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Making agile work for your team: Starter tips

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(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Pressmaster)

In the last years, we’re observing a surge in companies that want to adopt the Agile approach to leverage its benefits and progress in their business practices.  

However, the vast majority of these companies are still learning the ropes with only a fraction reaching a high level of competency in Agile. According to the 2020 State of Agile report, 20% of respondents are only starting to experiment with adopting Agile in pockets, not yet ready to commit to a complete Agile transformation of the company, that would mean tearing down the obsolete cultural practices and changing the fundamental values of the organization. 

When surveyed, companies remark that they mostly choose to make the transition as a way to optimize their processes and reduce spending. A big focus is on addressing the technical risks that come with software development. Nonetheless, the most evident Agile adoption benefits come with creating more value for the customers, earning client satisfaction and loyalty.

Agile adoption vs. Agile transformation; what’s the difference  

When considering introducing your team to the Agile approach, it’s good to distinguish between Agile adoption and transformation. Both processes aim at making you more efficient and flexible in your ways. However, as already mentioned, there is a difference in the scope of change you commit to, different resources may be required in terms of effort and time. If one may be looked at as a quick “try on” of a new approach to project management, the other is a complete overhaul of your organizational model. 

Let’s compare some of the main points of difference between Agile adoption and Agile transformation for a company: 

Agile adoption :

  • May be introduced quickly   
  • Positive change in the moment    
  • May be introduced as a one-time solution to complete a project   
  • Functional silos and hierarchies remain   
  • May be done in pockets on some level of organization  
  • Increases team productivity 

Agile transformation:  

  • Happens over the course of years. 
  • High risk of failure 
  • Is a long-term commitment 
  • Company gets restructured to cross-functional teams 
  • Happens across the entire organization 
  • Increases sustainability and value delivery 

Why start with Agile adoption firstly 

As you see from the differences between these two processes, proper Agile transformation requires fundamental organizational change, while the adoption of Agile can be done on a surface level and a much smaller scale, starting with a single software development team or non-tech team. It demands a different level of commitment, as a transformation is a lot more straining on the resources in terms of effort, time and more, subsequently carrying a bigger risk for the organization pursuing the change. That’s why it’s critical to start implementing Agile in small steps starting with a small and medium team and as you succeed, move forwards to the organizational transformation. 

How to start Agile adoption in a team 

Like with any new initiative, getting on with the adoption of Agile in your team or organization can be an intimidating endeavor. To make this transition easier, we have collected some of Agile best practices and tips to help you out by making this journey less stressful and letting you have the best out of your experience. 

Have an Agile adoption roadmap for the team 

Before introducing any changes to the way your team works, think about what you want to achieve with this transition and draw up an Agile adoption strategy for them to implement. There are many ways to adapt Agile techniques to make them work in the context of your team and your project.  

There is no one streamlined way to do it and usually different teams implement a hybrid of multiple practices, techniques and a mix of frameworks to satisfy their needs, the most commonly used being Scrum. The State of Agile 2020 report shows that 75% of respondents use Scrum or a combination of Scrum with some other framework. 

Engage a coach or consultant  

You may read all the books and articles on Agile, but the best way to know that you are on the right path in your adoption journey is to have an expert observe you with an unbiased eye. An Agile Coach or consultant will analyze how you work and operate as a team, and tell you what practices would be best to implement for your team specifically, whether it needs to adjust your team roles and in which way and much more. 

Even if you think that you succeed with Agile involving an external coach can exceed your expectations. As it’s their job to stay on top of all the latest trends in the world of Agile, you can bet that they will bring you the freshest insights and tips, help you make the adaptation period quick and smooth, and have it work right from the get-go. 

So, better than think on this, check how our Agile experts helped with Agile coaching for Casumo team and what results it brought for them. 

Agile coaching session during Scrum events

Communicate to your team the meaning behind Agile 

Invest in taking the time to explain to the people that you work with what Agile is, what it means to your organization and what you are striving to achieve by introducing the changes. You want to have everyone on board and eager to do their part in implementing the new practices to your daily work. Your team will be more invested in making the change if they actually understand why it needs to be done. 

Make realignment a priority 

You have to understand that in order to adopt Agile principles, your team needs to undergo a certain shift in alignment and get organized around goals rather than functions and roles that they carry out. Though having adjusted your team roles to customer needs impacts significantly on the project success, the main thing is that the team forms around the goal of building the product from start to finish and delivering the result to the client. This is what constitutes a cross-functional team - having sufficient skill and resources to deliver some completed and ready-to-use product. 

Apply relevant Agile processes 

Apply and focus Agile processes that can be quickly implemented and show significant improvement and optimization of the team’s work, such as: 

  • User stories 
  • Prioritized backlogs 
  • Iteration planning  
  • Short iterations 
  • Daily stand-ups 
  • Retrospectives  

These are tried and proven practices that can be introduced to your team and easily applied to their daily job routine. Think about how you can implement these to your advantage. The perfect option is to have a dedicated Scrum master in your team who will take care of all the staff.   

Practice stand-ups and other Agile events 

With daily stand-ups, your team always knows at what stage in the project they are, what possible blockers need to be addressed, if everyone is on top of their tasks. Other Agile events, such as retrospectives, can help the team analyze their work processes and how they can be improved. Because these meetings are regular and frequent in time, the team can make the required alterations without delay so that the work isn’t stalled because of inefficiently installed processes. 

Set communication guidelines for teams 

Communication is one of the things that help your team become Agile. It can be done on a multitude of levels, starting from communication within a collocated team, to remote team management, handling dependencies with other departments, etc. Encouraging open communication helps your team become more independent, focus on the common goal of delivering the product, take responsibility and be proactive in bringing the job to completion. 

Measure and analyze Agile adoption metrics 

Collecting and analyzing Agile metrics may help you see where the new practices are working and what can be done to adjust. Observe how your team’s efficiency changes with the help of such metrics as velocity, throughput, and sprint burndown. Track their work with the number of bugs identified and logged, code coverage and analysis. All these stats will come in handy when you look back to see how Agile adoption is affecting the quality of your work and what else can be done to help your team improve. 

Continuous feedback and improvement 

One of the perks of Agile is that it introduces a constant feedback loop that allows the team to make all the changes and adjustments to their work in the early stages of the project. It makes it easier to improve the processes and get the most out of the job done. With continuous feedback coming from the client the team may take leaps in improving the work processes and delivering a better quality product on each iteration. 

Get “Agile” to achieve something greater 

Take things into perspective and think about what Agile adoption can possibly lead to in the future. It may as well be that in a year or two you’ll start out on an entire Agile transformation journey. What that journey might bring, depends on how you leverage the benefits of the Agile approach for your work here and now, how well you understand what you are doing and its purpose, what end goal you are pursuing. Agile adoption may be the boost for something even greater. 

Summary  

Now that you have a comprehensive Agile practices list, there’s little stopping you from picking up a few or all the lot and see how you can tailor them to the needs of your team. Make the experience your own. By adopting some of Agile best practices, your team can achieve better work efficiency and greatly improve their output.

Andrew Romanukha, Agile Coach and Scrum Master, Symphony Solutions

Andrew Romanukha, Agile Coach and Scrum Master at Symphony Solutions, Certified SAFe Scrum Master, SAFe Agilist. Loves sharing knowledge and experience as an Agile evangelist, business trainer, and Agile Coach.