The FTE illusion

Also posted on SogetiLabs:

FTE Illusion

Working as an Agile coach I am often told by Scrum Masters or Product Owners how they cannot understand how a 5-person team cannot become as productive as they should be in Scrum.

Lately, I have been asking the follow up question: Do you count FTE (Full-time Equivalent) or actual persons when you say “a 5- person team”?

Within companies people are often considered to be resources (hence the department Human Resources). The problem I see with this is that humans are NOT resources at all. We cannot assume that one person can be equally effective when they have to work in four teams at the same time.

FTE is effective if you want to reduce costs or to throw a wannabe project a bone, or to give your program director a project plan that looks favorable enough to get the funding you need to get started. Within Agile however the FTE illusion is the cause of a lot of pain.

My assumption (and I hate assumptions) when a company chooses Agile is usually that they will put dedicated teams on the products they want to develop. An assumption that has proven wrong in many companies that I have helped to transform from traditional to Agile.

Agile is built on four pillars, of which the most important one is Communication. The Agile manifesto states “Individuals and Interaction are preferred above Processes and Tools”. Individuals, NOT FTE’s are preferred and their interaction. This is what Scrum Masters will focus on. To increase, for instance, the communication between Product Owners and Development teams.

A problem that arises when you start measuring teams in FTE and not assigning full people to those positions is overhead. If a person is .5 FTE in one team and .5 FTE in another, the ceremonies and meetings will still be double for both team-positions. This problem also comes up when a Scrum Master is not dedicated to one team. I have been a Scrum Master to more than one (in fact even four) team. The teams were also working on the same portfolio so they were synchronized.

Every Sprint end and start I was looking for ways to accommodate and facilitate all the teams I served. And since cloning is still in its infancy I was physically unable to attend all the meetings and ceremonies. Agile helps teams and individuals focus and also helps in reaping higher performance.

Please keep in mind that individuals are undividable.

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