Agile Methodology is one of the major parts of software development industries for the past two decades. It is adopted by industries other than information technology such as aerospace, construction, government development projects, banking, and finance, etc. Companies that were previously using the waterfall methodology have realized the value of being Agile and have started implementing frameworks of Agile such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean-Agile etc. Scrum, being one of the most simple frameworks, is the most implemented framework by companies who have just started to know about Agile methods. Implementing Scrum and other methods in the organization could mean the process in the company runs efficiently. However, without using the best practices of Agile methods, a project using Agile could not yield results or outcomes as expected. The methods or practices that are used to carry the Agile process are equally important as it focuses on how the group collaborates and works. In this article, we understand why organizations should choose Agile Methods and what are the best practices an Agile team could follow to get the best outcomes.
Why Organizations should implement Agile?
Agile Methodology encourages iterative development where the changes to projects are accepted based on the feedback of the users and the needs of the market. Agility means the ability to respond or change direction quickly. With Agile Methods, the team could quickly make changes in development direction without disrupting the high-level goals and vision. Agile promotes making a minimum viable product for any new product and later adding the features and changes according to the needs of the users. This also helps the team to gather feedback for small increments and helps the developers to fix any bugs or add any features in their next increment. Hence, Agile provides a quick response to changes and does not require months of detailed planning to begin the project.
Agile also values human interactions over the process which implies that it aims to bring customer satisfaction. It believes that collaborating and connecting with clients to know their needs is an important part of project management. Also, everyone’s ideas and opinions matter, and if anyone has a better idea for the project, it is adopted. The primary aim of Agile is to provide value as quickly as possible. It believes that providing value to the customers should be more important than just documentation of the plan which takes months to complete. Agile also has self-managing teams who share the product vision and ownership of the product. They have accountability for their work and everyone strives to give their best to complete the tasks given to them.
Agile Project Management Best Practices
Now that we have understood that being Agile is more beneficial than traditional methods, we have to know the best Agile practices to work effectively and efficiently. Here are a few of the best Agile practices that Agile teams need to adopt to get successful outcomes.
1. Self-managing teams are the Best
A self-managing group means that the teams make their own decisions on how to execute the work and who will be doing what. Work is divided into smaller increments which are completed in an iteration. In Scrum, these iterations are called Sprints. In Agile methods such as Scrum, the management does not constantly look over the employees and track whether the person has completed their work. They believe that the employees would finish the task within the given time. One of the most important qualities of a great Agile leader is to trust their fellow team members and employees. Scrum Masters, Product Owners, or any other managers should always trust their team members for any tasks and should not micromanage them.
For this type of arrangement to work, each member should be instilled with confidence and trust in their work by Agile leaders such as Scrum Masters and Product Owners. The team as a whole should do their responsibilities and be accountable for completing the tasks and impediments faced by any fellow team members. If an outcome could not be completed by the team, the team should learn and adapt to the mistakes they made in the previous iterations and try not to do it again. The management does not second guess or redirect but will still believe that the team has learned through experience. This type of team could only be formed when the team members have previous experience in working on any projects. Agile teams who are new in the field need a mentor who can guide and teach them about self-managing, planning, and executing an Agile software development project.
2. Set communication Guidelines
It has been harder than ever to communicate with others as most of the Agile teams in the last few years have converted to remote teams. Communication is challenging with teams that have many members and there are chances of conflict among the team members or with the management. During Agile development, communication in remote teams becomes a challenge as there could be differences in time zones, etc if the team members do not live in the same time zone. There are also chances of missing out on details on Skype or slack even if the team meets every day on daily stand-up meetings.
Hence, make communication guidelines that each member could follow such that no one misses out on any information during the conference call. Distribute the document of guidelines to everyone. For example, you can make it an important point to notify all the team members when any member identifies a new blocker. This would make it easier for everyone and would have many benefits. A proper period should be given to everyone by keeping a time where everyone is comfortable. Also, a time range could be given to join, and team members have to be aware of their network connectivity before joining the meeting. Keeping their mics off when someone else is explaining, making notes of important points discussed which are relevant to their work are all basic etiquettes of remote team meetings.
