an ideal world…

In theory, Specialists are always preferred over generalists, as all Agile teams should be cross-functional, and contain all disciplines required to deliver each iteration. — Kevinjohn Gallagher

Kevinjohn did say that this wasn’t always the case in practice though.

Lance Vaughn, the CEO of CabForward — a mobile app development agency, echoed these sentiments because he’s looking for true experts or “super humans”. These tend to be specialists because of their knowledge and capabilities.

In terms of forming a high quality, agile development team, we’re looking for super humans – great team players and intensely transparent and collaborative, but also extraordinarily good coders. Specialists are more highly valued than generalists and collaborators are more important than those with intense focus. — Lance Vaughn

Specialists offer several benefits because they are often quicker at their specific tasks and come up with more efficient code. However, most of the experts agreed that having a team of just specialists is the ideal scenario — but it’s sometimes not obtainable for a few reasons.

With that, let’s see why some people like to mix their team up with some generalists…

Agile Development Team Building: We Need Generalists and Specialists!

While generalists might not have the expert knowledge of a specialist, they can contribute in a multitude of areas and are often strong communicators with the ability to handle new priorities and needs as they arise better than specialists.

Judith Basler, the Director of Program Management at Blurb, discussed why she needed a mix of specialists and generalists.

You want it all! What we strive for when building a highly productive Agile team is a balance between generalists and specialists. However, the most success in Agile truly comes from the flexibility of the team members who can respond to the needs of our customers, and those of the business regardless of their specification. — Judith Basler

Max Aulakh, Chief Security Architect and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) at MAFAZO: Digital Solutions, has specific reasoning behind his choice to mix generalists and specialists…

Both specialists and generalists are required for a solid team so my approach has always been to mix and match both types. However, this approach isn’t without intent – what I am really looking for are those individuals who are specialists and want to become generalists or those that have been a generalist want to gain a deeper understanding of a specific technology. I find this information through the interview process when asking about projects they have worked on and projects they would like to work on without relevance to the job or task at hand. The key to building a solid teams is getting people on board that are willing to go to the unknown and learn something new quickly. — Max Aulakh

Some teams are just looking for a mix of talent, but didn’t want to say specialist versus generalist per say. Bryan Galloway, a Director at DefinedLogic, stated:

When we assemble an agile team, we look for a versatile mix, so neither generalists nor specialists. While good technical skills are a requirement, we would rather have smart, motivated, open minded people on our teams than experienced ones that are stuck in their ways. — Bryan Galloway

Agile Development Team Building: So What Direction Should You Go

This totally depends on the projects you’re working on, but I would recommend the mix of talent. While it’s nice to have specialists, especially in the areas your project needs the most work, it’s nice to have generalists who can do other things, like code in other languages, as the need arises.


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About Curtis Peterson

I'm the Digital Marketing Manager for SmartFile who loves content, email marketing and web analytics. As a child, I built awesome websites with animated starry night backgrounds and multi-colored font headers on AngelFire and GeoCities.

1 thought on “What’s Better For Agile Development Teams — Specialists or Generalists?”

  1. Hi, thank you for this post I agree with you that Some agile development teams lean heavy on specialists for their efficiency. Others wanted a mix of generalists and specialists because that was more optimal for them. very useful information

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