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 other words, the success or failure of an agile transformation is determined by the team of people driving the project.
There are countless examples of Agile initiatives that started out with enthusiasm, staffed with known disrupters who are committed to bringing change to the organization. Yet only 10% of executives report achieving Agile at scale. It is not technology challenges or poorly-understood methodologies that are creating this disconnect, but rather a failure to adequately address the human elements of agile transformation. Our teams will play an important role in reversing this trend.
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’t1. 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
Establishing the right environment for agile adoption requires a focus on people and organizational enablement. 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, who are curious and engaged, and ideally have worked together successfully in the past. The role of the product manager is particularly important, and requires someone who will not only develop solutions that meet customer needs but has the respect of the business and understands that market.
- 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. This can become a real challenge after the initial excitement and focus of an agile launch begins to wane. Agile 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.
- Be mindful of the gap between business and IT. There are a myriad of reasons organizations chose to embrace agile, but one of the most common is bring business and IT together, and aligned toward a common goal. This begins with the teams. In order to meet customer expectations both groups need to work together in a highly collaborative and flexible way. It is imperative that team members view themselves as part of a whole, and not simply on-loan from either the business ot IT side.
- 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. Leadership needs to empower teams to implement new or streamline existing processes, as well as be prepared to evolve incentives, organizational structures and expectations in support of a new approach.
- 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 realities, 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. Recognizing that most organizations stumble in their agile approach when they fail to prioritize the human element of transformation, we’re helping agile leaders reverse this trend by putting the spotlight first on people. This includes building the right agile team and keeping client/customer satisfaction a top priority. You can learn more about this approach and other aspects of how organizations can successfully implement agile practices in our latest CGI U.S. Viewpoint Getting unstuck: Making the PIVOT to business agility.
Updated March, 2020