To achieve agile success, prioritize building the right team before defining the work to be done

To be fair, there are plenty of i’s in agile: innovation, intelligence (human and artificial) and iterations, to name a few. But the contributions of the individuals on a project are less important to its success than the way these individuals are able to interact as a team. In a recent report by Jira developers, Atlassian, 50% of respondents said they were more motivated by team success than company (27%) or individual (23%) success.1

In other words, the success or failure of an agile transformation is determined by the team of people driving the project. More and more, teams are being asked to reduce costs, show faster results and meet and/or exceed customer expectations, all while outperforming the previous “waterfall” approach. These elements make building the right team of people, working together toward a common goal, ever more important.

Building a successful team of individuals with cross-functional expertise, a high comfort level with change, and the ability to self-manage, is no small feat; and the implications of not doing so can be significant. According to Harvard Business Review, stable teams are 60% more productive than teams that aren’t2. Whether in the public or private sector, this challenge is common among clients, and one that requires thoughtful consideration—oftentimes taking priority over process planning.

Defining your agile team

There is an argument to be made that before writing even the first user story or contemplating the first sprint, a high-performing team should be defined. This approach is far more likely to bring success than defining the scope of work and then seeding the scrum team. Viewing the work through the lens of a team, before defining the work that needs to be done, is a key step toward successful agile adoption.

This approach begs the question: what should organizations consider to form the best team possible to support agile implementation and transformation? Here are five best practices:

  • Identify the right mix of cross-functional team members. Bring a team together with the expertise required to do the work, as opposed to those that may simply be available. Look for team members who have a breadth of experiences, as well as a depth of knowledge, and take the time to identify individuals who are curious and engaged, and ideally have worked together successfully in the past.
  • Avoid bringing on team members who are resistant to change. Putting individuals who are resistant to change on a scrum team in the hope that their thinking will evolve is rarely a good idea. As organizations mature their agile adoption, many are realizing that there are some individuals who either can’t or won’t adapt to the necessary change. Scrum teams need to work closely together and develop trust in order to be successful. Having even one member who does not believe in or see value in the process will undermine the entire team’s success.
  • Seek out the key characteristics that make the most sense for your organization. Everyone on the team needs to have the requisite training and mindset, but there are other factors to consider. Does your organization emphasize innovation? Are you mission-driven? Depending on your answer, look for people who share and are passionate about your priorities.
  • Help the team stay motivated and keep things in perspective. Team leaders need to remind members that they do not carry the entire burden of an organization’s successful agile adoption.  Mistakes are not only expected, but critical to learning and moving forward on the journey.
  • Trust in the team’s ability to deliver. Technology projects can be overwhelming and sometimes even scary. Significant resource commitments, stakeholder expectations and customer impacts are just some of the realties, and it can be hard to relinquish control of such critical projects. The most important gift an agile team can be given is empowerment—trust that they are in the best position to deliver what an organization needs.

CGI is helping both public and private sector clients tackle agile implementation projects of all shapes and sizes. We invite you learn more about building your agile team and other lessons learned by joining our upcoming webinar co-hosted by the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA):  20/20 Hindsight: Things We Wish We Knew Before Going Agile on January 16, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. EST.

We’ll be joined by CGI clients from the State of Maine in discussing the State's experience transitioning to agile, including challenges and results. CGI will also share best practices and common misconceptions to consider before embarking on agile projects. Learn more and register here

1 https://www.atlassian.com/teamwork

https://hbr.org/2016/05/embracing-agile

About this author

Picture of Melissa Boudreault

Melissa Boudreault

Vice President, Consulting Services

As CGI Vice President for Consulting Services, Melissa works with private and public-sector clients in developing innovation and transformation strategies, business architecture, technology design and product roadmaps. Melissa advises clients on best practices and implementation strategies for technology solutions with a focus on healthcare, incremental ...

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