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3 Red Flags Agile Facilitators Should Watch Out For & The Best Solutions

90% of executives believe that organizational agility is critical to business success.Agile working methods are more successful than traditional methods (71.5% and 62.8% respectively).So why hasn’t working Agile yet become the norm? That’s not to say it hasn’t become a trend, and I’m sure you’ve begun seeing it - as I have - referred to in business settings across industries.Most often it is down to not knowing where to begin, not having a team fully on-board or being unable to deliver proven success soon enough. Starting out on an Agile project with little confidence, only a general knowledge of the method and a ‘succeed first or scrap it’ mentality from the business can lead teams to run-ins with common pitfalls.Let’s shed some light on  what I believe are three of the most common and impactful pitfalls on a business's first run at Agile on a small scale (i.e. “Innovation Engine” separated from the “Performance Engine” (explore this topic), instead of immediate enterprise-scale Agile transformation).We won’t only focus on the negative. I’ll share what we as a team discovered are the best ways to overcome or to prevent these obstacles altogether.Minimizing the risk of failure before embarking on an Agile adventure is the key.1) Lack of top-level supportThis seems obvious I know, but it’s good to be aware that even the management who has given the go-ahead can be unsupportive of the Agile project. On one hand, they may not act on what they promised, for example, giving teams the real freedom to innovate and take time away from usual tasks within the company, or actually implementing project outcomes and taking it seriously. On the other hand, they may not defend the project to other management-level staff and decision makers.Either way, this behavior can seriously impede the overall success of working Agile.Striking a balance can be tough.Too much input and encouragement from top-level management can make Agile projects feel imposed. On the other hand, teams can feel empowered by management support.For the best chance of getting it right, our first step is to make sure clients we work with are genuinely interested and excited by the prospect and potential of Agile, and also fully understand the limitations and possibilities within their own company setting.Are you receiving a complete support from the management?We always go into a project knowing we have the full support of key decision makers and leaders. Whether the management shows a genuine interest, or just a general interest but seem overly cautious, we always start a kickoff with a content input pack to give a short but comprehensive overview of Agile, its principles, and its process.When we have the support, we aim to get the team together who will be involved in the project - sans manager - to allow them to be open with their questions and apprehension before really getting started with the project.Transition to the next level(s)- Is your team ready?Getting employees on the team level excited about Agile is part two. Knowing they have the full support of management, but also trusted with the freedom to execute the project themselves and are able to see the effects of project outcomes on the wider company are all crucial components to maintaining an energetic, motivated, and happy Agile team.We do also start out with a workshop including Agile simulations as the core activities where we aim to include managers or at least the responsible sponsor of the project. This initial workshop aims to bring everyone to the same level of understanding about how the project will work - the timings and how everyone can work with one another for the most successful outcome.2) Team members with strong identities with traditional rolesI must make a distinction between those who strongly identify with their roles, and strong personalities. Strong personalities (in most cases) can be harnessed and encouraged to work effectively within the Agile team by an experienced facilitator. Those who strongly identify with their role - meaning their role within the company, not within the Agile team - can be more difficult to sway to an Agile way of thinking.In the dynamic setup of an Agile project, team members need to be prepared to consistently step out of their comfort zones, to multi-task and to learn their co-workers’ jobs, or at least their point of view, and have the open-mindedness and approach to do so with empathy and without contempt.Mindset > SkillsOften, just the action of taking responsibility for getting something done for a deadline set in the project, even if it isn’t an employee's usual job is enough to bring them into the mindset of working flexibly and collaboratively. Sometimes it takes a little more encouragement.Something we found to be very important for an Agile team - especially on their first project - is to make sure they have a separate working environment. This keeps them focused on the Agile team-specific goal, and away from the traditional, waterfall environment within which their usual role is so fixed.Keeping the Agile team small also helps with bringing a team closer. Smaller teams within the Agile team don’t have a chance to form as a result of people being drawn to those they usually work with. Hence we suggest one representative from each department is present.By also truly understanding the Agile mindset as a result of studying the core values and principles, team members can see the value of having mutual respect for others. It can help them realize how much they could learn from their new teammates, and the potential a cooperative team can have when it comes to the project outcome.An example of a team stepping away from their traditional roles to get results and reach their goals happened recently with a team I worked with. Some user research was needed, and usually, this consisted of reaching out to the research team who put together a questionnaire, potentially over days or a week. The interviews then need to be set up and the sales team gets involved to make decisions on incentives and resources. Another department then is needed to carry out the interviews.In this Agile way of working, this one team is self-organized. They do it all, and any member of the team can carry out the tasks. The work is evenly shared for the absolute quickest output so the team can continue forward towards their joint goal.Without a fully committed and cooperative team, this is just not possible.3) Tools unfit for efficient information-sharingAgile is about working quickly, working efficiently, and that getting things done is more important than having things perfect. Continuous face-to-face interaction aims to ensure this happens to avoid any misunderstanding, miscommunication and to ensure deadlines are met.As much of Agile projects today are focused on something intangible, i.e. software, UX designs or CX journeys, the right tool to support this ongoing interaction and updating of tasks needs to accompany the team throughout the project.Selecting the right tool from day one is crucial. It keeps people’s minds on the important things, and off the time-consuming admin.Discard useless tools!There’s no room in an Agile team for tools that impede progress by demanding too much attention from one or more team members, by confusing people or simply failing by losing data.We keep a small, selective collection of tools we have found work best for this kind of project-based, live collaboration. Teams are then able to choose, perhaps depending on which they’re most familiar with to make the onboarding faster and easier (these include Slack and G-Suite, we have also heard Atlassian are extending their project management software to enterprises working Agile, but have yet to try it out).Keeping an eye open for these red flags could save teams time and resources, not to mention the invaluable confidence in Agile working an initial successful project could instil in them.Ultimately it’s about finding how each team works best with one another to really get the most out of an Agile project - these tips simply help them focus on this, and not on roadblocks.

