Tips for Managing an Agile Team

For managers that made their careers on waterfall management practices, the term “agile” can be, well, a bit stressful. And it’s no wonder: agile management represents a complete paradigm shift from slow-moving management practices that chase after the tail end of change to a system that adapts internally to manage an ever-shifting external business environment. The differences between the two systems abound; while waterfall privileges pre-planning and post-analysis, Agile plans and predicts continually using iterative processes. While waterfall isolates teams into strict silos, Agile thrives on interaction between teams and skillsets. Those are big diversions, ones that fundamentally affect both every day and broader workflow for both employees and managers.

In order to take advantage of all Agile has to offer, it’s crucial that we redefine what managers do rather than simply trying to fit waterfall management practices into an Agile system. Here are five ways an Agile manager can reimagine their role in the Agile system.

Determining Who Owns What

Before any work is done, it’s important to split team members and managers into three roles: product owner, development team, and scrum master. The product owner will act as the voice of the customer so that the customer can be considered a true member of the team. They will advocate for the customer’s needs and act as both a liaison and a buffer between the development team and the client. The development team will be primarily responsible for producing the product or service in sprint increments, while the scrum master will remove any obstacles from their path, enforce rules and keep the team on track.

Budgeting and Timelines

No matter what the management system, a comprehensive budget is essential for structuring, managing and delivering on a project. In an Agile system, budgeting starts with gathering high level project requirements in just a few days, rather than over a few weeks. This helps teams quickly break each feature of the project down to its components, determine how much effort it will require to deliver on each one, and develop a reliable and strict timeline called a “timebox.”

Throughout the budgeting process, managers should emphasize the fixed nature of these decisions, as this budget and timeline will guide the entire process. They should also encourage the Agile process even within this phase, using automated planning tools to speed the process accordingly.

Sprint Planning

A defining feature of Agile systems is the employment of iterative processes and sprints. Managers should lead regularly scheduled sprint planning meeting to look through the project backlog and determine just what tasks need to get done, who should be doing them and how team members can help support one another. By the end of an effective sprint planning meeting, a distinct goal or a number of goals should have been chosen, as well as a manageable but ambitious end date for the sprint.

Iterative Development

Once the sprint has been effectively planned, the iterative development process can begin. This is where the managers – the product owner and the scrum master – really kick into high gear. The idea, of course, is to create the right conditions in which the development team can work quickly, integrating any necessary changes to the project as they go.

The scrum master will lead daily stand up meetings, where each team member reports on their progress and the team can make adjustments in order to better fill holes, patch problem areas, or apply their energy and time. The scrum master facilitates these conversations while also identifying what needs to be done and acting as the finally word on the action plan.

The product owner will be much more customer oriented, answering any customer questions throughout the process, and facilitating training and implementation at the end of the sprint.

Launch and Tuning

In the iterative process, a product launch isn’t the end of the process. In fact, it’s arguably the most intense period of development, viewed as a final sprint. During this time, developers continually push new versions and tweak or overhaul features based on customer feedback. All the while, product owners and scrum masters do performance tuning, measuring adoption rates and suggesting changes to the system. This is yet another area where Agile management really diverges from the waterfall system. The managers are right down in the fray, interacting and getting their hands dirty.

Take-Away

On the surface, it’s easy to see Agile as a very messy, anarchical system that promotes doing something over taking measured, practical steps, guided by proven and tested systems and managers. But, done the right way, an Agile system makes far better and more frequent use of its managers, shifting them away from ineffective, top-down, out of touch management practices to those that enable them to empower their team members to create on a daily basis. And the Agile Method is not just for software development. Michel Ozzello, Product Manager at OutSystems has implemented it throughout their entire business model and products rapid application development is key. Internet marketing firm, Distilled, has incorporated sprint planning and morning scrums into every day practice. The ultimate irony in the Agile system is that it actually requires more rigor than traditional systems; it’s just that this rigor is applied to a system that can encourage and promote individual contributions and interconnectivity rather than to the system itself. The result: better, more relevant products delivered on time, ready to go, and easy to change along with a business’ needs. That’s agility.

image credit: Shutterstock.com


James Daugherty enjoys marketing, social media, and technology. He is the outreach coordinator at Distilled Creative. Visit his blog and connect on Twitter.

This entry was posted in Innovation, Leadership, Leadership & Infrastructure, Management, People & Skills, Processes & Tools and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Tips for Managing an Agile Team

  1. Vin D'Amico says:

    Love this comment … “The ultimate irony in the Agile system is that it actually requires more rigor than traditional systems”. I agree!

    Agile development is a lot harder than it looks. Team members must be able to think on their feet. They must be able to make decisions on the fly. This is how teamwork is encouraged and strengthened. Many hands make light work, right?

  2. James Daugherty says:

    Thanks Vin! Agreed, teamwork is encouraged and strengthened with Agile. My team is much more effective as a unit now.

  3. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Innovation Quotes of the Week – July 22, 2012

  4. Mim k Strong says:

    Fantastic comment. I want you to be one of the first to know about our new publication: Agile Project Management for Government.
    Mim

  5. Tim Fabian says:

    A very well-article. My compliments to the author for putting it together.

  6. James says:

    Thank you Mr. Fabian. I had a good teacher at my last company.

  7. Pingback: Tips for managing an Agile team « Best of Agile

  8. Julie says:

    James,
    GREAT piece! I would like you to consider writing a series of pieces for us over time about EXAMPLES of Agile Teams, Companies, Projects. It could be named Agile Example #1: name Agile Example #2: name. What do you think? Other ideas? We’re open. But this is a big theme and the community needs to understand it?
    Julie

  9. James Daugherty says:

    Thanks Julie! It is a big theme. I’ll think it over and shoot you an email.

  10. Paul Oldfield says:

    Very useful article! If I have one improvement; almost everywhere you said “agile” you should have said “Scrum”; there are many other ways of being agile. But apart from that, Great!

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