ABSTRACT: The purpose of this whitepaper is to highlight some of the major characteristic of a successful Agile team, shed light on some of the reasons why some teams find it difficult and suggest guidance for those who are struggling to adapt to the new mindset.
The Agile mindset is very difficult to define and I am sure that everyone has their own opinion on what is it. I would like to share what it means to me and what I have observed working with a number of teams both internal and with clients.
When forming an Agile team there are traits which I look for above those of purely technical ability (which I can train):
- Committed team player
- Excellent communicator (by that I mean appropriate to the occasion)
- Willingness to take on challenges and look outside the box
- Passion for continuous learning
I would like to share with you some of the areas where I have observed “fear or failure” when working with Agile teams. These happen in most start-up teams, so I thought it worth sharing the symptoms and suggestion for the cure.
There is often fear shown when more junior members of the team are asked to work in an Agile team. Often they do not have the confidence to speak up as they have been used to the team lead or manager controlling their work, doing the estimates for them, defining the strategy and plan so they are not used to being self-organising and feel that they do not have the capability. For this activity most people just need to be given support, not direction, suggesting areas they may want to consider for example. It is important that they however make the decisions, where they be right or wrong, and have the scope to fail without blame and learn from this.
“Let’s do Agile as it has no process, so we can make it up as we go along and get rid of all that heavy process that has slowed us down previously.” This is often a myth believed by immature companies or those just starting out. There is obviously differing amounts of lightweight process depending on the flavour(s) of Agile that your team decides to adopt. This lack of perceived process often leads to uncertainty as individuals have less process guidance and are expected to interact as a team rather than wait for process to tell them what to do. If Scrum is being practiced then of course the Scrum Master can help to ensure that everyone is following the process and if not, those that have more experience can help facilitate process adherence, all be it lightweight.
Finally one of the more challenging aspects is the heightened visibility. People may have been sat in isolation with little monitoring of their work until the deadline arrived. For example testers may have six weeks to complete analysis and design of test cases and will only have to report say weekly on progress, if at all. With daily stand-ups, burndown charts and increased discussion there is nowhere to hide on an agile project. Team members need to proactively clear roadblocks, as they do not go away on their own, and they will be questioned if they report that they are continuously working on the same tasks. If you are doing the best that you can then there is nothing to fear and in fact it should be embraced as other team members can see that you are not making progress and can offer to help. If however you are afraid that your low productivity will be found out, then it will! Also some fear the fact that greater visibility means that others can offer to help and then may learn about the area of software where you were considered the expert, so you may lose some of your “power”. This needs to be turned around and made positive in that your team is there to support you and they need to know when you need their help.
In conclusion, some will embrace the working conditions created under agile and will grow with the increased flexibility and some will never get it and probably are best not suited to this environment. Some may struggle initially and need more support and coaching. There may just be the natural resistance to change and fear that they have been asked to relearn their job. It is important to ensure that team members have the right mindset; they are proactive; volunteer to help others even if it is outside their comfort zone; feel supported in a “blame” free culture and importantly trust their team members.
Hopefully by sharing my observations whilst introducing agile into projects, this will help you recognise those that need more support and how you can facilitate this accelerated adoption. Agile focusses on people and it is their mindset which will most help the transition, almost as striking as a light bulb moment, when you see them get it. It is fairly easy to train people on the processes and practices (technical) however if they do not understand the shift in the way of thinking and interacting (soft skills) then they are unlikely to fit into teams.