If you’ve ever seen the parkour scene from “The Office,” it might remind you of a team’s first attempt at agility.
As Michael Scott and his parkour-aspiring colleagues show, it’s one thing to simply mirror principles. But being able to quickly and effectively pivot and adapt priorities based on real-time feedback and need is an entirely different – and much more challenging – matter.
Teams have been working with components of agile since the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was introduced 22 years ago. By now, most organizations have taken steps toward team agility – even if (as in the example above) they are just throwing out terms like scrum, Kanban, and sprints.
If your team is not yet fully embracing agile practices and principles, here’s how to start building more agile teams.
1. Understand that there are many agile approaches and methods
First, set some goals: What do you want to do, and what will success look like? Then find the best approach and methods to help your organization achieve these goals. Ask yourself questions like “Do I need an enterprise framework like SAFe?” and “Scrum, Kanban, XP – which one is right for my team?”
There are no wrong answers to these questions, only answers driven by the situation you are in.
2. Be intentional in your journey
Once you have your approach, training and building the muscles to execute it takes time and effort. You’ll need to be intentional in your decisions as you will ask people to think about their work in a new way, including how they break down their tasks and estimate their effort using new tools and techniques.
It’s important to support people through this change to avoid misunderstandings around its purpose and what to expect.
Measuring the adoption of agile can happen in quantitative ways, through metrics like velocity over time and delivering business value, or by using a more qualitative approach, like individual check-ins and observing team retrospectives and collaboration.
Remember that as your team becomes more agile, their needs may shift. Be open to revisiting your goals over time to account for the shifting nature of work, and challenge yourself at the appropriate level – don’t jump off the building onto the trampoline yet.
3. Evaluate your status regularly and challenge the team to work toward the ideal state
The best teams strive to “be agile” and not just “do agile” – organizations that create a safe environment for self-assessment and support will do better than those that let it happen organically.
We often work with organizations and teams to create a capability model that allows team assessments and progress measurement to happen over time. Elements generally focus on team composition, technical practices, flow, and ways of working with other teams.
A note of caution: Assessments should be used to help teams guide their growth and focus. Too many organizations instead use them to artificially push a team to achieve a certain level of competence by a certain time. This only trains a team to game the system to avoid being punished for where they are.
4. Include a DevOps and product mindset
The highest-functioning agile teams think beyond agility to include the additional dimensions of product and DevOps.
These two dimensions allow teams to produce more without needing additional members. For DevOps, it is a mindset of automating routine, error-prone processes to create reliable and repeatable software delivery. The dimension of product has teams thinking about how their efforts deliver business value. Teams will then focus less on team-based measures and more on business outcomes that drive the future of their company.
The bottom line? Whether you’re just getting started or have been working in agile ways for years, there are always opportunities to increase your team’s agility. Organizations that focus on being intentional, measuring adoption, assessing progress, and eventually incorporating additional concepts like DevOps and product create the highest potential for their teams to be agile instead of just doing agile.
[ Learn the non-negotiable skills, technologies, and processes CIOs are leaning on to build resilience and agility in this HBR Analytic Services report: Pillars of resilient digital transformation: How CIOs are driving organizational agility. ]