What separates elite, high-performance agile IT teams in some enterprises, from their hard-working — and in some cases even harder working — yet less successful counterparts in other enterprises? It is not that they borrow a page from the Folger’s Crystals playbook and secretly replace all team members with accomplished Scrum masters. Rather, it is because they are defined-as-a-whole by these seven integrated characteristics:
- They focus on deliverables, not sprints.
Sprints are obviously a big part of agile, but they are the means of getting work done. The ends are specific, top priority deliverables. High-performance agile teams do not get consumed by sprints and lose sight of the goal. They clearly see the trees and the forest — not the former instead of the latter. In addition to driving performance, this paradigm also reduces the risk of “sprint fatigue”.
- They use target dates, milestones and deadlines strategically.
High-performance agile teams do not just use target dates, milestones and deadlines to track progress. They also use them to strategically keep the team accountable, and just as importantly, to keep the team motivated and focused on unified objectives vs. independent agendas.
- They make decisions based on hard data — not gut feels or best guesses.
High-performance agile teams leverage accurate, real-time data derived from all relevant sources in order to make smarter, faster decisions. Automation for processes like requests and approvals are critical here, because there is just too much information to manually pull together, analyze and act upon.
- They are not afraid to fail.
When conventional IT teams transition into agile, one of the toughest challenges they face is reframing the paradigm with respect to failure — because in agile, failure is not just likely, but it is common; and what’s more, it is valuable since it generates lessons learned, insights, and opportunities to drive customer experience and personalization. High-performance agile teams embrace a spirit of intelligent (though not reckless!) experimentation, and they are supported in this pursuit by executives who function as servant leaders who empower, equip and remove obstructions.
- They are resilient and supportive.
Working on agile teams can be exhilarating and rewarding — but also exhausting and stressful. High-performance agile teams are resilient and stay engaged when times are tough and sprints turn into marathons. A big part of this resiliency is rooted in a supportive and collaborative culture. While things like politics, in-fighting, jealousy, and territorial squabbles are bad for all teams, they are fatal for agile teams, where everyone needs to know and (especially) feel that they have each others’ backs. Teamwork makes the agile dream work.
- They do not work in a silo.
Agile teams work in an environment of ongoing “controlled chaos,” which means that executives cannot (and should not) be consulted at each step, phase or stage gate. If that happens, it is not functional agile: it is dysfunctional micromanagement. However, high-performance teams avoid climbing into silos. Instead, they keep executives in the loop by using technology like Clarizen Go to create a flexible environment that delivers the best of both worlds: teams work according to their specific workflow needs, while executives access a clear, real-time top-level picture of projects across the portfolio.
- They create templates and programs.
High-performance agile teams are always looking for opportunities to create templates and programs that increase the speed, capacity, and competence to respond in light of changing customer demands, and shifting marketplace dynamics. And when a template or program that worked effectively in the past is no longer applicable or beneficial, they immediately remove it from the inventory. Pragmatism is the guiding North Star — not tradition.
Agile or Bust
On today’s relentlessly fast-paced and competitive landscape, the importance of delivering the right assets, to the right customers, in the right way, and at the right time is crucial. Enterprises that establish, empower and evolve high-performance agile IT teams set the pace, while those that hurl their agile teams in the other direction struggle to keep up.