Mature Agile Teams, How to Develop One?

Mature Agile Teams

Overwhelmingly those that claim to come from companies where they are ‘Agile’ or use ‘Scrum’ or call themselves Agile mature team without knowing what ‘Agile Maturity’ looks like. These teams focus on practices without understanding the outcomes, those practices were supposed to drive and demonstrate; what I would describe as immature Agile adoption, sometimes just paying lip service to the concept.

So many, and I mean many, seem to think that a daily Stand-up means they are Agile. I have had some teams describe how they are very Agile and follow Scrum closely but then tell me that the plan is made in advance, a lead engineer estimates in man days (example 1 point = 2 days); the iteration manager individually tasks daily and that integration testing and releases occur in the following sprint. When I ask about retrospectives, I find that on average, 1 in 20 come from teams that do not hold any retrospectives and those that do, describe quite varied experiences.

Simply focusing and training on running agile practices, being measured by doing these practices will make great lip service teams for agile and this is a superficial agile marker. We should start with investigating and ask ourselves ‘what values are we missing from these teams?’ and what would we want more of; Commitment, Respect, Openness, Focus and Courage. These are scrum values and scrum is a popular agile method and built on these 5 values. The beauty of working within Agile is that it is all based on values.

As a coach/leader one needs to learn from the teams, investigate what ‘values’ are missing, which values we want more of in every meeting/agile practise they run and find out what makes their heart sing as a team. Work with the leaders to ensure a Psychological safe environment is created where the teams/members taking risks should feel safe and not persecuted for doing so. This is the secret ingredient to nurture a mature agile team.

Teams using Agile practices, by its very nature, is on a constant journey of inspection and adaptation. But there comes a time when it’s a good idea for an Agile team (mature or not) to take a step back to review and relearn the foundation principles and ‘why’ we do these practices (Stand-ups, sprint planning, retrospectives, writing stories, estimating etc.). In other words, have a team “reset”. Resetting teams, whilst emphasising the importance of values around these practices and everything we do brings rise to high-performance teams and outstanding outcomes.

Self-organising teams versus being organised by people’s roles or titles.

Empowered to make decisions and they do not wait around to make figuring out on how to make decisions. They will just start making decisions and they will figure out the boundaries.

Believe by being together, that team can do anything and they want any new challenge thrown at them. This will be an outcome of team success even more than individual success.

Motivated by trust versus by being motivated by anger or fear.

They own their decisions and commitment. They will own the decisions and commitments they make.

Census driven – They listen to a wide divergence of all ideas from everyone within the team before they decide and act upon one.

There will be ‘Constant constructive disagreement’ – Teams will constantly talk to one to another and they will argue, as long it is constructive this is great.

We are going for mediocre results faster, even though Agile Methods are good for that, what we as Agile coaches need to aim, is better than these. When we focus on Agile Team on these values, these yields to better outputs/success criteria. These can be translated to

Faster results

This sometimes translates into mediocre results faster, if this is better than where we are to start with, then this is okay. But is this enough?

Right results

As teams want to stop themselves from going down blind alleys and this will change mindset to focus on outcomes over outputs. We want to be delivering value to our clients and customers.

Astonishing results

This is what agile methods are built for. When team members look at each other and say ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ or management says one to another ‘We could never have thought of that’. Teams will be seen as ‘hub for delivering organisational value’.

Room for individual and team growth

We should be seeing evidence teams growing together and individual growth. Professionally and personally, the whole nine yards. The aforementioned is the bottom-up flow. We will need top-down flow too, where the up-line managers, FLM’s, IM’s, BA’s form a chapter to discuss the challenges, share the blockers and issues and start working together as a chapter to solve them as a team. IM’s/anyone can be driving these management chapters where issue backlog can be discussed and hold each other accountable.

Finally, this creates a sense of a ‘Team who can do anything’: Teams which have this agile mindset will learn entire new domains, skills set, tools and they will evolve into a new team.

Personally, I have seen organisations who have embraced Agile values, leave teams in place over a longer period and pump the highest business value initiatives to these teams. Helping the teams to change their mindset is the key, one can be doing practices perfectly and not paying attention to the values or outcomes & success criteria.

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