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agile team performance

Effective Ways to Increase Agile Team Performance

Agile Methodology has come a long way in recent decades as companies started implementing it in their organizations. In the recent state of Agile survey, most of the respondents have seen significant benefits in their revenue and other factors after the implementation of Agile in their company. However, few companies could not have enjoyed all of the benefits that Agile has to offer. After implementation, managing the Agile teams and guiding them to use the artifacts, and making them understand the values and principles of Agile is one of the driving forces that leads to the success of Agile companies. Many companies just do not give much attention to the Agile team which would lead to lesser profit margins and meagre job satisfaction. 

A few of the best ways to enhance the Agility of the company is to increase the efficiency of the Agile team. When the team performance enhances, it benefits the project of the team and in turn, the entire organization is benefited. Hence, it all starts with increasing the productivity of the development team which leads to the success of Agile implementation. Many frameworks use the Agile Methodology where Scrum remains one of the most popular frameworks among many organizations. Understanding the Agile team performance in Scrum and we would be able to point out the tools and techniques that would help in improving productivity in Agile teams. Firstly, let us know the concept of Sprint velocity and how it affects the performance growth of Agile teams. 

What is Sprint Velocity and how is it used?

Sprint velocity is a measure of the work which is completed by the development team in a Sprint. This work includes finished tasks such as features, requirements, User Stories, and Product Backlog items. However, the work does not include partially completed or incomplete tasks that were supposed to be completed in the Sprint. The total work that has to be completed in the Sprint is already decided in the Sprint Planning meeting when the Sprint begins where the point values of work hours, items, or ideal days are already assigned. When there are complex and large items, the point value of the item is higher. To make a reliable system and get a headstart, the simplest item should be given the point value of one and all the other items should be given point value comparing the difficulty level of the simplest task.

The time in which the features could be delivered and the number of items that could be delivered could be estimated with the help of Sprint Velocity. This metric has proved to a more reliable metric as the data accumulated is higher than other metrics. Generally, the team base the Sprint planning by taking the average of the last three to four Sprints. When the Sprint starts, an estimated guideline could be created which will be modified after the first Sprint. If you are estimating four weeks to complete a Sprint for a team of five members, then you would have a period of 100 days or 600 work hours and for your initial Sprint, you should consider 33 days of work or 198 hours. This is based on the assumption that there are 5 working days in a week and 6 productive hours each working day.

How to improve Agile team performance?

The Agile leader, such as the ScrumMaster in Scrum, is the main person responsible for the process of product development to run smoothly. They have to look after the tactics that would help the team to process faster and efficiently. Now that the concept of Sprint Velocity is clear, we dig into the details about the effective ways to increase Agile team performance by considering a few of these important steps which ScrumMaster has to take.

1. Removing Impediments

The ScrumMaster is one of the key professionals who are responsible to ensure that the Development Team does not face any impediments. And when the impediments come into the picture, it becomes their responsibility to remove the impediments such that the development goes on without any hassle. Impediments should always be taken care of in the early stage of the development process as dealing with it, later on, would prove to be a challenge. Asking relevant and essential questions while writing the User Story and ensuring that the developers have all the tools required to start their work are a few of the important tasks that ScrumMaster could do to increase the productivity of the Scrum Team. The ScrumMaster is supposed to be a shield for the Development Team such that team members do not get disputed by the stakeholders. The best way to increase Agile individual performances is by asking them to redirect questions about the project and support the requests to the ScrumMaster. 

2. Using Metrics with Responsibility

Metrics are supposed to be evaluated and reviewed at retrospectives by the entire team. The metrics should not be used as a punishment or to apply undue pressure to the team as this would severely affect the morale of the team and decrease the productivity and performance of the team. Always use metrics as a means to motivate the team by giving it a more optimistic view. If the metrics have been enhanced than the last Sprint, then do not hesitate to pat the back of your team and appreciate their work. This gives them a sense of reward and a desire to perform better in the next Sprint. However, if the team does not show well in the metrics, walk through all the difficulties that the team faced and solve them such that these impediments do not decrease the Sprint Velocity and other metrics in the next Sprint. Therefore, handling the metrics responsibly is one of the main factors that would encourage the team to perform effectively. 

3. Teaching the principles of self-management

As a ScrumMaster, it would not be possible to be available to the team all the time. It becomes inevitable for the team to learn to manage on their own as they gain more experience while handling the Sprint. The teams should be taught to be self-managing so that they can accomplish everything listed on the to-do list that has to be completed during the Sprint, without needing constant direction or supervision from the leaders. Teaching the team about the Scrum principles and complexity of the project would help them build the skills of leadership and management so that the team can set goals and directions within the team. However, a self-managing team does not mean that they do not require a leader, it means that a manager would still help the team to be self-organized. Many organizations have found that the teams which have more independence have more efficiency and enhanced performance. Few businesses also reported that a self-managed approach has shown an enormous amount of employee productivity and satisfaction in the day-to-day processes of their work.

