Successful businesses today are always finding ways to boost productivity while maintaining quality. Many organizations (especially in tech) have moved from traditional approaches to more flexible work models. As a result, we’ve seen a huge surge in the adoption of Agile and DevOps methodologies that promote collaboration and quick turnarounds.
Recently, another model is gaining traction as part of the same movement. PODs are a spin on the usual Agile cross-functional team. The main idea is to increase efficiency by splitting development teams into smaller, specialized units. The Agile POD model has been around for several years, but it’s been gaining serious traction lately.
How exactly does it work, what does POD even mean, and why is adoption suddenly going up? That’s what we’re about to find out.
What is an Agile POD?
POD stands for “product-oriented delivery”.
Essentially, an Agile POD is a highly cross-functional, tight-knit group of self-governing professionals. You can have many small pods working simultaneously within a larger project; each tightly focused on a specific task. That lets you access benefits such as increased efficiency and bypassing bottlenecks, which we’ll explore later in this article.
As we said, PODs aren’t entirely new or unique. They’re just a different take on the standard Scrum team, introducing improvements through several subtle differences.
What makes the POD model unique is less about how the work is planned – and more about how the people within the team are organized. A standard Scrum team boasts cross-functionality, but in reality, the people on it can have very similar skill sets.
PODs, by contrast, are built from the ground up to accomplish a specific goal. As such, creating them constitutes bringing together select experts of different disciplines, forming a complete set of distinct yet complementary skills. Such a group has all the skills to design, develop, test and operate a product, ensuring self-sufficiency and autonomy. As a consequence of that autonomy, this model can shift responsibility for task completion and even decision-making entirely to the POD.
To put it briefly, a Scrum team is a project-based team that works in Sprints – whereas a POD is a tightly defined need-based team within the project.
Product delivery involves multiple PODs working simultaneously. Each typically consists of 4-10 professionals with a designated role. While the specific competencies involved may greatly vary, within the POD itself, roles are divided into three main categories:
Each POD has a designated leader responsible for clarifying requirements, prioritizing and distributing work. Additionally, leaders of different PODs communicate with each other to ensure synchronization throughout the working process.
This is the team’s body, consisting of professionals dedicated to full-time POD work. The core team may include designers, developers, BAs, QAs and more. Everyone here is part of discussions, participates in meetings, and helps decide how the goal is to be accomplished.
These professionals can work for several PODs at the same time. Whenever a project, or a specific POD, needs support, they step in to help according to their skill set.
POD model benefits
The POD model has several key benefits that make it an improvement over standard agile methodologies. Let’s go over each of them in detail:
Working in a small group makes it easier to communicate with each other and create productive relationships. Additionally, the collaborative nature of the work gives each POD member an appreciation for the process; people feel included and understand everyone’s roles. Not only does that further improve collaboration, it can give team members ideas about improving their own part of the process.
A POD’s self-contained and cross-collaborative nature is a great way to eliminate dependencies on external resources or teams. As mentioned earlier, PODs are largely autonomous, allowing them to minimize bottlenecks and streamline the development process.
Between reduced bottlenecks and a streamlined process, a POD is much more productive than a standard team. Testing and delivery happen within the small group – and by involving stakeholders, POD members get feedback quickly and easily. All of that ensures that no bugs reach production and any changes can be made ahead of time.
One of the unique things about Agile PODs is that they’re designed from scratch with specific project requirements in mind. That means each is fully customizable, subject to tweaks per project needs and deadlines.
This unparalleled flexibility lets you build the perfect blend of skills, optimize resource allocation and make sure your team is always the ideal size.
POD model drawbacks
While the POD way of work offers many advantages, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Here are some potential drawbacks to be aware of:
Autonomy isn’t for everyone
One of this model’s main advantages is that distributed decision-making lets the people doing the work make key decisions.
However, some team members, especially inexperienced ones, may need more experience or skills to make the right decision. That means you need to be careful when building your PODs and ensure each one has sufficient combined knowledge to handle self-management.
High coordination required
The main selling point of the Agile POD way of work is having autonomous teams complete tasks in parallel. This ideal scenario, however, requires careful planning and meticulously defined goals. You need to make sure each unit is genuinely self-contained. There should be as few dependencies as possible – most tasks should be independent of what another POD is working on.
How to implement an Agile POD framework
If, now that you know what the POD model is all about, you’ve decided to implement it in your organization, here are some helpful steps:
Assess organizational needs and readiness
Shifting your organizational structure can be challenging, especially if your company is new to Agile principles.
Examine your company’s culture to gauge its compatibility with this way of work. Are things (and people) open to change? Is there an appreciation for collaboration? Sit down with company leaders and project stakeholders, gain their buy-in and address any concerns.
Plan the model
Once you’ve laid the foundation, it’s time to plan the implementation of the model itself.
Start with a careful examination of the product. What needs to be done? What are the requirements? Break them down into individual areas of responsibility.
Once the tasks are clearly defined, you need to determine how to split them between different PODs. As usual, the goal is to have each Sprint end with a working deliverable. Use everything you know about your project and your teams to determine the number of PODs and the skill each one needs to possess.
Remember: Besides technical and hard skills, each team needs to have the leadership necessary to self-manage through the work.
Additionally, it could be worth spending a little time with each team member, especially during onboarding. If anyone has questions, resolving them beforehand would improve morale.
This is when your teams, carefully planned and assembled, start performing. This is the phase where the POD model’s flexibility really shines. Try to actively collect feedback and work with POD leaders to identify and resolve any areas of friction. With time, you(and the stakeholders involved) should be able to identify potential conflicts in advance and intervene as necessary.
You should, of course, track metrics regularly and consistently to ensure you’re progressing against your goals.
The Agile POD model is a fresh spin on team organization and product delivery. Forming specialized teams and letting them self-govern is a stepping stone towards streamlined processes with minimal bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
Of course, as with any organizational shift, there are things to be mindful of. The autonomy you’re providing requires careful consideration of team composition, and the entire model hinges on careful planning and a high level of communication.
But once implemented, the POD delivery model offers a dynamic and adaptable approach to project management. In today’s fast-paced work environment that’s ever-shifting toward collaboration, embracing PODs is a strategic step toward meeting the market’s needs.