Is Your Team Agile?

I mean, does your team Do Agile?

The problem (as it often is) is with the question. Agile isn’t a thing your team can be or not be. It’s not even really a thing you can do or not do. Agile is a continuum of habits that your team is in that lead it to levels of delivering more valuable software.

Per the observations of Diana Larsen and James Shore, Agile teams in the real world evolve along a path, rather than just waking up one day and binarily deciding to “do Agile now”. There are four signposts (denoted by star ratings) of Agile fluency that they have identified along this path:

  • Creating business value, not just code (★). Teams at this level define the work in user stories, work in iterations, scrum daily to stay in sync, and review their progress at the end of each iteration to tune things and determine what to do next. This high frequency of communication ensures that the team isn’t building the wrong thing.
  • Delivering on the Market’s Cadence (★★). The two-star team practices continuous integration and test-driven development to ship new versions of their software as early and often as the market will accept it. Keeping the code in a consistently shippable state reveals defects early, keeps technical debt low, and keeps team morale high.
  • Optimizing the Team’s Value (★★★). Teams at this level have worked the first two levels enough to have acquired a bond of trust with the rest of their ecosystem–their expertise speaks for itself and allows collaboration and decision-making to be accelerated, and these rituals become more of a formality than a necessity for delivering great software.
  • Optimizing the Organization’s Value (★★★★). A four-star team sees its work in the context of the whole organization and optimizes not only for its own success, but for the success of other teams and the organization as a whole. This sounds like an adorable mission statement that gets posted in the break room just above the extra water cooler jugs, but the reality of achieving this actually involves a fluency of communication and trust among teams that your company probably really doesn’t have yet. Because this is hard and requires emotional labor and guts from everyone in the building.

I digress. So, here’s a handy graphical representation of said star-laden path that you can perhaps post next to that heartfelt mission statement.

And here’s the thing that Larsen and Shore don’t want you to miss about their star-rating system.

More stars generally indicate that more value is being delivered at that level. BUT. Any of the stops along the way may be enough Agile for what your team is actually after at the end of the day. This is handy to remember when you’re struggling to breathe from under the crushing weight of the things about your work which you cannot control–it’s better to adopt a few killer practices on a small scale than to reject Agile methodology wholesale on account of Fred in Marketing says we’ve always done it this other way.

When someone at the meeting table declares “we are Agile now” or “we do Agile”, red flags should go up. Literally, if you like. If that makes everyone else in the room chortle enough to get how silly that is.

The real world is made of people who are not on your team (let alone in your company), and they don’t so much care about the baller new process template that’s really helping you value-add and synergize verticals. Think more in terms of “here are some habits we are in” and “here are some other habits we could take on if we need to do better” when you want your team to use “Agile” to do work that makes an impact and a difference.

Agile 2012 – Diana Larsen and James Shore – Agile Fluency [ Agile Toolkit Podcast ]

Your Path through Agile Fluency [ Martin Fowler ]