3 Red Flags Agile Facilitators Should Watch Out For & The Best Solutions

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3 Red Flags Agile Facilitators Should Watch Out For & The Best Solutions

90% of executives believe that organizational agility is critical to business success.

Agile working methods are more successful than traditional methods (71.5% and 62.8% respectively).

So why hasn’t working Agile yet become the norm? That’s not to say it hasn’t become a trend, and I’m sure you’ve begun seeing it - as I have - referred to in business settings across industries.

Most often it is down to not knowing where to begin, not having a team fully on-board or being unable to deliver proven success soon enough. Starting out on an Agile project with little confidence, only a general knowledge of the method and a ‘succeed first or scrap it’ mentality from the business can lead teams to run-ins with common pitfalls.

Let’s shed some light on  what I believe are three of the most common and impactful pitfalls on a business's first run at Agile on a small scale (i.e. “Innovation Engine” separated from the “Performance Engine” (explore this topic), instead of immediate enterprise-scale Agile transformation).

We won’t only focus on the negative. I’ll share what we as a team discovered are the best ways to overcome or to prevent these obstacles altogether.

Minimizing the risk of failure before embarking on an Agile adventure is the key.
1) Lack of top-level support
Lack of top level supportThis seems obvious I know, but it’s good to be aware that even the management who has given the go-ahead can be unsupportive of the Agile project. On one hand, they may not act on what they promised, for example, giving teams the real freedom to innovate and take time away from usual tasks within the company, or actually implementing project outcomes and taking it seriously. On the other hand, they may not defend the project to other management-level staff and decision makers.

Either way, this behavior can seriously impede the overall success of working Agile.

Striking a balance can be tough.
Too much input and encouragement from top-level management can make Agile projects feel imposed. On the other hand, teams can feel empowered by management support.

For the best chance of getting it right, our first step is to make sure clients we work with are genuinely interested and excited by the prospect and potential of Agile, and also fully understand the limitations and possibilities within their own company setting.

Are you receiving a complete support from the management?
We always go into a project knowing we have the full support of key decision makers and leaders. Whether the management shows a genuine interest, or just a general interest but seem overly cautious, we always start a kickoff with a content input pack to give a short but comprehensive overview of Agile, its principles, and its process.

