Everything you need to know about managing an agile development team

Agile has been one of the most persistent buzzwords in the software development industry over the past few years, and for good reason. The agile methodology has helped software developers deliver products faster and at higher quality, while at the same time streamlining the stakeholder management process and giving teams more freedom to work in a way that suits them. Agile hasn’t just revolutionised the way developers interact with other stakeholders in a software project – it’s resulted in improved profitability and efficiency throughout the business, and for this reason, an agile mindset is being employed in several other industries today. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some best practices for managing an agile development team, and what you can do to get as much value from an agile workplace as possible.

Take baby steps and stay as dynamic as possible.

Implementing an agile culture in your organisation doesn’t happen overnight. After all, constant and rapid change are defining characteristics of the agile methodology. Plus, agile is a radical change in management style for many leaders, and it’s better to spend some time testing the waters rather than jumping in at the deep end. Don’t be too hasty when evaluating your implementations either, as you need to account for the time it takes your team to adapt to new structures and processes. Tuckman’s stages of team formation provide a good framework of the developmental phases agile teams go through, and helps shed some light on how best to manage them at each of these stages.

Prioritize individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Agile tools like Jira, Confluence and Bamboo are often seen as the hallmarks of an agile culture, but the ultimate goal of the processes and tools you use should be to support the individuals and interactions behind them. One of the foundations of agile is the constant identification and removal of obstacles in the way of continuous iteration, and if those obstacles include inefficient processes or tools, it’s time to reassess what you’re using. As Sharon Florentine points out in her article on CIO, these obstacles are sometimes team members themselves. This requires some creative thinking on the part of managers, and, more importantly, an understanding of the individuals that make up your team and what drives them. Fitting the right processes and tools around the members of your team, rather than the other way around, is guaranteed to result in a happier, more engaged and more efficient development team.

Strike the right balance between trust and control

It’s a common misconception that managing an agile team requires little to no project management. However, good agile management is more about understanding your team well enough to know which management techniques work best for them. Agile is fast-paced and dynamic, and requires teams to be comfortable with frequent and rapid change. Accommodating this requires your teams to be disciplined and to stick to process at all times, no matter what those processes might be. However, that’s not to say that you should be rigid when it comes to processes. You should have sufficient trust that your employees will deliver on their responsibilities even if you aren’t breathing down their necks to make sure it gets done, but it’s important to make sure your processes result in optimal utilisation rates. This article on Thoughtworks describes the risk of creating a ‘servant leadership’ culture through improper process management and explains the importance of finding a good balance between management- and employee-controlled environments.

Implement regular reviews and training

In order for you to get as much value as possible from implementing agile in your organisation, it’s vital that you continually revisit your strategy and review your progress. This will help you to identify whether or not the processes you’ve implemented are working, whether you should investigate other tools, and how well or poorly your team is adapting. Bear in mind, however, that you need to give your team time to fall into its natural rhythm, so don’t make a decision unless you have sufficient data to support it. Also be aware that only a few individuals may be struggling with tools and processes, in which case it would make more sense to train them up rather than throwing out systems that work perfectly well for the majority of your team. Hosting regular training sessions on key processes and tools is a great way to proactively address this issue and ensure that team members have the opportunity to upskill themselves if needed.

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