How Business Teams Can Embrace Agile Techniques

As agile principles and practices receive greater organizational exposure, business teams are embracing certain aspects of agility that were traditionally reserved for technology teams. This article details the experiences of a group of people with business roles who have adopted some agile methods and how their teams have benefitted.

As agile principles and practices receive greater organizational exposure, business teams are embracing certain aspects of agility. More and more, forward-looking leaders are inviting business teams to attend agile training and coaching engagements in order to learn techniques that were traditionally reserved for technology teams. Many agile classes highlight various frameworks, such as Scrum, Extreme Programming, kanban, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), and feature-driven development.

A few months ago, I had a chance to take part in a spirited conversation among three individuals who were discussing agile. None of them was directly involved with a team creating applications, yet the ideas and experiences they were discussing were all about agility. This article is about the highlights of the conversation, based on the thoughts and experiences of the discussion group.

(Please note that for this this article, my use of the term “business team” will represent functional roles such as stakeholders, customers, project managers, change managers, finance, and even human resources.)

Align Business and Technology Goals

The group agreed that, in addition to technology, a business team deserves to create its own product vision and product roadmap. These roadmaps are designed to provide visibility in terms of how the business is going to reach a particular destination. In some cases, the items are being overlaid and compared against the product vision and product roadmap that technology teams created.

The joint approach has helped create a common and shared understanding between the business and technology teams. As a result, historical boundaries and traditional silos continue to be broken down for the betterment of all parties involved in the strategical and execution activities needed to help make a project successful.

Create Communication Structures That Fit

We spoke about the fact that many agile teams create their own communication protocols as part of team working agreements. These protocols encourage team members to follow a specific interaction approach so that their interaction can be as meaningful and productive as possible. Once established, communication protocols become a powerful means of relaying and expressing information.

During the conversation, the team members determined that their respective business teams would benefit by creating and using their own communication protocols also. After some discussion, the group believed that the prioritized list of communicaton methods below would be the most beneficial:

  1. Face to face
  2. Video conference
  3. Teleconference
  4. Telephone
  5. Instant message
  6. Email
  7. Text message

Business Retrospectives Are Useful

Continuous and incremental improvement has become a powerful technique that many different types of teams have incorporated into their operating structures. Someone in the group brought up the topic of retrospectives. She mentioned that her teams were seeing the power of retrospectives and were beginning to use them as a means of continual improvement. After speaking further, the team members believed that business retrospectives should focus on topics like: 

  1. For our clients, what is working well?
  2. For our clients, what isn’t working well?
  3. For our clients, what can we improve upon?
  4. For our internal relationships, what is working well?
  5. For our internal relationships, what isn’t working well?
  6. For our internal relationships, what can we improve upon?

The team member also shared that her team found two positive outcomes as a result of implementing the retrospectives: improved client relationships and better working relationships with internal business partners.

Recognizing the Power of the Stand-Up

A few minutes later, another member wanted to talk about the daily stand-up. For many years, technology teams have seen tremendous benefit from incorporating the daily stand-up meeting into their routines. Now, business teams are beginning to utilize this ceremony as a means of communication, collaboration, and cooperation. The team member said his daily stand-up is structured into the following format:

  1. Items that can be completed daily
  2. Impediments that can be prioritized and removed
  3. Individual and team-based commitments that can be seen

Another member of the discussion group wanted to know if holding a daily stand-up had made an impact. The initiator of the topic was able to share three benefits the team had derived from implementing the structure. First, the culture changed from one of individuals doing work to one of a collective group doing work and sharing ideas with each other. Second, the exchange of valuable information on a daily basis was seen as a significant improvement. Finally, as work was prioritized, individuals took an active role in helping each other remove obstacles and complete the highest-priority items.

Make All Work Visible

The group also wanted to talk about something they kept hearing the technology teams say: “Make all work visible.” Teams are finding that visual tools like Scrum boards and kanban boards help teams prioritize their work. By making all work items visible, teams can concentrate on the highest-priority items first, which also should be the most valuable to the customer.

One member of the conversation was using a kanban board in her team and had structured the board with four visual columns: prioritized, being refined, in progress, and complete. Having this kind of clarity has helped her team be more productive in prioritizing their work in progress.

Accentuate Value Derived

The brief discussion on making all work visible was a natural predecessor to talking about value. Like their technology team counterparts, two members of the group mentioned that business teams deserve to recognize and articulate value as it is being created. According to them, value recognition could be shown via two different media.

The first medium isexternal value recognized by actual customers. Regardless of the product or service, understanding the benefits being derived from the customer community is important for long-term success. What’s more, as the value is recognized, teams need to be proactive and share this information at all levels of the organization. Organizations taking this approach are finding that the internal benefits are numerous. This agile mindset is helping focus the organization toward a common purpose and joint understanding of customer needs.

The second medium is internal value recognition, which the discussion group believed is equally important. Internal value recognition that one team member was capturing included items such as revenue generated by products, cost savings, customer retention, and improvements to client satisfaction scores.

Success Is for Everyone

As the conversation was ending, everyone began talking about how success should be shared. The group agreed that celebrating achievements is an important practice that deserves attention from every organization. While some companies are very proactive in sharing success among business teams, technology teams, and customers, others are not. The group believed that a joint celebration approach could continually connect individuals and organizations in a way that creates tighter bonds. They saw this critical exercise as another aspect of how business teams are embracing agile principles and practices.

Agile concepts and techniques are not just for technology teams. The examples above are based on real observations that I hope will help you and your organization today and well into the future.

Through encouragement and the continued willingness to experiment, an agile mindset will transform the way we think, interact, communicate, and live our lives to the fullest.

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