When we have the support, we aim to get the team together who will be involved in the project - sans manager - to allow them to be open with their questions and apprehension before really getting started with the project.

Transition to the next level(s)- Is your team ready?
Getting employees on the team level excited about Agile is part two. Knowing they have the full support of management, but also trusted with the freedom to execute the project themselves and are able to see the effects of project outcomes on the wider company are all crucial components to maintaining an energetic, motivated, and happy Agile team.

We do also start out with a workshop including Agile simulations as the core activities where we aim to include managers or at least the responsible sponsor of the project. This initial workshop aims to bring everyone to the same level of understanding about how the project will work - the timings and how everyone can work with one another for the most successful outcome.

2) Team members with strong identities with traditional roles
Team members with strong identities with traditional rolesI must make a distinction between those who strongly identify with their roles, and strong personalities. Strong personalities (in most cases) can be harnessed and encouraged to work effectively within the Agile team by an experienced facilitator. Those who strongly identify with their role - meaning their role within the company, not within the Agile team - can be more difficult to sway to an Agile way of thinking.

In the dynamic setup of an Agile project, team members need to be prepared to consistently step out of their comfort zones, to multi-task and to learn their co-workers’ jobs, or at least their point of view, and have the open-mindedness and approach to do so with empathy and without contempt.

Mindset > Skills
Often, just the action of taking responsibility for getting something done for a deadline set in the project, even if it isn’t an employee's usual job is enough to bring them into the mindset of working flexibly and collaboratively. Sometimes it takes a little more encouragement.

Something we found to be very important for an Agile team - especially on their first project - is to make sure they have a separate working environment. This keeps them focused on the Agile team-specific goal, and away from the traditional, waterfall environment within which their usual role is so fixed.

Keeping the Agile team small also helps with bringing a team closer. Smaller teams within the Agile team don’t have a chance to form as a result of people being drawn to those they usually work with. Hence we suggest one representative from each department is present.

By also truly understanding the Agile mindset as a result of studying the core values and principles, team members can see the value of having mutual respect for others. It can help them realize how much they could learn from their new teammates, and the potential a cooperative team can have when it comes to the project outcome.

An example of a team stepping away from their traditional roles to get results and reach their goals happened recently with a team I worked with. Some user research was needed, and usually, this consisted of reaching out to the research team who put together a questionnaire, potentially over days or a week. The interviews then need to be set up and the sales team gets involved to make decisions on incentives and resources. Another department then is needed to carry out the interviews.
In this Agile way of working, this one team is self-organized. They do it all, and any member of the team can carry out the tasks. The work is evenly shared for the absolute quickest output so the team can continue forward towards their joint goal.

Without a fully committed and cooperative team, this is just not possible.


3) Tools unfit for efficient information-sharing
Tools unfit for efficient information-sharingAgile is about working quickly, working efficiently, and that getting things done is more important than having things perfect. Continuous face-to-face interaction aims to ensure this happens to avoid any misunderstanding, miscommunication and to ensure deadlines are met.

As much of Agile projects today are focused on something intangible, i.e. software, UX designs or CX journeys, the right tool to support this ongoing interaction and updating of tasks needs to accompany the team throughout the project.

Selecting the right tool from day one is crucial. It keeps people’s minds on the important things, and off the time-consuming admin.

Discard useless tools!
There’s no room in an Agile team for tools that impede progress by demanding too much attention from one or more team members, by confusing people or simply failing by losing data.

We keep a small, selective collection of tools we have found work best for this kind of project-based, live collaboration. Teams are then able to choose, perhaps depending on which they’re most familiar with to make the onboarding faster and easier (these include Slack and G-Suite, we have also heard Atlassian are extending their project management software to enterprises working Agile, but have yet to try it out).

Keeping an eye open for these red flags could save teams time and resources, not to mention the invaluable confidence in Agile working an initial successful project could instil in them.

Ultimately it’s about finding how each team works best with one another to really get the most out of an Agile project - these tips simply help them focus on this, and not on roadblocks.

