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Week 2: The Who and Why of Agile

  • How do Agile teams work differently?

Agile teams work cross functionally and in quick, interactive sprints. Most importantly, they are primarily self-forming and self-governing. They are presented with a problem or objective but it is left to the team to determine how to find the best fit solution. That solution should meet the customer’s needs and be delivered as quickly as possible. The teams own the project end-to-end, allowing different perspectives to shape the approach while preventing delays from hand-offs.

This shifts workplace activities from being driven by governance and policy to being innovative and client-centered.

  • What types of work lend themselves to Agile more? Which are less?

Modular projects and work that can be executed asynchronously are best suited to Agile methods. In addition, agile is frequently applied for client-centered work that can iterate quickly with limited adverse impact to the user.

Risk assessment should be a part of determining whether to apply Agile. Functions or tasks that require a high level of accuracy before engaging with the customer may not be ideal for Agile. Risk of harm to customers or waste of resources when iterating should be assessed.

colorful houses on the cliffs of San Juan Puerto Rico
copyright: K. Colyer-Brown

Agile methods would not be ideal for home construction. Building a home can be taken in stages but require a significant amount of planning.

Revisions come at a cost of time, money, materials, and morale.

  • What is key for Agile teams to be successful?

Successful Agile teams have members that are self-driven and actively contribute. Members align on common business goals and independently contribute to achieve those goals. Ideally the teams are cross functional to ensure subject matter expertise that supports top-to-bottom ownership. The focus is on outcome, not process, and there should be a comfort (or at least acceptance) of ambiguity and a high level of agreeableness.

  • What do you find interesting about the way Spotify designed their squads? Is there anything that taught you something new about Agile team design and if so, what?

Spotify designed their squads to have maximum flexibility while maintaining consistency in structural leadership. By having formal supervision at the chapter level, employees can have stability and a primary SME point of contact. This acts as an anchor that allows for psychological safety that promotes freedom to explore, interact cross functionally, pursue interests, and have pride of ownership.

  • How can creating personas in the workplace help HR?

Personas can help HR practitioners problem solve for the greatest portion of the workforce, not just those who are loudest or the issues that are most salient. Considering patterns, motivations, and goals of personas identified through data and research can also serve to mitigate bias by focusing on known drivers rather than identity based stereotypes.

  • Opinion: What are the core principles you would design for an Agile team?

    • Prioritize Outcome

    • Kindness and innovation can coexist

    • Retain a customer focus

    • Communicate quickly and frequently

    • Manage scope and scale; understand the ask of each sprint and deliver minimum viable product

  • Opinion: What do you think are key practices an Agile team must have (boards, sprints, etc.) and what do you think could be creatively changed? And if changed, how is the change valuable?

Musts Sprints: Short times with realistic deliverables and defined checkpoints for review and collaboration support focus. .

Scrums: Regular structured discussions help keep the team on track, ask for help, or offer support as needed.

Maybes Self-forming teams: Humans tend to gravitate towards that which is comfortable. It can be difficult to foster trust with new colleagues or limited knowledge of nontraditional and developing skills. Agile Coaches can monitor skills gaps on teams and recommend additional collaborators.

Boards: Consider the preferred communication methods and recordkeeping tools of the team. There should be flexibility in use of boards: e.g. words vs pictures, project management softwares vs shared documents, physical boards vs digital boards .

Daily Stand-up: Scrum masters should consider when daily stand-ups are appropriate for the project. Someone working on a 4-day deliverable may find it having a daily meeting distracting rather than resourceful. Scrum masters should be open to discussing length and frequency of stand-ups.

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