From Appaloosa to Agile: What is Your Agile Team’s Pattern?

May 29, 2014 Kelly Key

What’s the Story?

It sounded like thunder!  As I looked toward the field, a group of horses came running from behind the barn at what seemed like 100 miles per hour.  They had their necks outstretched, legs reaching as far as possible, and tails lifted high.  Each one was running in sync with the others as if they could run forever.

They turned in a large circle, eventually going back behind the barn just to appear again like before.  After several laps, the horses settled down and grouped together with heads bowed to catch their breath and debrief on the previous activity.  At that point, it struck me that these weren’t average run-of-the-mill pasture horses.  These were Appaloosas, a breed from the great Northwest around the Palouse River area of Southeast Washington, Northeast Oregon, and Western Idaho.


One significant difference about the Appaloosa horse from other breeds such as Quarter Horses or Thoroughbreds is their coat pattern. states it may vary from a solid pattern, meaning no spotting at all, to multi-spotted, to blanket hipped with no spots.  Patterns and markings are extremely varied and found in many sizes and combinations… No two Appaloosas are identically marked.

So what’s your agile team’s pattern?

What does your company’s or agile team’s coat pattern look like?

Do they all look the same with set workstations, hours and policies?  Are the facilities kept nice and tidy with no difference from one area to another?  Is the response usually negative when there is a request to move a desk, panel or board?  Are the walls filled with images that the building decorator selected years ago when it was built?  Does everyone wear the same type of garments or use the same type of mobile phones?  Is everyone on the same schedule?

Part of Mike Cohn’s book “Succeeding with Agile” is related to the impact that facilities have on an organization transitioning to agile.  Things like visibility to both Big Charts and availability of people can help facilitate agile success.


For instance…

At, teams are called ‘squads’ and operate as individual startups. They have an awesome workspace including a desk area, a lounge area and a personal ‘huddle’ room.  Almost all walls are whiteboards.  They are also encouraged to have one hack day every second week, which leads to important product innovation.

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, creators of the Scrum Framework, list self-organizing as a specific characteristic of the development team – no one should tell the team how to do it.  This has been called the “heart” of agile software development.

Get to the Point

Each agile team is unique.

No two Appaloosas are identically marked and it is the same for agile software development teams. Just like horses in a field with fences, each team has boundaries; however, there should be freedom to move around and make decisions about the workspace and work items without being constrained.  Take a close look at the “Coat Pattern.”  It is this uniqueness, which stimulates innovation and motivates people.  It’s time to start running and create some thunder!

See you around the barn…


About the Author

Kelly Key

Kelly has more than 25 years of experience in the software industry and 19 years working with agile practices as an agile program manager, ScrumMaster, agile coach, and VersionOne administrator. As a thought leader, he is always looking to refine processes with continuous improvement while stimulating innovation.

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