Why Self-Organizing Teams Still Need a Delivery Lead

When I tell someone that I make custom software for a living, I can usually predict their next question. “So are you a designer, or do you write code?” And when I tell them I’m a Delivery Lead, they usually assume I mean a manager. But Atomic teams are agile and self-organizing which, according to the Agile Manifesto, means that teams “choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.” So what exactly is the role of a Delivery Lead on a self-organizing team? 

Set Vision & Purpose

Assembling a ship full of skilled sailors would be pointless without a destination in mind. A Delivery Lead helps align the team on a North Star, defining goals that will bring the most business value to our clients. A DL provides success criteria against which to measure the team’s work. We also hold the team accountable when we fall short, reminding the team of our purpose when things go astray. This, in itself, can be a full-time job, which many of our clients do not have the time to manage alongside their existing day-to-day responsibilities. The Delivery Lead can act as a surrogate product owner to ensure the team is always focused on the right work at the right time, even during changing conditions.

Rightsize the Team

While Delivery Leads don’t dictate how the work should get done, we do help ensure the right people are on board to do the job. Delivery Leads work closely with Atomic’s planning team to ensure the team has adequate design and development capacity to accomplish the project goals. This could mean increasing the size of the team to optimize for feature throughput, decreasing team size to preserve enough budget for product launch support, or calling in a dedicated exploratory tester ahead of an upcoming release. Delivery Leads also keep a close eye on maker PTO to ensure effective sprint planning and team coverage for major project milestones.

Remove Obstacles

Every project encounters unexpected roadblocks; the Delivery Lead manages these impediments so the team can remain focused on the task at hand. Whether coordinating with other teams, securing resources or account access, or addressing issues outside of the team’s control, the Delivery Lead removes any obstacle that blocks the team’s progress. We also ensure the free flow of information throughout the project, ensuring everyone has access to important updates or team learnings and awareness of any project risks.

Help the Team Collaborate

While we don’t specify how the team should complete a sprint goal, Delivery Leads do ensure they have the information, resources, and experience to self-organize around a plan. We aid the team in creating working and contributing agreements to align expectations for how we will all work together. We ask questions and facilitate workshops to help the team make decisions quickly, navigate uncertainty, and respond to changing project conditions. If a conflict arises, Delivery Leads help the team employ healthy resolution techniques and find constructive solutions. We also address any issues that could prevent the team from making decisions independently.

Course Correct

While the team focuses on the day-to-day, Delivery Leads have time to zoom out and focus on overall team performance. We ensure the team takes time to retrospect and adjust processes as necessary to make the next sprint run more smoothly. We can more easily make outside observations and determine the root cause of team dysfunction. And, careful tracking and reporting of team metrics allows us to understand the cause of current issues as well as forecast potential risks to the project’s end goal. As the team learns more and the deeper we venture into any project, Delivery Leads ensure we are taking stock of those experiences and applying those learnings to upcoming work.

Recognize Individual Contributors

With the full team organized around the accomplishment of the project and sprint goals, it can be easy for individual concerns to take a backseat. Delivery Leads know each Atom on their team personally and care about their professional development and growth as makers. Whether it’s offering them project experience that aligns with their goals and interests, giving kudos for a job well done, or identifying opportunities for further training, a good Delivery Lead wants to help every team member reach their full potential.

Maintain Team Harmony

Happy teams are successful teams, and Delivery Leads keep a close tab on team morale. Building psychological safety and improving relationships encourages the team to feel comfortable innovating and experimenting to find better solutions. We work with internal Atomic facilitators quarterly to assess team health, address potential burnout, and look for opportunities to improve team well-being. Delivery Leads are both cheerleaders and team builders, ensuring we take the time to celebrate our wins, engage in team rituals, and work at a pace that is sustainable long-term.

Delivery Leads supercharge our maker teams to help them work more effectively and sustainably, ideally even having some fun in the process.


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