Is Your Team Truly Agile? 6 Must-Ask Questions!Sep 09, 2023
In the ever-evolving world of Agile, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Agile, while originally created for software development, has now branched out to encompass various sectors and disciplines. Each team, depending on their specific needs, will adopt their unique blend of Agile tools and approaches.
Remember, though, being "Agile" is not an end goal in itself. Our primary aim is always to deliver business value, and Agile is a means to that end. By understanding how closely your team aligns with Agile principles, you can discover areas for improvement and boost efficiency.
In this post, I'll be sharing six key questions you should be asking your team. These will help you understand just how Agile you are, and where you might need to make adjustments. So, are you ready to delve into the Agile-check of your team? Let's get started.
Question #1: Are all your decisions made with customer value in mind?
The foundation of Agile is customer-centricity. If your team is taking direction solely based on directives from company leadership or copying competitors, without truly understanding the needs and pain points of your customers, you're missing out on the essence of Agile.
Sure, it may not always be possible to have direct conversations with your customers. Your 'customers' may even be fellow employees in the same organization or people from other companies. Regardless, your team should continually be asking: "Are we doing everything we can to understand those we serve and deliver exactly what they need?" Truly Agile teams prioritize customer value in every decision they make.
Adding a tangible symbol of the customer in team discussions can be incredibly impactful. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Indeed, a company that truly exemplifies a customer-centric culture. They had a special tradition where each meeting room featured an orange chair, known as the "jobseeker chair".
This chair represented their target customer - the jobseeker. Whenever the team was deliberating on a feature or decision, they would symbolically consult the 'jobseeker' in the chair. They would ask if the jobseeker would appreciate the feature and if it would genuinely assist them in finding a job. If the answer was no, they would reconsider their decision.
This physical reminder of the customer's perspective kept Indeed's teams firmly anchored to their goal of delivering customer value, further driving their Agile ways of working.
Question #2: Do you have full product ownership?
What this means is that the team should be capable of defining the product vision, setting goals, and determining priorities throughout their work. This applies whether the 'product' in question is a physical product, a service, a feature, or even a process.
If decisions are being made by managers, stakeholders, or dictated solely by customers, then the team is missing the opportunity to be truly Agile. These decision-making scenarios could potentially steer the team away from focusing on delivering customer value, which is at the heart of Agile.
It's important to note that having a Product Owner as a formal role isn't sufficient for claiming product ownership. It’s more than a title – it's about who is actively involved in the decision-making process concerning the product. The key here is the process, not the person or the title.
Question #3: Are you able to support your product end-to-end?
The term 'product' can have varying definitions in different teams. It might refer to a specific feature, a marketing strategy, or something else entirely. Regardless of its definition, what truly matters is whether your team takes responsibility for the entirety of it, rather than just a functional piece such as design or coding.
A team that doesn't support the product end-to-end struggles to establish a vision or make decisive choices about its future. Additionally, when responsibility for the success or failure of a product is split among multiple teams, it can negatively impact the sense of ownership. You've probably heard statements like, "We did everything right; the design team is the one that messed up!" This division can hamper productivity and overall team dynamics.
Regardless of the size of your product, it's essential to build teams that can carry it through from ideation to the delivery phase. A truly Agile team embraces full ownership of their product and supports it across every stage of its lifecycle.
Question #4: Can you respond to change?
Responding to change is a crucial trait for any Agile team, as one of the core values of Agile is adaptability. However, understanding what this means in practical terms is important.
For instance, if a team has ownership of a product and sets its goals, but then must rigidly adhere to these goals and roadmaps regardless of changing circumstances, they aren't truly Agile. This inflexibility can hinder their ability to maximize value delivery. Moreover, if any adjustments to their goals require a long and cumbersome approval process, this, too, is a sign that the team isn't fully embracing the Agile mindset.
Unfortunately, in many organizations, teams and departments are obligated to establish deadlines and milestones for themselves. This is often because management wants to maintain the illusion of control. In reality, such practices can create unnecessary stress, excessive bureaucracy, and worst of all, can force the team to sacrifice the scope—i.e., customer value—in order to meet time and budget targets. True agility is about being flexible and adaptable to change, not just at the planning stage, but throughout the lifecycle of a project.
Question #5: Do you trust each other and do you feel trusted?
Trust stands as a cornerstone of the Agile culture. When teams trust one another, they operate under the belief that everyone is doing their utmost to deliver maximum value to the customer. This sense of mutual respect and belief in one's colleagues can significantly elevate a team's productivity and morale.
Moreover, a culture rooted in trust eliminates the need for constant oversight and micromanagement. When trust is ingrained in the team dynamics, there's no need for exhaustive status update meetings or endless reporting to showcase one's efforts. The underlying assumption should be that everyone is diligently contributing. This allows the team to channel its energy into more productive avenues, like goal-setting, measuring outcomes, and collaboratively troubleshooting any challenges that emerge.
Question #6: Do you seek continuous improvement?
In the ever-evolving world of business and technology, resting on laurels isn't an option. Processes that once seemed innovative can quickly become outdated or cumbersome, and tools that were once industry leaders can fall out of favor. The key to sustained success in such a dynamic environment? Continuous improvement. A truly Agile team consistently evaluates its processes and tools, always on the lookout for opportunities to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.
You might have noticed that I haven’t delved into specifics like daily standups or the use of a backlog in this post. Same here. While tools like retrospectives can be immensely beneficial for fostering a culture of continuous improvement, they are but one method among many. What's important isn't how you seek improvement but that you're actively and consistently seeking it. The method is secondary; the intent and action are paramount.
Reflecting on our team dynamics and processes is always an enlightening exercise, and I genuinely hope this piece has offered you a fresh perspective on your team's journey. It's essential to remember that the end game isn't merely to be labeled 'Agile'. Instead, it's about harnessing the principles of Agile to amplify our efficiency, effectiveness, and, most importantly, the value we provide to our customers.
Recognizing where we currently stand on the Agile spectrum and visualizing where we could be allows us to pave a path for growth and continuous improvement. Embrace the journey, learn from each step, and keep your focus on the ultimate goal: delivering unparalleled customer value.
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