4. Adopting New Practices and tools 

As Agile has evolved in both software and Non-software, new tools and practices have become an essential component to keep up with the world. Application Lifecycle Management tools such as Rally and JIRA, Continuous Integration tools such as Bamboo and Jenkins, lightweight test automation tools such as JUnit and Selenium, and disturbed software management tools such as Github and Git has become a few of the most essential tools that have increased the productivity of Agile teams. Test-driven development, DevOps, and Behavior-driven development are a few of the new practices that have also shown promising results in increasing the Agile team performance. Teams have to be trained in all these tools and techniques such that they could sustain themselves in the Agile environment and show the results that would increase the business value of the company. 

5. Aligning with leadership, sharing knowledge and experience

Agile teams must have frequent interactions with the program leaders and sponsors and should share a common understanding of the project goals. All the members should have an understanding of their role to fulfill the business objective and should act as a single voice when they approach the stakeholders. It becomes the team leader’s responsibility to unite the team and help them align with the Agile principles. The leader should always share their knowledge and experiences with the team and encourage all the members to do the same. As more people learn from other people’s experiences, they gain more knowledge about handling various projects. The team members should be encouraged to participate in product demonstrations and establish Agile communities of practice. The performance goals for Agile teams would be more clearer as many people interact and share their knowledge. 

6. Introduce Acceptance criteria for User Stories and conduct workshops for coding

Introducing Acceptance Criteria before the Sprint begins and writing a definition of done would build a goal-oriented task that would ensure that the User Stories are fulfilled. When the team writes automated tests that check whether the Acceptance criteria are met, most of the work of the leader is fulfilled. This also brings more focus for the developers as they concentrate on fulfilling the Acceptance criteria. The stable quality of the product increment is also ensured as these tests prevent any defects that are introduced through new functionality breaking existing features and refactoring.

Workshops for coding and other engineering practices could also be conducted at least once per Sprint where discussion about new technology, the current architecture, and build-process could be done. Make sure to reserve a specific time for the workshop and organize a team member to become a moderator. This increases the team spirit, team-wide consistency, and team commitment on a topic.

7. Concepts of Coding Dojos and Testing day

A coding dojo could be thought of as an activity where the whole team sits together in a conference room and two developers perform pair programming on a computer that is connected to a projector. This allows everyone to see how they are working; the pair of developers are rotated every 15 minutes. This activity enhances the team’s engineering skills such as unit testing, writing code, design code, use tools, etc, and also increases the team consensus about how to develop software. 

The concept of the testing day is introduced when there are no testers in the team. Every day, a team member is responsible for testing the application and the member on this day is freed from the coder duties. This makes sure that testing is not pushed back in time or maybe forgotten about. When there are no coding duties, the tester can efficiently test the product increment and increase the quality of the product. 

8. Using innovative methods to educate the Agile team

The Development Team should be challenged with innovative ideas such that learning always takes place in the team. The more the team learns new skills, the more efficient the team would get. Here are two ways where the skills of the team could be enhanced for better productivity:

  • Pair programming using vertical User Stories along with a specialist: When the team works on the User Story, pairing specialists on different topics with each other would help the team to diversify their knowledge. The specialists can teach different topics to the other members, and after each Sprint, the pair could get changed. This way the entire team could learn different skills from a specialist throughout the product development process. 
  • Having personalized Sprint Goals: Each member of the team could choose a specific Sprint Goal for the next Sprint, which could be evaluated at the retrospective. This goal should not be necessarily related to Sprint. For instance, the goal of one developer could be to learn visual studio shortcuts or to learn ReSharper shortcuts. These goals could be typical goals that improve the engineering skills of the developer and gives them mastery over the tools.

Conclusion

Managing teams to become efficient seems a big responsibility as each team is different and there are different mindsets of people in each team. When the leader understands the team members in a better way, there are always ways to enhance the team’s productivity and performance. Tracking the progress of the team, removing impediments, aligning the business objectives, etc are a few of the great ways to increase the productivity of Agile teams. However, educating and sharing knowledge with the team members, conducting workshops for coding and other engineering skills, and using innovative ideas such as coding dojos, testing day, pair programming are also great ways to tap the full potential of the team. When the team is boosted with consistency, discipline, and high motivation, there is a sense of employee satisfaction which increases the productivity of the team by a significant amount. Implementing these ways would align the performance goals of Agile teams and help them become efficient and productive.

References

https://www.nutcache.com/blog/5-ways-to-improve-teamwork-with-scrum-methods/
https://www.planetgeek.ch/2011/06/24/16-ideas-about-what-a-scrum-master-can-do-to-improve-team-performance/
https://dzone.com/articles/5-tips-and-tools-to-improve-scrum-velocity-in-your
https://www.scrum.org/forum/scrum-forum/6182/ways-improve-velocity

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