Want a Truly Agile Software Development Team? Focus on These 3 Attributes

By: Pritam Tamang on January 18, 2018

Hiring skilled employees or subject matter experts is not enough to guarantee the success of your agile projects. Your team must also have the right agile mindset.

But how can you tell whether the team you’ve assembled actually has an agile mindset? Gartner analyst, Bill Holz, explores this question in his article, “Become an Agile Superhero: Eight Attributes for Success” (content available to clients), but his analysis is aimed at large enterprises.

Here, we focus on the three most important agile attributes for small to midsize businesses (SMBs).

Here’s what we’ll cover:

1. Good Communication

2. Deep Understanding of Agile

3. Strong Agile Leadership

1. Good Communication

 Why SMBs need it:  Poor communication breeds internal conflict, which leads to many other issues. Dzenis Softic, Chief Technology Officer at Clickbooth, describes a software development firm facing communication issues, where the developers blame the business for not “allowing them the time/resources to do their job and code properly.” The business suffers revenue loss as bugs start to creep into the system.

For small businesses, constant and clear communication among the many project stakeholders is crucial to the success of agile projects.

 How to make it happen:  Effective communication happens when agile teams understand the different communication styles of their colleagues and have the intellectual courage to say what they think is right.

Be courageous: Back in 2002, Google co-founder Larry Page casually walked into the office kitchen clutching printouts of Google Adwords results. He wrote “THESE ADS SUCK” at the top of the first page. This seemingly callous move resulted in the formation of a quick-action committee that improved the ads within 72 hours.

Courage in this context is the ability of team members to speak their mind, without the fear of upsetting the status quo or others’ egos—and it’s the reason behind Google’s success. Your SMB doesn’t need to adopt Page’s abrasive tone, but it does need to adopt Google’s willingness to share its mind.

Understand different communication styles: Team members must master effective communication skills, and the first step towards this is to understand and assess different communication styles. Here are some common ones mentioned by leadership researcher Mark Murphy:

  • Analytical communicators make logical arguments based on hard data, but their approach could be seen as cold or harsh by other team members.

  • Intuitive communicators are creative thinkers who arrive at conclusions quickly, but many not be detailed-oriented in their opinions.

Read Murphy’s article to learn more about different communication styles.

 Software features that ensure success:  Good communication skills are critical to an agile team’s success, but what’s also important is timely and constant communication. And while there’s nothing better than face-to-face communication, this is not possible for many businesses who have teams scattered across the globe.

In such cases, project management software with built-in collaboration functionalities is a great help. Here’s a quick look at some popular methods of communicating, using software, with dispersed teams:

  • Connect and discuss in real time: Using an enterprise messaging app like Slack, employees working out of different locations can quickly find and chat with specific project members.

  • Leave task notes: Tools like Basecamp or Trello allow members to leave notes on a task that other users can view and understand the work being done.

  • Automate communication with chatbots: A recent trend is to use AI chatbots for automatically scheduling team meetings and assigning tasks to team members.

To learn more about project management tools for improving team communication, give us a call at at (844) 680-2046 for a free consultation with a software advisor.

2. Deep Understanding of Agile

 Why SMBs need it:  In a recent VerisonOne survey, 80 percent of respondents said that “their organization was at or below a still maturing level” when it came to agile development. Many organizations, especially software development firms, are still not fully agile because their employees lack deep understanding and knowledge of agile practices. Without a deep understanding of agile in both practice and in theory, businesses cannot expect best efforts from their team.

 How to make it happen:  Taking on a lifelong learning attitude is key. For instance, employees that aren’t constantly adding to their skillset can stagnate into becoming a one-dimensional asset to a team. Similarly, agile team members should learn about different agile frameworks and techniques to develop a nuanced understanding of agile project management, ensuring that they are not merely acting out agile practices without fully understanding how they work.

Here are some agile frameworks that developers should know:

 Software features that ensure success:  While learning about different agile concepts, it’s also important to learn what tools help teams implement agile project management effectively. Below are three popular agile project management solutions:

  • Kanban tools offer dashboards that help teams visualize workflows and have a shared understanding of what represents work.

  • Scrum solutions help teams complete projects quickly and with a great deal of transparency using workflows known as sprints.

  • Application life cycle management (ALM) software are niche tools designed for agile software development teams to maintain product backlogs, track bug fixes and ensure continuous delivery of projects.

To get a better understanding, read our Buyer’s Guide and compare different agile tools based on their functionalities, pricing and usability.

3. Strong Agile Leadership

 Why SMBs need it:  Many often wonder if a self-organizing agile team needs a centralized leader. The answer is a resounding “__yes. As agile coach John Yorke explains, the reality in small software development teams is that team managers perform different leadership roles, including Product Owner, Project Manager, architect and team coach.

The key thing SMBs should remember is that agile projects are about momentum, which is achieved by quick decision-making capabilities of teams. Strong agile leaders understand this and act like catalysts using their authority as a scaffold for building the team and achieving great things—not to control the team and stifle innovation with their autocratic ways, as explained by Yorke.

 How to make it happen:  Ana Dutra, CEO of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting says that besides being exceptional problem solvers drivers of change, strong agile leaders should be acutely self-aware and aware of others.

So, how do you become a self-aware leader? Start by understanding whether your leadership style suits your team’s and business need. A Harvard Business Review study done by Daniel Goleman explains the common leadership styles and when to use them.

Here’s a brief summary of a relevant study on building self-awareness in leaders:

  • Pacesetting leadership is about leading by example and focusing on quick results. The prerequisite is that the team is experienced and is self-directed.

  • Authoritative leadership comes when you need to rally the team towards a new vision. However, such leaders must know exactly what they are doing and be knowledge in their areas.

  • Affiliative leadership nurtures emotional bonds with the teams, which helps them recover from a loss or trauma. The flip side is the danger of employees underperforming due to the leader’s lax attitude.

 Software features that ensure success:  For agile leaders improving team performance and making better decisions is not only important, but critical to the success of projects. Here are two SA reports that talk about tools that can help leaders achieve these goals:

  • Build a decision right matrix (DRM): Seed the decision making process by using a DRM. The tool helps to create a template for assigning the right decision owners for top-level and recurring decisions in projects.

  • Understand project KPIs: Analyze the availability of resources (employee’s time and skills) and ROI of projects. These project management tools are necessary for measuring project performance.

Conclusion & Next Steps

In the day-to-day application of agile project management processes, such as Scrum, teams tend to forget agile values. Incorporating the above three attributes should help agile software development teams ensure that they are not auto-piloting projects without any sense of commitment to the tasks at hand.

Here’s a quick checklist of how small businesses should acquire these agile attributes:

Encourage employees to assess their own and their colleagues communication styles

Foster a culture of open communication and total ownership mindset

Train your team members on different agile frameworks and disciplines

Assign strong leaders, who can empower teams and take quick decisions