Like “digital transformation” and “DevOps,” the term “agile” has come to mean many things to many different people in software development and project management. The principles of agile software development are generally straightforward: They prioritize customer collaboration, flexibility to change, individual empowerment, and creating working software rather than extensive documentation.
But as agile development is deployed by more and more digital product engineering teams around the world, many find it difficult to achieve its promised speed and flexibility. According to the most recent State of Agile Report, “30% of respondents identified no fewer than ten different challenges faced while adopting Agile.” These challenges can range from cultural clashes and resistance to change to lack of experience and inadequate management support.
[ Also read Agile transformation: 3 ways to achieve success. ]
What can software development teams do right now to improve their agile processes and ensure that their projects are successful? Here are six strategies or changes in mindset you can deploy quickly to dramatically improve agile operations:
1. Deploy agile on a cultural level
At its core, agile is a human-centric methodology. While it can be much easier to build support and enthusiasm for new technologies or software, it’s more important in the long term to frame agile as a cultural transformation. Scrums and kanbans are the tools that allow teams to pursue agile development, but the more important transformations take place at the human level.
A cultural transformation is more than just making changes to workflows – it requires adopting agile’s goal-oriented, customer-centric values in every aspect of a team’s operations. Culture cannot be managed or completed. Instead, it emerges as the natural outgrowth of a team and its personalities. By encouraging your team to adopt an agile mindset, you can create a fruitful culture that allows agile methodologies like sprints, scrums, and kaizen to thrive.
2. Focus on coaching instead of certifications
One of the most common mistakes in transitioning to agile development is believing that completing a course or gaining an agile certification is all it takes to be successful. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Agile requires constant attention and guidance to be successful, and while experienced teams will be able to achieve a state of continuous improvement without outside help, beginners will undoubtedly need coaching.
A qualified agile coach can help teams to understand how to avoid common mistakes and overcome early roadblocks. All employees within a team will develop their skills and sharpen their instincts in the months and years to come, but there’s no substitute for expertise in the early days of an agile deployment.
[ For more advice on agile adoption, read Agile strategy: 3 hard truths. ]
3. Keep your agile toolbox current
Agile software development first achieved widespread popularity more than 20 years ago with the release of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Across two decades and countless deployments around the world, agile teams have established thousands of different practices and processes to improve their operations. If your team is finding that its existing agile approaches are growing stale, it’s easy to find a range of new strategies to get back on track.
4. Understand your maturity level
No two agile organizations are alike, and knowing how to grow and develop requires a clear understanding of your current maturity level. Assessing agile maturity requires an organization to look at breadth, depth, and consistency. How many units within the organization are using an agile development approach? To what extent do they apply agile principles to their operations? And how consistently do they stick to those principles? Collecting this information and using it as a benchmark can make it easier to keep your team on the path toward continuous development.
5. Pursue agile at scale
While agile is traditionally viewed as a team-based methodology, some enterprises are now taking the opportunity to apply it across multiple teams. Agile at scale promises to make entire software development organizations more goal-oriented and customer-centric. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is designed to help an enterprise implement agile across its various teams and units, and its workflow techniques can be quickly deployed throughout an organization.
6. Take a human-centric approach to metrics
How can an organization measure progress when a methodology prioritizes people over technology? The answer lies in developing human-centric metrics that reflect the impact that agile processes are having on your employees’ everyday experiences. These could include metrics like cycle time and velocity, assessing how long it takes to finish a given task or how many tasks are completed within a single sprint period. Using these metrics, team leaders and scrum masters can better understand how much their team is capable of taking on and what roadblocks need to be removed to increase their velocity.
Agile software development can take many shapes and sizes, and it will never reach a state of completion. By taking these steps today, any organization can improve the outcomes of its agile approach and build more flexible, customer-centric software.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
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