So they think they’re agile?
What to do when your agile team just isn't... that agile.
Picture it, you’re new, fresh faced and full of life. You’re ready to take on your new challenge, the grass is green and the birds are singing. You spend your first few weeks deliciously soaking in all of the new people, spend time meticulously learning about your new domain and getting to grips with your product. You see two week sprints, JIRA and a Scrum of Scrums in your calendar. Agile, you think.
But the scene starts to shift as time goes on, your once seemingly sunny, iterative and collaborative environment shifts slightly. It’s not grey and rainy, but it has dulled. Making decisions is a ping-pong match, suggestions on change are met with near constant hesitation and push-back, your trajectory is: slow. What do you do?
Honestly, it’s a scene we all probably know a bit too well. Agile is popular, and with popularity comes a surge in use, everyone wants to be agile. As Product Managers we all know the pitfalls of not working in agile, to name a few:
Time to market drifts
So what happens when the team you’ve joined thinks they’re working in agile? What do you do when they’ve adopted some agile ways of working, slapped a Scrum sticker on, and are marching their way through ceremonies without really understanding why.
Well, evangelism will get you nowhere, fast. Scrapping your team's ways of working and completely resetting to attempt perfect Scrum or Kanban will have a couple of outcomes: you’ll grind development to a near halt, and you’ll introduce things your team is almost definitely not ready for. You have to remember you’re contending with a few things here; your team's openness to change, business agile maturity, delivery goals and the psychological safety and wellbeing of your team.
So what can you do?
Well firstly, sit back and observe.
Agile is a scale, not a binary system. Work with your Agile Delivery Lead, if you’re lucky enough to have one, to observe and assess where your team is lacking in their agile maturity. It can take a few weeks, as you’ll want to assess everything from team processes, ways of working, roadmap understanding, stakeholder interactions and business objectives. This may just be a team concern, but it’s more likely rooted at a business level.
Because we just can’t get enough of prioritisation, work to prioritise the issues. Think about making a matrix to help you; highest impact, lowest risk. Or complexity to resolve vs time needed. These then need to pass through a maturity lens; are your team in a position to tackle this issue? You want to make iterative changes, working through where you think you can have the most positive impact on your team's outcomes.
Talk to your team and get their buy in. You could have a way of working retro, where you work together to identify areas of change (a good way to get them thinking about what impacts them most), or a planning session, to talk through the suggested change you want to make in a particular area. Think about whether your team may need training or support; can you provide this? Does someone else in the team or the business have the skills needed to facilitate the training? Can you learn together?
Give it time
Change won’t be immediate. This rule goes for both yourself and your team. It’s important to accept that some of the suggested improvements may not be the right thing for your team, and you should be assessing their comfort levels throughout the process with regular catch ups, retros and opportunities for feedback. But it’s also important to give it time, change will rarely be immediate and it will almost definitely be uncomfortable. Help the team sink in to that, and encourage them to come to you with any concerns they may have.
Use this opportunity to encourage and build (if it doesn’t already exist in the team) an environment of continuous feedback. This will help you iterate on the changes you have made, and adapt the changes to your team's needs.
Finally, it’s really important to remember that changes like this require persistence, and that working together to create a more collaborative and open team dynamic will help make these improvements faster. You all ultimately have the same goals and outcomes, we make changes when we believe it will help drive us forward towards those goals and bring us closer together as a team.
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