3. Motivate individuals to Build Projects
Always treat the team members as human beings and not as machines whose sole responsibility is to complete their tasks. It takes an immense amount of discipline and motivation to get through a development cycle and get the work done however it is needed. Agile teams should be motivated about their work and should be shown how much their work is adding value to the project and the organization. When trust and respect are developed among the peers, a rhythm is established and work could be completed even if Agile is fast-paced and unpredictable. Agile leaders such as Scrum Masters have to create such an environment of trust and respect which may not be easy. Open offices could be one of the great ways to reduce communication barriers among team members. Agile floor planning helps the members of the team to work together and brainstorm ideas and focus on the team’s activity.
Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing are the four stages in Tuckman’s theory of group development. After these stages, a group can fully become functional and be able to plan about their work and overcome any impediments or issues they face during the product development. Members who were accustomed to working alone also become a part of the team as they are willing to take up required roles, form collaborative relationships, and adopt what the team deems to be the most efficient processes. Agile leaders should mentor and encourage the members and treat them as humans, appreciate their work and make the employees understand their value to the company.
4. Product Backlog Prioritization
Product Backlog is the holy grail of the product development process and arranging the Product Backlog should be one of the most important tasks the team should focus on. The Product Owner prioritizes the tasks according to the priority of the feature that has to be implemented in the product. The PO has to record the tasks and assign the features in the backlog according to the requirements and feedback of the stakeholders and circumstances of the project. The Product Owner must arrange the backlog where the features with higher priority are kept on the top and the priority down the backlog decreases.
Product Backlog Refinement meetings are also important as it churns out all unwanted ideas and features which cannot be implemented. Team members can take part in this meeting and help to pitch in more ideas for the product which could be recorded in the Product Backlog. Also, the Product Owner has to regularly update the Product Backlog as it is a common list for all the teams associated with the work. In Scrum, there may be multiple teams who take the features from the Product Backlog and fill it in the Sprint Backlog. Inside Scrum meetings such as Sprint Planning, Sprint Reviews, the Product Backlog list is important as it shows the current status of the project. Also, the Product Backlog is transparent which implies that everyone in the team can view it. This helps the team members to anticipate the features which they have to be working on in the future.
5. Having a great Scrum Master who can coach, mentor, teach and facilitate effectively
Any team does not know all the techniques and practices without experiencing and learning from a project. The best way to learn all the steps of any product development is by learning from an expert. It is crucial for any new Scrum team to have an effective Scrum Master who can coach, mentor, and facilitate the team in a manner where everyone benefits. An effective Scrum Master is the one who can bring about the inner potential of the team member. The coach can understand the needs of the team members, can guide them about the skills they have to work on, and help them grow as a professional. For the Agile process to function successfully, it is extremely important to have a guide who can lead the way for the team and help them become independent and self-organizing.
6. Examine Team’s effectiveness
Evaluating the team’s effectiveness and performances so that they can look for ways to make it better is one of the best Agile practices. This evaluation could be from a Scrum Master or any other Agile leader. The team members should be dedicated and encouraged to improve continuously. As individuals or groups, the team should always be open to mentoring and learning from their mentors. These mentors could be any expert from their field who genuinely wants the team members to become better professionals. Agile teams should not be commanded and controlled, they should be given the freedom to choose their processes and working style. Conducting meetings dedicated to reflection of the previous iteration that occurs in Scrum is one of the best ways to evaluate the Agile team. These meetings are called Sprint Retrospectives and are typically held right after the development iteration.
Team members share about what went wrong and what they could do to fix it. This helps the team to not repeat those mistakes again and then they could identify ways to tackle the consequences. The team members should note down the traits or skills they are lacking such as procrastination, time management, etc, and work on them as they are working on the project. To increase the efficiency of the team, the members could also use various software applications to keep a note of the tasks and enable a smooth flow for the development process. Kanban board is one such tool that helps in tracking the progress and provides visual awareness of the workflow and planning everyday tasks and tracks progress.
The Agile best practices are those practices that the team becomes familiar with. It could be configuring the Sprints, meetings, Product Backlog items, etc, and using technologies and software to effectively manage time. Every team has its idea for becoming productive and efficient, they need to discover what works out for the team. Agile leaders should always emphasize humans over processes and create environments for team members to work. Team building exercises, building communication, trust, and respect, etc may seem like tasks that do not directly produce value to the product. However, they are the things that would make the foundation of the Agile team stronger and would make the process of Agile product development run smoothly. Employ these best Agile practices for your teams and create the products with the most valuable outcomes.