Building an Agile Team

Piotr Romanowski

teamowrk_post

“Teamwork is the secret that make common people achieve an uncommon result.”
Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

 

While working in an agile environment teamwork is a must. As we mentioned in our previous post, almost all software projects are collaborative projects. This is how it works – for instance, if a team doesn’t pull together, people get frustrated. As a result (without a shadow of a doubt) the software they produce will reflect this.

We need to remember about an agile approach that indicates simplicity – it’s all about people and communication. The team needs to use proper tools, be well-managed and last but not least – need to know how to communicate properly. Moreover, in order to achieve uncommon results all team members need to not only work in an efficient way but also need to be a good, strong team that is based on mutual trust.

We can’t forget about yet another very important factor – the team work environment should facilitate an opportunity to develop a team spirit.

So how to build an agile team? For sure, you won’t be surprised if I’ll tell you that it’s not a simple question :)

Anyhow, despite the fact that it can be a really tough task, we can still follow some rules that can help us with creating a good team, that runs like a well-oiled machine. Thankfully, we have some hints for you!

 

 

1. Create opportunities and space
In an agile environment meetings like daily stand-ups or retrospectives are a great occasion for people to get to know each other better. Of course, probably the best way to do that is to arrange an integration meeting somewhere outside the company. This will provide, so to speak, a less formal way to pull the team together :) People will share their stories, hobbies and so forth. As the people on the team hear the stories, they get a better insight into a teammate. It may sound like a truism, but it really works!

In “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team” Patrick Lencioni proposes a simple, yet very interesting exercise. During a meeting, each team member tells a story about a challenge that they faced in the past. Of course the leader or responsible person that runs this meeting should take care that everybody feels comfortable enough and assure that nobody is forced to share something that is too personal. The aim of such activity is to practice being open with teammates. This creates an opportunity to grow a mutual understanding and empathy.

Why not think about other ways to create a social glue among the team? Have you heard about the principle of work in one room? The whole team tremendously improves communication and makes many previous procedures become unnecessary.

That’s why it’s important for the team to adopt their own space in their specific way. Open space is a really good idea because it’s hard to build an Agile team when people are segregated (like testers are in one room, developers in another etc.). Although there are roles in the team, there is no such thing as a hierarchy.

In an agile way, we can speak about the “whole-team” approach. Such an approach stresses the importance of the team – “all hands on board”! The whole team is focused on delivering high-quality software. This kind of approach entails constant collaboration and communication among the people. Work in one room creates a lot of opportunities to make things happen!

And what if the team (for many reasons) can’t seat in the same place? Well, we will cover this topic later on. So keep on reading :)

 

Here we go with another idea – why not to think about having lunch together? As Liz Sedley wrote:

“Eat lunch with the team whenever you can. Listening to the team in an informal setting helps you understand team better. You’ll find teams often talk about the problems they’re facing over lunch – in a way they wouldn’t at a retrospective. (…)”

 

 

2. Have specified goals
Tony Robins said that “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible”. Spot on Tony! Once we have a great, motivated people we’ll need to set reachable but still challenging goals that give a sense of direction to the team.

This part can also be a tricky one. It goes without saying, that if we set too easy goals to achieve, the whole team will get bored and most probably demotivated soon. However, on the other hand, if objectives will be unattainable and out of reach it can paralyze everybody. That’s not what we want to achieve right?

The key thing is to create goals with accordance to the following rule: Not Too Easy, Not Too Hard. People like to be proud of their work so keep on setting challenging objectives. Let’s focus on building the environment where a team can demonstrate creativity, ingenuity, and team spirit to resolve problems in their own, agile way.

The big goal or the big picture is to create valuable and great software. But what does it mean to set goals in an agile way whatsoever? It’s all about the context!
You’ve probably heard about the SMART rule, haven’t you? It says that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.  So it’s a great rule, but sometimes it’s not very sufficient. Keeping in mind that agile is about being flexible and adjusting to a current situation (can be changed if needed) we can use SMART rule and adjust it to our agile approach.

 

S - Specific:
What do we want to achieve, How do we want to achieve it and Why do you want to achieve it?

- Measurable:
What cannot be measured cannot be managed. How will you know that you’ve reached your goal?

 

A - Attainable:
The goal should be challenging and encouraging for you to do the hard work.

 

R - Realistic:
Although the goal should be challenging, it should also be realistic.

 

- Timely:
When will we achieve this goal?

With regards to what was written before – we can use the SMART rule only when we become aware of the context. What does it mean? It means that sometimes we will have to pick a few criteria that will be important to our current situation. Let’s write it again:
- it’s all about  b e i n g  f l e x i b l e !

Agile goals can easily be modified if need be – changed resources, budget, energy or time.

 

3. Choose the right tool
Working with a proper tool that meets team expectations is a very important factor. The team should also have some space to explore the new technology and to experiment with new software and solutions that can make daily work much more effective.

A good old team-board helps to keep important things visible and it’s still widely used among a lot of companies. It’s ok to work with a board, but it’s not sufficient. Do we have an easy and quick access to the history of changes using a board? Nope. Can everyone involved in the project can look on the taskboard or backlog from any place any time? Nope.

Nowadays it’s pretty common that people can work in distributed teams all over the world – working remotely. Nonetheless, such teams still have a lot of successes! How do they do that? By using proper tools.

So, as you can see a traditional board that hangs somewhere on the wall in a team room may still leave a lot to be desired. Therefore, the key is to use a smart, agile collaboration tool that is reliable, clearly designed and easy to use. That’s why we’ve created tinyPM:

Lightweight and smart agile collaboration tool with product management, backlog, taskboard, user stories and wiki. Web-based and internationalized.”

 

 It’s extremely important that the tool you decide to use with your team is ready for customization via opened API. This feature is a must! Just like a wide range of integrations with other tools. You can find a lot of great integrations with tinyPM:

- You can connect it to Slack in order to stay in touch with every change that was made in your project
- Or link tinyPM with your GitHub: When you push your changes to GitHub, it will forward your commit to tinyPM.
- and much much more! Check out all integrations here.

 

 

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” H. Ford
Building a team isn’t an easy task. As a matter of fact, as we’ve already agreed – it can be very tough. Nonetheless, it’s worth to put as much attention and effort to constantly improving your teamwork and increase the team spirit. Despite all hurdles and problems that will follow somewhere along the line, just remember that teamwork is the factor that will help you to win the game.

 


Leave a Reply