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Blog December 11, 2019

The Secret Sauce within Agile Frameworks: The Teams

Looking into a glass meeting room from the outside. Colorful post-its are stuck to the glass wall and a blurred out agile team is sitting at the center table
Morgan Finton
Morgan Finton

In today’s age of Agile, there are several scaling methodologies and frameworks for an organization to choose from for their Agile transformation. These would include the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Scrum at Scale, Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), and so on. While these are proven tools and many organizations have been successfully implemented them, the reality is that people are the heart of any transformation and are the best investment any organization can make. Regardless if a framework has been chosen, Agile teams are the “secret sauce” and where the real value is generated for an organization. Agile teams should be highly invested in and empowered to drive change and innovation. Here are 5 considerations to unleash the full potential of Agile teams:

1. Invest in servant leaders

Team members need a servant leader that can enable them to reach their fullest potential. Having a strongly skilled Scrum Master (for example) that fully understands the necessity and importance of team events and team agreements is critical to a team’s success. This leader should be able to coach the team in finding their team’s working agreement, team values statements, and team norms. While some project management might say it is a waste of time, researchers have found that when a majority of team members share the same values, teams bond more easily, have higher levels of cohesion, and are more innovative.

2. Change management is real and it takes time for team members to adjust

“How do we use this Fibonacci sequence and how do we do this daily scrum”? Give Agile teams the runway to adapt to their new way of working in an Agile environment. For many, this will be a completely new style of delivering value for end-users. It’s almost hard to believe that organizations think it’s appropriate to scale Agile in the organization before teams are even comfortable with Scrum basics and a new way of working.

3. Let teams help drive the backlog and innovation for future solutions

Teams should be empowered to be involved in the backlog and product discussion, and help unleash innovative solutions for product development. It’s not news today that people still don’t like being told what to do. It’s called psychological reactance and it’s a real thing. Stop telling teams what to do, and bring them into the discussion to have a say. Further, give them the time and space they need to generate new ideas for future product development such as innovation & planning (IP) sprints or hackathons.

4. Start promoting failure (and learning from it!)

Teams that are given the opportunity to build functionality that is “good enough” and deploy to end users can be an immense learning opportunity. In this world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, it’s more effective to iterate on good-enough solutions and accelerate learning. With the proper feedback loops and proper expectations set, organizations can encourage teams to feel comfortable experimenting with new concepts. Without experimentation, much can be missed for an organization. If “fail” is too harsh of a word, consider pushing teams to create Minimally Viable Tests (MVTs) to help encourage them to experiment. Speaking of experimentation --- did you know that Post-it Notes were derived from experimentation and that they weren’t planned?

5. Listen to feedback from teams

Unfortunately, only 1 in 2 American workers are satisfied with their job. The ugly reality is that team members will leave the organization if they do not feel valued. Replacing a team member could cost the organization thousands of dollars in addition to a major hit to productivity. The best an organization can do is leverage team members' input and focus on relentless improvement. Team members want to feel valued and need to be heard. If it’s expected that teams “continuously improve” with implementing Agile on their teams, then so should the organization, as well. Organizational leaders need to listen to the heartbeat of the organization: the Agile teams.

Organizations don’t just succeed with Agile by concentrating on a given framework. They are making a significant investment in their employees, and particularly the Agile teams that they will become a part of. This piece has reviewed considerations for an organization to unleash the full potential of Agile teams and the people that makeup them. These considerations may not be as complex as the frameworks themselves but can serve as a reminder that the secret sauce is really in the teams themselves and not in the Agile frameworks.