Three questions that could improve your Agile team


This post is contributed by App Dev Manager Justin Scott who asks three very important Agile questions.


Agile has been adopted by many successful companies who value quality, incremental change on a more frequent basis compared to a team that uses a waterfall development methodology. Teams that embark on the journey of introducing Agile often hear about all the good that comes from Agile, but rarely are informed about all the challenges they will face putting Agile into place. Below are three questions to ask about your Agile team that might help take your team to the next level:


Is your development team too siloed?

Is your team arranged so that work in specific areas always goes to the same developer? This can feel efficient, but in the long term this is a bad practice for a few reasons. First, when estimating story points and tasks, a siloed team will not have the back and forth banter that results in the wisdom of a group to help keep wild estimates in check. To remedy this, look towards finding opportunities among the team to work on areas that they are not as familiar with. A good start might be that each team member try to take on 20% of their work with items they are not as familiar with as other members of the team. While this may not be as efficient in the short term, it will begin to pay off dividends to the team as more team members begin to be able to work on different parts of the code. This will also help reduce risk when developers leave the team.


Are you getting full value from the retrospectives?

The retrospective is probably the single most important ceremony on an Agile team. Its often an uncomfortable session for many developers because it forces the team to look inward and be critical of current processes. So many teams tend to undervalue this by shying away from the real problems and just getting through the meeting. These same resources sometimes have no problem complaining about the team at the watercooler. The trick to making this meeting work includes fostering a team atmosphere that embraces getting real about what is going on. The key is for the team members to be tactful, and still deliver the tough feedback that fosters positive team changes. There are also different ways to conduct a retrospective meeting that can keep feedback anonymous if open communication is not yet embraced. One such way is to through the use of sticky notes in a start, stop, continue format of retrospectives. In this type of session, each participant is given a stack of sticky notes and is given 5 minutes to write down individual ideas they believe should be started, stopped or continued. The end result looks like the diagram below.

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The scrum master on the team then goes over to the board and reviews each one publicly by reading each sticky note text and discussing it a bit among the team. After going through each one, the team agrees on one or two changes that can be applied to the next sprint.

Are planning sessions being fully embraced?

Teams that are new to Agile sometimes feel that they are in more meetings than they are used to. This is especially true for the sprint planning meetings. If the team is doing two week sprints, it is typically recommended that the sprint planning meeting is around 4 hours. The thought of a four-hour meeting can give chills down some developer’s spines. As a result, some teams may elect to skimp on the planning in an effort to get back to their desk. This can hurt a team because the planning session is where much discussion and estimations occur. Doing this valuable exercise subpar, can add to erratic velocity that can lead to distrust between the developers and a product owner. The planning sessions also act as a great cross training mechanism so that everyone on the team gets to hear about the upcoming needs even if they don’t end up working on those particular areas. To fix this, use the full time planning time allotted, and understand that when a team is newer or does not have a good understanding of the product, additional time might be needed.

In summary, having a productive Agile team has its challenges. An ideal team is constantly looking for ways to improve both at an individual and team level. Answering the three questions above can help a team overcome a few of these challenges.


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