Can Your Agile Team Be Trusted?

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I write a lot about successful collaboration among agile teams. The focus is usually the same: The stories often deal with teaching teams how to communicate so that collaboration is made easier and a creativity-inspiring culture can thrive.

The strongest teams that have the most success with collaboration are those where a great deal of trust has been established among members. Mike DePaoli writes that without that trust, “you end up with a group of individual contributors and not a team.”

Many agile development teams put a great deal of effort into establishing this trust in-house; but what about the trust that must also be built between the development team and the clients? Few clients are likely to have as much experience with agile’s unique development style as the teams they’ll be working alongside, and trust is a major contributor to the chances for success on any given project.

Those clients who’ve been unable to establish that trust—perhaps due to a previously poorly run project—are going to go into agile development in the future perhaps with greater skepticism, and it’s up to developers and project managers to rebuild client faith. Agile development consultant Dave Heacker recently told ITWorld that “agile requires a huge leap of faith for clients used to hard budgets and fixed bids”—two things that are generally nonexistent in agile.

ITWorld’s Esther Schindler found that one of the best ways to earn the trust and respect of your client is by granting them greater control of the total project—not just the budget. Hecker said that while the client must be told what impact their changes to originally mapped out requirements will be, giving them the power to call the shots in regards to the budget, schedule, and software as a whole will allow them to feel far more in control—something they may have never felt on past projects.

I recently had a chance to sit in on a keynote address by Dale Emery, who made this same point: When asking people to change, whether they’re a member of your team or not, you’re also asking them to give up more control than they’re likely to be comfortable with—and this is often the sole culprit of trust erosion.

While there are many diehard supporters of agile methodologies, there are those who find it flawed from the start and feel that common sense is needed for projects to have any chance of success. It’s hard to argue against common sense, and when Lajos Moczar of CIO points out that prioritization is the “one key quality that a project manager needs,” I would have to agree.

Where Moczar misses the mark is by failing to include the client in the prioritization process so that trust can be built right from the start.

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Noel Wurst

Previously a copywriter and editor for TechWell, SQE, and StickyMinds.com, Noel Wurst has written for numerous blogs, websites, newspapers, and magazines. Noel has presented educational conference sessions for those looking to become better writers. In his spare time, he can be found spending time with his wife and two sons—and tending to the food on his Big Green Egg. Noel eagerly looks forward to technology's future, while refusing to let go of the relics of the past.