Olivia

Olivia Kathleen

Blog Author

We are Kathleen and Olivia from LHBS, an independent marketing & innovation firm that makes legacy organizations customer-centric and agile. We just published a playbook for running successful sprints within your organization - get your free copy of the Agile Sprint Guide here: agilesprintguide

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Set goals clearly.Unless the goals for each sprint are clearly laid out, it could become very difficult to prioritise the tasks in the backlog. The team and customers must align their objectives in order to set the goals that the team will achieve during each sprint. Based on the goals, the Product Owner in conjunction with the team will choose the tasks that must be completed during the sprint.10. Estimate using Planning Poker.Planning Poker is a proven, easy to use technique for estimating and planning. Using this simple technique, accurate and doable estimates can be achieved.11. Set time aside daily for risk mitigation.By planning a six hour day and leaving two hours aside each day for risk mitigation, it is possible not to fall short on time estimates. Many unexpected things could happen that turn timings awry, and by doing this it is possible to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.12. Do not stretch or cut short sprint timings.The time frame for a sprint should not be stretched or curtailed, as otherwise the team will be tempted to neglect set timelines in the expectation that they will be reset. Even if a story is unexpectedly big and cannot be completed in a sprint, at the end of the agreed-upon timeframe the sprint should end, and the items that were not completed should be moved to the top of the backlog for the next sprint. At the same time, if the stories are completed ahead of time in a sprint, then some smaller stories could be added to help keep the schedules on track.Managing backlogs13. Keep sprint backlog separate from product backlog.The product backlog is updated regularly, while the sprint backlog is kept frozen and can be referred back to at any time. Do not mix up the two or combine them.14. Use task prioritisation techniques.Task prioritisation techniques such as MoSCoW, Business value approach, Kano model, Walking skeleton and so on can be used to prioritise tasks in the product backlog. Simple excel documents can list out backlog tasks and show the status and priority (must, could or should are most frequently used terms). Use the technique that makes best sense for your team, and that everyone is able to understand.15. Itemise user stories by assigning IDs.To cut through ambiguity, assign an ID to each user story so that the team knows exactly what is being discussed. Two user stories may sound similar but be different, and team members may think that a different story is being discussed.16. Map functional and technical dependencies.Dependencies could be functional (defined by stakeholders) or technical (defined by the engineering team). By mapping both types of dependencies, the workflow is smoothened and optimised, and bottlenecks can be identified and removed.17. Use a Scrum board.Many people work better when they have visual aids to guide them. A Scrum board is a very useful tool in this regard. The board is a visual representation of User stories, tasks that are yet to start, in progress and done. It can also indicate blocks, testing tasks and reviews from the Product Owner.  Tools like JIRA and Trello are very easy to use and understand, and offer great value to the team.Tracking and predicting18. Use sprint burndown charts.Burndown charts that visually depict the progress of the sprint are a great visualisation tool that detects issues when they appear, and helps to resolve them before they escalate. Completed tasks per day are mapped against the planned tasks, giving an indication if the progress goes off track.19. Use release burndown charts.Release burndown charts depict the sprints that are needed to complete, or release, the product. The team can decide whether they need to adjust the timeframe or not. Using these charts is a good practice to follow, especially if the product backlog was updated over the course of the project with new user requirements.20. Chart velocity.By calculating the velocity, the progress of work can be charted against initial estimates, and used to better predict team commitments and results. If the velocity is changing a great deal, then the sprint planning must be revisited and made more reliable.21. Invest in good quality software.Tools that are built for Agile teams can help with project planning, time tracking and measurement of metrics. JIRA, Toggl, Git, and Slack are popular tools that are very supportive and can help to streamline and optimise workflows.To sum up…Implementing a smooth, streamlined Agile workflow could take a lot of planning and strategizing, but with the right mindset, approach and collaborative tools, it doesn’t have to be difficult!  Each team is different, and you might need to experiment with a few approaches and Scrum best practices till you find the one that’s right for you.After all, the main premise of Agile is that you should be flexible, and adapt when the need arises!
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Top 21 Scrum Best Practices for Efficient Agile Wo...

Scrum, arguably the most popular Agile framework i... Read More

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