How to Make the Transition to Agile Teams

— February 21, 2019

While agile methodology got its start in the world of software development, it has gradually filtered into a variety of other industries over the last decade. The shift makes sense for companies trying to compete in dynamic, fast-paced industries where customers and clients expect flexibility and quick results. Agile teams are better able to adapt to changing circumstances and allow companies to leverage creative potential by encouraging greater levels of collaboration.

There are many reasons why moving to agile teams can be a shock to the system for organizations more accustomed to traditional “waterfall” methodologies. When considering how to convert a team to agile, there are a number of steps companies can take to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.

How to Make the Transition to Agile Teams

Educate Employees

The first step in any agile transition plan is to inform employees why the change is happening and how it will affect them. Implementing a new way of doing things can generate a lot of anxiety even when it’s clear to everyone that the old approach is no longer effective. As a fully-fledged methodology, agile workflow brings a lot of terminology and principles with it (sprints, stand-ups, scrum, etc). Employees need to know about these concepts and understand why they’re important to an agile team. This information should be communicated in a number of ways, such as workshops, books, or seminars to ensure people understand the objectives.

Secure Buy-In

To be successful, any agile transition plan needs leadership to make an effort to secure stakeholder buy-in. Employees can learn everything there is to know about agile practices, but that knowledge won’t amount to very much if they aren’t willing to help the transition succeed. As with any change initiative, it’s essential that the employees who will be implementing the new processes are committed to making them work. They need to believe that the changes will address ongoing problems and help them to achieve their goals more effectively. In addition, companies may also have to sell the change to some of their clients since agile practices can significantly alter the way it provides products and services. Clients need to know why these changes will ultimately benefit them as well.

Adopt and Integrate Tools

The most effective agile practices incorporate automated tools and specialized software to help teams work effectively on concurrent and continuously iterative projects. Project management software that breaks large projects down into smaller tasks and helps employees to manage workflow easily is very important for agile team success. Like any other tool, however, team members will need to learn how to use it and understand how each task fits into the greater whole. The agile transition plan should also include the adoption of virtual communication software or cloud productivity suites. Having all of these services in place before the new agile teams begin working can help avoid technical hangups in the critical early days of the transition.

Promote Communication and Collaboration

Agile teams demand higher levels of initiative than many employees are accustomed to. The agile process is set up to empower team members to solve problems and get the resources they need to complete the tasks before them. For many team members not accustomed to being so proactive, the transition can be a challenge. They may have traditionally worked in siloed departments and have little experience with the sort of cross-functional teams that agile practices often emphasize. Encouraging team members to share information more readily and engage in collaborative problem solving, they can generate more innovative solutions and find the best way of achieving organizational goals

Stay Flexible and Focused on Results

Agile methodology is a means to an end. When an organization implements an agile transition plan, it can be very easy for employees to become fixated on the little details. They may begin to focus on different aspects of their workflow, obsessing over recurrent deliverables or other tasks. Ironically, this undermines the entire purpose of the agile process. Rather than becoming more flexible, they lose sight of the forest and spend their time looking at the trees. The incremental nature of agile workflow, however, should allow team members to rapidly shift focus when necessary. Learning how to prioritize, be accountable, and adapt to ever-changing circumstances is a key part of becoming an agile workplace. By staying flexible and keeping an eye on long-term goals, team members will soon find themselves becoming more productive and efficient in their work.

Agile teams are becoming far more common outside of the software development industry and represent a major shift in the way many employees approach their work. By taking the time to prepare team members for this change and implementing the tools and support they need to be successful, organizations can make the transition to agile teams with minimal disruption and difficulty.

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Author: Rick Lepsinger

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