If your organization has been considering dipping its collective toe into the world of Agile, you’re not alone: a global survey of nearly 1,300 business and IT leaders found that eight out of 10 organizations said they have committed to adopting Agile within the software development area.
An Agile team, as LeadingAgile defines it, is “a cross-functional group of people that have everything, and everyone, necessary to produce a working increment of product.” The Agile Manifesto is based on ideals such as continuous improvement, a customer-first mindset, flexibility, self-organization, collaboration, and a high-quality end product. When done thoughtfully and with the proper vision, strategy, and preparation, transitioning your organization to Agile can offer you and your customers a multitude of benefits.
Despite the widespread use of Agile, many organizations are still only using it within specific areas of the company. To truly be successful in this endeavor and avoid Agile pitfalls, an Agile mindset must flow throughout your organization and be adopted by all of your departments. This often means bridging the gap between IT and the rest of your organization to ensure that varying mindsets align. Bringing in professionals to join the team who have experience in Agile roles or in leading an Agile team can make this transition much more seamless.
Here are several benefits of adopting an Agile methodology:
Cutting out the unnecessary.
Agile means prioritizing results over process, which often involves cutting down anything that’s wasteful, holding up the process, or taking up unnecessary time. Cutting out superfluous tasks and to-do’s and giving time back to team members helps them focus only on what’s necessary to get the job done and produce the highest-quality product for the customer (Do you hear that? It’s your employees’ collective sigh of relief at the prospect of fewer meetings.).
Higher customer satisfaction.
Today, it’s more important than ever to stay on top of customer communication and pivot quickly based on market performance or client feedback—and in an Agile team, this is a natural and necessary part of its success.
In Agile, products are often demonstrated to customers in sprint reviews; the product goes to market faster and more often; and clients get early access to it. The result? Happier customers who feel seen and heard, and organizations that are able to be responsive to market changes, stay ahead of their competitors, and focus on business value and customer needs in a cost-effective and efficient way.
Higher employee morale.
In a healthy Agile environment, employees and teams feel empowered. They’re able to see progress in real-time and are given the trust and responsibility to not only self-manage, but also to have direct involvement in improving a product and effecting change. Clear communication, continuous collaboration, and an abundance of learning and growth opportunities are hallmarks of Agile teams.
Better products and faster ROI.
Agile processes build in a granular level of quality control, including automated testing and regular check-ups during development, to ensure that the product is working and enable the team to address any necessary changes on the spot. Before a product has been released, it’s been thoroughly developed, tested, integrated, and documented. Software is developed in incremental cycles, with each release building and improving on the previous one’s functionality.
You will likely have a functional, “ready to market” product after a few iterations—in contrast with the often long, drawn-out project timeline of a traditional environment that produces a deliverable that you haven’t exposed to your customers.
The defining characteristics of an Agile workflow
The ideal agile team is small, lean, and results-driven; typically, five to six people make up a team. The Agile workflow will vary depending on the framework chosen (Scrum, Kanban, and so on), but as the team at Redbooth explains, these three elements are fairly standard across the board:
Daily stand-up meetings
Contributors and managers discuss what work was completed yesterday, what they’re working on today, and address any questions that arise.
These are short spans of time (typically two to four weeks; every sprint is the same size as the previous one) in which products are planned, developed, reviewed, and released. They’re considered “projects within the projects.”
Regular reviews and retrospectives
An Agile team is empowered to self-manage, but there are built-in measures to make sure work is being delivered at a consistent quality. Peer and manager reviews often occur both before tasks are completed and after the sprint is over to determine what’s working, what’s not, and make any necessary tweaks.
The three main roles in an Agile team
Although details may vary from team to team, the three main roles found in an Agile team are the product owner, scrum master, and team member. Each of these roles has a unique and vital function, along with specific skills necessary to the team’s success:
The product owner serves as the liaison between the development team and the stakeholders, and as enterprise business agility strategist Sally Elatta explains, is responsible for maximizing the business value for a project. He or she is responsible for collecting project information from stakeholders (i.e., anyone who’s impacted by the project), making decisions on the work that’s needed, and presenting it in a prioritized list for the Agile team to accomplish. A good product owner isn’t mindlessly taking orders from stakeholders, but instead has a vision for the end product and a sense of how it will fit into the company’s long-term goals.
The product owner is responsible for setting expectations for the team, accepting or rejecting the team’s work, keeping them informed of important developments, ensuring that the project meets the company’s needs and project stakeholders’ expectations, implementing changes as necessary, and defining what it means for a project to be “done.” Motivating the team and celebrating success is also a critical element of this role.
Product owners must be clear communicators; team cheerleaders; strong and knowledgeable decision-makers; diplomatic in working with others; and good at managing conflict. They must also be committed to a project, even if they can only give the team a certain number of hours a week of their focused time.
This role is more empowering than it is prescriptive. A scrum master’s main goal is to facilitate a healthy and effective team process within their self-organizing team. To do this, the scrum master leads and safeguards the team from outside distractions (such as being pulled into different projects); oversees day-to-day functions; schedules and facilitates meetings; provides guidance and feedback to team members; and ensures that the team is meeting the product owner’s expectations and completing tasks on schedule. Critically, the scrum master proactively determines what’s impeding progress and removes those obstacles to clear the way for success.
Scrum masters need to be comfortable in a servant-leader capacity, which essentially means serving and empowering their team first. They must be clear communicators; strong and creative problem-solvers; great motivators; and detail-oriented individuals who have excellent organizational and planning skills.
Team members are the ones who create the product: the front- and back-end engineers, copywriters, designers, programmers, and other roles in the cross-functional team who make it wholly functional. The roles and skills will vary depending on the needs of the project, but all developmental team members are responsible for organizing themselves and collaborating to deliver high-quality work on time.
Team members must have the ability to self-organize and create top-notch work in a short time frame. They need to be confident in the skills they bring to a project; adaptable; team players; open to feedback and constructive criticism; and comfortable working and collaborating with others in a small, close-knit group.
How to quickly ramp up your Agile teams
Transitioning your organization to an Agile mindset and attempting to bring every individual up to speed can be a huge undertaking, particularly when trying to do it on your own. Bringing in contract workers who have experience in Agile roles can help to facilitate the transition; create an instant pool of knowledge within your Agile teams; provide mentorship and guidance for existing employees who are new to Agile; and fill in your current Agile team “wish list” quickly and efficiently.
By supplementing your teams with experienced Agile contract workers, you’ll have the flexibility to create a fluid ecosystem of team members throughout a project as your needs evolve, as well as the luxury of bringing in talent with specific skill sets for your real-time talent needs.
Whether you’re ready to dive (or carefully tread) into the world of Agile, setting your organization up for success through careful planning is crucial. Reach out to us to talk about the Agile team roles and skills you’re seeking and how we can help. And if you’re a job seeker with Agile experience, start searching available jobs right now.