Transforming a Team of Agile Skeptics into Agilists | TechWell

Transforming a Team of Agile Skeptics into Agilists

Agile team bumping fists

Most people experience an “aha!” moment at some point during their agile journey. Before then, they may struggle to understand how agile is different or how it helps at all.

While everyone is on their own personal journey of discovery, they’re also trying to learn how to work together with a different, sometimes foreign, team-first mindset. Their perspective is filtered through a lifetime of trying to solve all problems and plan all work, with a preference for finishing tasks over delivering value.

Agile introduces a different way of working and thinking, and it’s important that leaders find a way to overcome resistance.

Take these three steps to move toward achieving an agile mindset and realizing the benefits of agile.

1. Trust the team and create space to experiment

Engineers generally want to do the best work they can. If you give them the tools they need to do a great job and get out of their way, they will attempt to optimize. They still need vision and guidance to know what they’re doing and why, but ultimately, management needs to trust the team for agile approaches to thrive.

To build that trust, have regular, honest discussions about what the team needs to be successful. Create a safe space for the team to take risks and make mistakes without fearing top-down reaction. This builds the foundation for a positive culture driven by learning and continuous improvement.

2. Use retrospectives as an engine for change

Agile processes work best when teams reflect on their progress and chart a new course based on what they’ve learned. Introduce the team to the retrospective process as a recurring conversation that identifies the most important issues and creates action items to address them.

The key is to find metrics the team values, not metrics management values. When teams are pushed to track metrics they don’t believe in, it creates bad behaviors, like gaming the system or optimizing for the wrong work. Instead, have the team identify a few metrics they feel are true measures of their ability to deliver value.

That combination of regular retrospectives, alignment, and metrics enables the team to find the gaps in their processes. It also builds a culture of understanding value and making data-driven decisions.

3. Educate on the value of agile and the “why”

For a team to take off, it needs to have a sense of purpose. One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is focusing too much on the mechanics of implementing agile processes and not enough on the “why.” This leaves the team with a sense of routine, but not of motivation.

Show benefits that are tangible, not theoretical, and help the team understand that agile isn’t the solution for every problem, but it is a useful mindset for arriving at solutions. By using introspection and agile techniques, they can develop a sense of purpose and ownership, not just of the product, but also of the process.

Becoming Truly Agile

To be effective, agile solutions require a collaborative culture. For that, we need metrics we agree are important, management support and a shared understanding of goals, and a culture of trust, respect, risk-taking, and continuous improvement.

Coaching an agile-skeptical team demands a personalized approach that will work in that team’s unique environment, but eventually, it leads to that “aha!” moment we all seek.

Scott Weiner is presenting the session Transforming a Team of Agile Skeptics into Agilists at Agile + DevOps East 2019, November 3–8 in Orlando, Florida.

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