by Anna Frazzetto

4 tips to kickstart your agile practice

May 13, 20214 mins
Agile DevelopmentIT LeadershipProject Management

As we go from crisis to recovery in year two of COVID, it's time to reset your team's agile velocity. Here's how.

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For years, agile has been the essential approach for keeping innovation teams moving with collaborative precision and velocity. In 2020, many organizations were forced to flip their agile processes upside down to meet the challenges of remote work during the global pandemic.

For tech teams and leaders eager to keep moving forward as we return to the physical workplace, here are four tips for resetting agile teams and processes without losing time or talent.

Assess agile team maturity

Historically, agile has thrived through the colocation of team members. With the pandemic, that was impossible. Video and voice-driven connections replaced in-person collaboration. The question now for tech leaders is how a year or more apart impacted team performance and maturity levels.

Assessing maturity levels for some teams might mean going back to basic agile measures, such as lead times, sprint burndowns, and throughput. Examine what numbers the team was hitting prior to pandemic-driven dispersion, using tools like Jira, ClickUp, or Basecamp, and see how those numbers have changed. This should reveal whether there was maturity lapse, stability, or growth in agile team performance and help establish a new foundation for measuring goals and success going forward.

Analyze agile team cohesion & alignment

Agile is a process that values individual interactions over process and tools. In this time of transition, it is important to understand how the pandemic affected team engagement and culture and to assess if teams are still effective as a working unit.

Some team members have loved working from home and want to continue to do so; others are ready for a return to physically working together. Tech leaders need to understand that few team members will share the same mindset on returning to the office and they’ll need to dig in and uncover those differences in the same way they assess performance levels. Just as varying levels of maturity on an agile team can be highly disruptive, so too are varying levels of personal satisfaction and motivation. Use surveys and check-ins to discover any discontent that could erode agility and adjust and realign teams accordingly.

Make room for learning

One element of agile team development that has been hard to maintain during the forced remote environment is the invaluable side-by-side learning that effectively and rapidly immerses new team members in finely tuned agile processes.

This is what is known as the Shu stage of “emulating the master” in the ShuHaRi learning model. ShuHaRi is often used by agile experts like Martin Fowler to explain how agile practitioners and teams can grow to achieve greater development velocity and flow. With teams shifting back to in-office work, now is the right moment to look at how learning and development can be reintegrated into the agile process and to assess individual skill gaps and growth. Some team members will need to return to that phase of careful apprenticeship while others may be moving towards independent work and innovative contributions. When there is room to learn and opportunities to stretch, an agile team can advance and meet the demands of opportunity surges ahead.

Ensure leadership buy-in

Agile only works if everyone is behind it. That means from the top down and the bottom up. As the new, new normal begins to take shape and demands for more and faster deliverables pour in, remember to underscore the importance of agile rigor and incremental advancements to the business leaders and sponsors who always expect great results from the tech team. Invite them to a standup or two and show them the burndown reports.

Senior leaders have the power to remove obstacles from agile tech teams and shape the vision that guides their work. As they look to technology to support business goals, including them in the agile practice and philosophy can protect teams from impossible expectations and help win new supporters for true iterative, collaborative development.

The wide embrace of agile for software development means lots of people chase the speed without ever taking time to ensure teams and processes are in a position to succeed. Taking a moment to pause and reset as the surge of post-pandemic growth begins is good for the team, good for tech development, and good for the business.