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Agile is a philosophy and group of methods originated in software development teams oriented to rapid and flexible development, incremental results and fluid communication among teams.
These days, agile is not limited anymore to software teams. Having seen SEO and Social Media teams being governed by an agile approach to project and task management in the past,
I have incorporated it in my own team for over a year now.
Looking back in time, I have no doubts that our agile approach to work has played a key role in the excellent results and morale of the team.
To follow, some very easy to introduce agile practices that will benefit any agency or client team, and that you can start putting into practice from today:
Scrum or Daily stand-ups
Stand-ups are quick daily huddles, ran for 15 minutes every morning to give a chance to every member of the team (or team leaders ) to discuss progress from yesterday, plans for the day and possible challenges to overcome.
The main benefits of the stand-up are: raising awareness of current work in progress, spotting problems that could become issues, ensure delivery within time and budget and increasing accountability of team members.
In addition, I find stand-ups to be a great morale booster, since it allows the team to share a special moment that ends up becoming a ritual.
To start tomorrow: take your team ( however big ) and introduce the practice. Go through the room asking these basic questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What will you do today?
- Is there any problem or challenge you are facing?
Ensure people don’t feel they are being spied on. The purpose is for members of the team to help each other. You can try to make it fun by using a throwable object (eg, an Angry bird plush toy ). Restrict the practice to 15 minutes and postpone any conversations that become too specific.
Retrospectives are diagnosis and creative sessions where team members go back in time to analyse current practices and gather insight to come up with better ideas for the future.
There are multiple ways of running retrospectives, but at the core of any retrospective you need to:
- Set the stage. Introduce how long back in time are you going to go and what processes and practices are you going to look at.
- Gather insight. Discuss in detail why you do things in a certain way.
- Generate ideas. Brainstorm new goals, alternative ways to current processes or new measurement frameworks. There is virtually no limit to what you want your retrospective to focus on.
The key benefits of retrospectives are: new insight and ideas, improved processes, enhanced morale and autonomy, increased efficiencies (and a hell of a good time).
To start tomorrow, list all the practices you want your team to review together and think of games ( eg, six hats thinking, mad/sad/glad ) to make the session more fun and productive.
Often associated with agile teams, Kanban was originally introduced by Toyota as a manufacturing process. A Kanban board is a beautifully simple way to manage the projects and tasks of a team in such a way that the workload is easily visualised.
Paper cards represent tasks that are moved through columns such as “to do”, “doing” and “done”. A story is told from the movement of cards letting everyone see issues and bottlenecks.
The main benefits of Kanban boards are: increased focus, effective prioritisation, reduction of stress, bottleneck elimination, ability to adapt, and increased productivity.
To start tomorrow, you have two options;
- Offline boards are great for small, localised teams that enjoy face to face time. If you go offline, running stand-ups will be easier as the team can refer to the board to talk about their progress and prioritise right then.
- Online boards, like Trello, are better suited for bigger, global teams. It also provides enhanced features such as record keeping of actions and search functionalities. And saves trees!
Working in pairs towards task completion may sound counter-intuitive ( what? reducing productivity by 50%?!), but I often find the results outweigh its costs.
Main benefits of pairing work is: learning opportunities ( “wow, how you do that in Excel again?” ), increased quality of output ( as one team members monitors the other for mistakes or missed opportunities ) and strengthening of relationships ( as team members share time working together )
I recommend pairing when new processes are being introduced; as some team members are very shy about asking questions, pairing with another team members gives them a chance to practice and learn from observing.
Whereas some agile teams ( in extreme programming work in pairs by default, I would suggest non-software teams choose carefully the moments where they should pair ( there isn’t much benefit from looking at someone writing an email).
An overall agile philosophy to getting things done.
Lastly, an overall sense of what being agile means is essential to increase productivity in your team.
Release earlier. Team members should be encouraged to try a lot of different things, measure its effectiveness and roll out, if the feedback ( internal and external ) is positive. For instance, we tested a new form of social release in the local London team by creating a word document to send to bloggers .
When we spotted its success with both our bloggers and internal sales teams, we took it to Design to beautify and we rolled it out globally. This meant two things: we could start using this new idea from the very beginning, and we didn’t risk spending money involving the design team before knowing whether it worked.
Communicate. More often than not, teams don’t communicate enough. stand-ups help by kicking off the day with face to face communication.
In addition, you should make sure your system and tools allow for communication ( eg, Trello is good for project-related conversations, wikis are good for sharing knowledge, Salesforce Chatter or Yammer are good for internal social networking, etc )
- Collaborate. Pair people up, split people in working groups.
This is a very brief and shallow write up about agile practices. There are plenty of resources online to delve deeper in these techniques that I’ve briefly touched on. If your company or agency has a agile software team ask them for suggestions on how could you make the most of this philosophy.
Soon, you will be applying agile to every aspect of your life, including planning your holidays and cleaning your house.