Configure a hierarchy of teams

Azure DevOps Services | Azure DevOps Server 2022 - Azure DevOps Server 2019

In Portfolio management, we showed how management teams and feature teams can use their backlogs to focus on the work that's most important to them. In this article, we show how to configure teams that best support the different backlog views of management and feature teams.

Specifically, we'll show you how to configure a team structure like the one shown in the image below.

Each team has its own view of the work

In this article you'll learn how to:

  • Set up a hierarchical set of teams and backlogs
  • Define a single sprint cadence for all teams
  • Review which area paths are assigned to teams


Add a team for each management area

The first step is to add a team for each feature team and management area. You can also rename teams that you've already added. When you finish, you'll have a set of teams similar to the ones shown.

Project settings, Teams

  1. From the web portal, choose Project settings and open Teams.

Open Project settings, and then Teams

  1. Choose New team. Give the team a name, and optionally a description.

    Create a sub-team with its own area path

    Repeat this step for all feature and management teams you want to create.

Move area paths into a hierarchical structure

In this step, you want to move the areas paths associated with feature teams from a flat structure to a hierarchical structure.

Flat area structure Hierarchical area structure
Flat area paths Hierarchical area paths

You do this by opening each area path associated with a feature team and changing its location to be under the management area path.

  1. Choose (1) Project Settings, expand Work if needed, and choose (2) Project configuration and then (3) Areas.

    Project Settings>Work>Project Configuration

  2. Next, choose the actions icon for one of the area paths associated with a feature team and select Edit. Then change the Location to move it under its corresponding management team area path.

    For example, here we move the Customer Profile to under Account Management.

    Edit area path dialog

    Repeat this step for all feature team area paths.

Include subarea paths for management teams

By including subarea paths for the management teams, you automatically include the backlog items of their feature teams onto the management team's backlog. The default setting for all teams is to exclude subarea paths.


Sub-area paths may break a team's ability to reorder or reparent items on the backlog. Also, it can introduce uncertainties with regards to assignments made to the board Column, Done, and Lane fields. For more information, see Exercising select features with shared area paths later in this article.

You define both areas and iterations from Project Settings>Boards>Team configuration. You can quickly go to it from Teams.

  1. From Project Settings, choose Teams, and then choose the team whose settings you want to modify.

    Here we open the Account Management team.

    Teams, choose a team

  2. Choose Iterations and areas and then Areas.

    Team Profile, choose Iterations and area

    If you need to switch the team context, use the team selector within the breadcrumbs.

  3. Choose Select area(s), and select the area path for Account Management and check the Include sub areas checkbox.

    Select areas for Account Management team

    Verify that only this area path is selected for the team and is the default area path. Remove any other area paths that may have been previously selected.

    Verify area paths for Account Management team

    Repeat this step for all your management areas. If you want to enable rollup across all feature teams and management areas to the top-level area, repeat this step for the default team. In our example, that corresponds to Fabrikam Fiber.

Define a single sprint cadence for all teams

If your feature teams use Scrum or use sprints to assign their work, you'll want to set up a series of sprints that all teams can use. By default, you'll see a set of predefined sprints. Add more sprints and set their sprint dates from Project Settings as described in Add iterations and set iteration dates. You can rename and edit the default sprints as needed.


While maintaining a single sprint cadence simplifies project administration, you can create different cadences as needed. For example, some teams may follow a monthly cadence while others follow a 3-week cadence. Simply define a node under the top project node for each cadence, and then define the sprints under those nodes. For example:

  • Fabrikam Fiber/CY2019
  • Fabrikam Fiber/3Week Sprints

Here we define the start and end dates of the first 6 sprints corresponding to a 3-week cadence.

Iteration path

Configure other team settings

For teams to be well defined, you'll want to add team administrator(s) and have them verify or configure other team settings. For more information, see Manage and configure team tools.

Review area paths assigned to teams

From Project Settings>Project configuration>Areas, you can review which Area Paths have been assigned to which teams. To modify the assignments, choose the team and change the team's area path assignments.

Area Paths and Teams

Exercising select features with shared area paths

When you share area paths across two or more teams, you'll want to understand how Azure Boards manages conflicts that can arise when exercising these features:

  • Reordering or reparenting work items on a backlog or board
  • Updates made to KBoard Column, Board Column Done, and Board Lane fields when dragging items to a different column

Reordering and reparenting work items

All backlogs and boards support drag-and-drop to reorder and reparent work items. Updates made to one team backlogs and boards are reflected in other team backlogs and boards that share the same area path. You may need to refresh the page to view the changes.

You can only use drag-and-drop to reorder or reparent work items assigned to area paths selected for your team. When the Parents view option is enabled, work items may appear on your backlog that your team doesn't own. Anything that appears with the information icon can't be reordered nor reparented as it's owned by another team.

Screenshot of information message on team ownership.

Board column updates

Because each team can customize the board columns and swimlanes, the values assigned to board fields may differ from what you expect when another team updates the work item from a different board. Even if the management team and the feature teams configure their Feature board columns with identical workflow mapping, updating work items on one team's board won't be reflected on another team's board. Only when the work item moves to a column that maps to a workflow state does the card column reflect the same on all boards.

By design, the team with the longest area path wins the conflict and determines the values for the Board Column, Board Column Done, and Board Lane fields. If the shared area paths are of equal depth, the results are non-deterministic.

The primary work-around for this issue is to maintain single ownership of work items by Defining area paths and assign to a team. Another option is to add custom workflow states that all teams can use. For more information, see Customize the workflow (Inheritance process).

Next steps