Agile Attitudes Necessary for Business Survival in Today’s Economy

room: San Francisco — time: Wednesday 16:45-17:30
Level: Introductory

In these turbulent times, businesses need people with specific characteristics and attitudes to enable survival and success. It turns out these attitudes and are very similar to what is needed on an Agile project team. This talk examines what attitudes and perspectives team members need to be successful on Agile projects, how these can contribute to overall organisational success and how to encourage and instil these attitudes in a team.

Process/Mechanics

This session is a talk, supported by PowerPoint slides, that summarises the management literature in the area of employee attitudes for success in a changing world and relates these to the Agile values and principles, using examples from our experiences, followed by 10-15 minutes of open discussion.

This talk was prepared by James King and Shane Hastie of Software Education, and will be delivered by Shane.

The content of the talk covers the material below:

In the new organization, the focus is on personal discipline and there is an even greater emphasis on individual responsibility for creating effective relationships and high-impact communication that serves as the bedrock for successfully integrating and coordinating different organizational tasks. Minnick & Ireland (2005).

Some of the important attitudes identified fall into two broad categories – personal traits and interpersonal skills.

We relate these traits to Agile teams and show how specific approaches lead to success.

Mental agility • An action orientation. The ability to remove obstacles, drive results and make things happen; • Quickness in thought and action. Being able to sustain a fast pace, while being able to change direction quickly and change approaches as the situation demands; • Creativity. Developing imaginative and innovative approaches rather than being constrained by existing processes and views; • A thirst for change. Embracing rather than fearing change • Calculated risk taking. Seizing opportunities and taking justifiable risks; • An ability to combine lessons from the past with an understanding of the current environment and an ability to anticipate the future, in a way that delivers solutions for current customers and identifies possible solutions for future customers.

Personal visibility During periods of stability, managers, customers and team members all work together for a substantial period of time in roles that might not be changing. They consequently have time to work out • How to communicate with each other; • Which people are good at what they do; • What strengths each person has; and • Where to find the information that is needed at any point in the project.

Few projects or environments are very stable, and in times of rapid change it is quite easy for team members to become “invisibly competent”. This means that they are making a real contribution and to the team, but that only a small number of people are aware of how much value the person is making.

For this reason, it becomes important not just to add value to the team, but to communicate the value that you are adding. But simply telling everyone what you are doing all the time is not very effective (or productive) either.

Team members need to be able to clearly communicate their ideas within and outside of the team, “walking the talk” rather than simply generating hot air.

Effective team members create linkages and networks inside and outside the team and organisation, which they are able to leverage to their own, the team’s and the organisation’s benefit.

Boundary spanning Most projects these days involve integrating multiple business areas or organisations. So many people on projects are now “crossing the boundaries between business units”.

Previously, when restructures were less common and teams were able to work in silos, it was more dangerous to be out on the edge of the silo, than safely in the middle of it.

But as the rate of change increases, more people are finding themselves working in the middle ground between silos, and those that can do so successfully are increasingly valuable to the organisation.

Effective team members are • Connectors – linking people in informal networks, across teams, projects, groups and even organisations • Knowledgeable – developing a broad understanding of how the various areas of the business operate, using the knowledge to enable connections across their networks • Continuous learners – listening, absorbing and identifying what needs to be understood, communicated and/or translated across their networks

Team Facilitation In Agile projects, we require everyone in the team to assume part of the role of leading the team. So we need the members of the team to be able to • Motivate and support other team members; • Contribute to the ongoing growth and development of the team; and • Help to monitor, challenge and improve the team’s performance;

Aligning the research to Agile development The research we draw from focussed on finding what separated successful employees (“survivors”) from those who struggled when they were involved in corporate mergers, restructures, outsourcing and downsizing. Their lessons fit well with the skills and practices that make a team member successful in an Agile environment.

This is because Agile development is designed for environments of rapid change and ambiguity.

In Agile approaches, we are focussed on exploiting opportunities and managing risks based on the capability and commitment of the team, rather than reliance on trusted, well documented and predictable organisational structures or processes.

Technical expertise Many IT people pride themselves on their technical proficiency.
The Agile principles state that “continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility”.

Being capable in your technical field is very important as an IT professional. But what the research and the thinking behind Agile teams suggest is that technical expertise is not enough to be truly successful in an Agile team. Consider, for example, the Agile principle “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams”.

This suggests that, while we want capable people in our team, we also need them to be able to work effectively together, and to be able to get the most out of being in a team together. It is for that reason that this course is focussed on the practices and skills that make a team member successful in an Agile environment, beyond technical ability in a chosen profession.

Working hard Projects are often characterised by the devotion of the team to delivering the project outcomes, come hell or high water. This often involves long hours and extreme effort on the part of at least some of the project team. But the reality is that “hard working employees who work long hours” are not the ones who are successful in times of change. In fact these people may sometimes become the “invisibly competent” who are not recognised for their contribution. The Agile principles state that “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely”. In fact, where development is a creative and collaborative process, it can be shown that fresh people performing at their best are more effective than fanatical people working mammoth hours.

Learning outcomes
  • Understand the perspectives, skills and characteristicts needed for successful teams
  • Understand how these are not unique to Agile and are necessary for individual success and organisational survival in today’s turbulent business world
  • Relate the Agile values and principles to broader research in business success
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