There are many things that adaptable businesses can learn from elite agile software teams — and we aren’t talking about where to find the widest selection of coffee mugs and t-shirts with amusing sayings (e.g. “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”). We’re talking about five best practices that define and drive high-performance:
- Involve all relevant stakeholders early on in the process.
Once they have collected product requirements and clarified essential business requirements — but before they put plans in place — elite agile software teams connect with all relevant stakeholders (in-person, virtually or both) in order to negotiate and optimize the product backlog. This is critical, considering that the work journey ahead is inevitably going to be full of twists and turns.
Adaptable businesses don’t have a product backlog, but should bring together all stakeholders before projects start to solicit input, make adjustments, generate buy-in, establish a shared vision. Provided that team members agree on where they need to end up and what the results should look like, they can launch forward with confidence and enthusiasm — instead of doubt and anxiety.
- Don’t passively communicate with customers: actively collaborate with them.
One of the defining features of top-tier agile software development — and admittedly, also one of the most challenging — is that active collaboration with customers is flat-out vital. Otherwise, there is a high risk that iterations will be characterized by excessive and costly re-work, growing mistrust between customers and teams, and increasing disengagement among exhausted team members who feel that they are always taking one step forward and two (or sometimes more) steps back. To avoid this massive pitfall, successful agile software teams do not merely seek to communicate with customers or “keep them in the loop.” They insist on actively collaborating with customers through frequent interactions that target everything from expectations to fixes to innovations — and anything else that falls within scope.
Adaptable businesses can certainly benefit by borrowing this page from the agile software team playbook. The idea isn’t just to connect and communicate with customers (which adaptable businesses already do). It’s to go a step further to cultivate, position and empower customers to be active project participants in a meaningful, organized and efficient way. When this happens, there is a much greater chance that deliverables and results will ultimately align with customer requirements and expectations.
- Keep team members together to foster trust and drive efficiency.
Like sports teams that collectively ride the ups and downs of a long season, exceptional agile software teams typically travel together across iterations — because on the agile landscape, familiarity between team members doesn’t breed contempt: it fosters trust and drives efficiency. Of course, it’s fine (and often necessary) for some switching and rotation to happen; especially when new skills are required. But the general approach is to keep the band together.
Where possible, adaptable businesses should adopt this wisdom and try to keep team members together from project to project. In addition to supporting the delivery of high quality work in a rapid manner, team cohesion supports strong relationship building (which is key when things get tense and problems emerge), and it also generates synergies that increase knowledge capital — which can be exploited by all teams across the organization.
- Ensure that meetings are assets vs. liabilities
High-performance agile software teams rely on various types of meetings to monitor progress, optimize performance and solve problems,, such as sprint planning meetings, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, and product backlog refinement meetings. However, despite the variety (and in some cases, the frequency) of meetings, they are always relevant, pragmatic and as short as possible.
Adaptable businesses also ensure that meetings are informative and efficient — not draining and dreaded. This is especially important when it comes to status meetings. A Clarizen-Harris poll of more than 2,000 employees revealed that:
- 60 percent spend more time preparing for status meetings, than they do attending the actual meetings.
- 46 percent would rather do any other unpleasant activity vs. endure yet another status meeting — with 17 percent preferring to watch paint dry.
- 35 percent consider status meetings “a waste of time”.
- The right tools make all the difference.
The most successful agile software teams use powerful, but easy-to-use tools that allow them to manage and groom the backlog through an intuitive and centralized interface, personalize workflows (e.g. creating multiple or single workspaces/boards while customizing each stage), and break down large projects into smaller and more manageable tasks.
Adaptable businesses also know that tools make all the difference — the right ones leading to success, and the wrong ones leading to setbacks. The former connect team members across the enterprise by bringing together project management, portfolio management, configurable workflow automation, and in-context collaboration. The bottom line is that everyone is engaged, accelerated and inspired to do more (and of course, continue adding to their glorious collection of coffee mugs and t-shirts with amusing sayings!).