The four states of a team

less than 1 minute read

Identified by Will Larson in An Elegant Puzzle, a team can be viewed as residing within one of four states.

  • Falling behind
  • Threading water
  • Paying down technical debt
  • Innovating

Successful teams should transition from each state to the next. To do so, there are a number of solutions that the system can provide.

A very, very brief overview follows. Read the book for more details, these are just personal notes.

State Characteristics System Solution
Falling behind Increasing backlog, low morale and dissatisfied users. Add people, and set user expectations. Inject optimism.
Threading Water Critical work is getting completed, but no room to paydown tech debt. Reduce WIP and provide space to improve team productivity.
Paying down technical debt Reaping the benefits of repayments and thinking towards innovation. Add time to continue repayments whilst still supporting users.
Innovating Low technical debt, high morale and satisfied users. Add slack to the schedule to maintain state.

Climbing from one stage to another takes time, but it’s important to take a look at your team, to identify your current state, and to define an appropriate roadmap that helps you move towards the next state.