people meeting in an office
Many aspects of Agile methodology can make your team more productive. PHOTO: Eric Bailey

Agile methodology is everywhere in the IT and software development industry.

Why?

In this rapidly changing market where it’s difficult to predict the future, Agile has allowed software development teams to become more adaptable and responsive to customer needs. 

Breaking down work into short iterations makes it easier to change course if needed.

This approach is key to keeping ahead of the competition and staying ahead of changing customer preferences.

As companies hear about the benefits of Agile in software engineering, they may be wondering: Can these methods be applied to other departments?

Well, yes, they can.

Making Your Team More Agile

While some aspects of Agile methodology are best suited to software development, there are many techniques that can be applied regardless of function.

So how do you make your team more Agile? Here are four tactics will help you get started.

1. Work in Sprints

Sprints are key to running an Agile team.

Instead of setting goals by quarter or by year, you break them down into smaller projects that run from 1 to 4 weeks.

How long depends on your team’s preferences and the nature of your work. Longer sprints are harder to plan, but easier to implement. Shorter sprints keeps the team more focused, but can be more stressful.  

To start a sprint, first create a list of all the items your team wants to accomplish in the foreseeable future.

Next, estimate how long each will take. It is important to be realistic about what you put into your sprint so that your team doesn’t get overwhelmed or bored. That being said, the first couple of sprints are likely to over or under estimate what the team can accomplish. The key is to learn from these mistakes and adjust.

Finally, the team lead prioritizes the list of tasks and selects the highest priority to be included in the sprint.  Then, the team divides the tasks, and gets started.

How do you manage a sprint?

It depends on your team's individual needs. It can be done on a simple board with post-it notes, an excel spreadsheet, or on a task management tool.

2. Regular Check-Ins

Planning is an important part of Agile, but no matter how carefully you plan obstacles will come up. That’s why it’s key to have brief, regular check ins during the sprint.

One popular way to do this is with a stand up meeting. It’s when the key team members gather together (literally standing up) for 15 minutes every day at the same time. Each person goes around and says:

  • What did they do yesterday,
  • What they will do today, and
  • Any obstacles they are encountering or help they need.

These quick meetings have a twofold importance: they keep people accountable and help to identify problems sooner. It also helps promote team unity.

With just an investment of 15 minutes of your day, you are keeping the team focused and ensuring their success.

3. Use an Icebox to Keep Track of Ideas

Sprints, by nature, occur over limited time. They require the team to prioritize the few items that they most want to accomplish in the next one to four weeks.

What about all the other tasks and goals that aren’t included in the sprint?

It’s important to save these ideas in the icebox —  literally a place you can store ideas you don’t currently plan to build. Think of it as a list you can later thaw or refer back to at the next sprint planning meeting 

Team leaders (or even team members) can submit ideas to the icebox at any time. Then each sprint the team will decide what ideas are the most important and include them.

It can be a great way to get the team to share more ideas without the discomfort of having to directly turn them down. 

4. Have a Sprint Retrospective

Agile emphasizes the importance of continual improvement. A team can only gain the benefits of being Agile if they are willing to constantly identify and execute on ways to improve the process.

A sprint retrospective does just that. It is a meeting where the team discusses frankly how the sprint went and identifies improvements for the next iteration.

The key to the success of these meetings is honesty.

Unless everyone is truthful about the problems they are facing, it is impossible to improve.

If you team runs in a more hierarchical structure, it may be more difficult to get the subordinate employees to speak up. So the meeting needs to be set up in a way to encourage everyone’s feedback. For example, everyone could anonymously submit feedback before the meeting.

Data is another critical aspect of these meetings.

It is important to develop meaningful metrics to measure the success of the sprint. These metrics ultimately need to directly translate to the overall success of the business. The right one will depend on the function of the team and the nature of the business.