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How to help your agile team succeed

Sharon Florentine | Aug. 14, 2015
Are you a manager struggling with agile? Are you wondering why projects are failing and teams are frustrated instead of engaged and productive? Perhaps the problem isn't with agile. Here's how you can help your team succeed.

See both sides
To get a better sense of what's driving demands, conflict and obstacles from both sides, ask them what they value - but don't be afraid to dig deep, Delesie says. Often, a stakeholder's first or second answer isn't going to be truthful, and a basic fear of change or fear of losing perceived power is at the heart of the issues. As one audience member (courageously, though anonymously) reported, being in a management position was the catalyst for his making a series of bad decisions. "I was afraid to let go and allow my team the space they needed to solve problems and work effectively. It was my first time in a management role - I was the boss. Aren't bosses supposed to have all the answers? So, I was afraid to ask questions and be seen as 'weak.' That fear caused a lot of problems," he says.

Delesie adds that all of these techniques can be applied both upstream and downstream, the trick is to adjust your language for the audience you're speaking to, whether that's your development teams or your executive management.

If management's unclear about the benefits of agile, both for outcomes and for internal team dynamics, educate them. You can hire an agile coach or a scrum coach/trainer, or suggest readings. You can bring in speakers and execs from other organizations to present case studies that will illustrate the positive impact this transformation has on companies similar to your own. "The phrase I always use is, 'There's no how, there is only know-how.' Don't make agile a demand, present it as an option and be able to show definitively how it will make your organization better. And let the choice to move in that direction come naturally," she says.

Remove obstacles
One of the basics of agile involves constant identification of obstacles and problems and continuous iteration to remove those. Make sure you're constantly checking in with your team members and with the execs higher-up in the organization to find out what's blocking progress and how you can help remove those barriers.

In some cases, these barriers can be team members themselves, and it requires a creative mindset to address those challenges. Venkata Kumaran, an IT manager with USG Corporation, says he felt continually frustrated by a few team members who, despite prompting, would never speak up in meetings and share their opinion or their advice.

It wasn't for lack of desire or intelligence, however - these were simply introverts who were too shy and anxious to voice their opinions in a public forum. "For me to remove those obstacles meant I had to think in a different way. Once I realized what the problem was, I would take time to ask these people well ahead of the meeting to share their ideas with me - either out loud or even via e-mail - and then I would handle presenting them to the team. It worked great; I just had to look at the problem a different way and make adjustments to my own way of doing things," he says.


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