7 success factors for starting with agile in your team

A lot of business units and teams are starting their Agile transformation journeys this year. The question in most people’s mind is “how should we start with Agile”? For some people changing how the teams work sounds overwhelming in the midst of a large workload. How can we change when we don’t even have time to get all our work done?

We always encourage teams and people to try Agile practices, methods and skills in their everyday life, without thinking they have to change everything to start with Agile. Practices such as Kanban to visualise work or retrospectives to reflect and improve together are super valuable for any team!

Starting a real agile team, where you want Agile to be the operating model, requires a bit more action.

After working with hundreds of people and tens of companies with Agile transformation, training and adoption of Agile in teams we dare to suggest there are a few key success factors for adopting Agile in a team “for real”. Here are our seven recommendations for this. Before you dive in, remember, becoming Agile is Agile. There is no way to “implement” all of this at once. You work stepwise and you improve, together and transparently.

  • A professional training. Learning about what Agile is, and how it differs from your current mindset and actions shouldn’t be underestimated. You want trainers who speak the language of the learners, and bring concrete examples. If the participants are in commercial operations, use examples from the customer perspective, digital services and value sales. If your learners are in the supply chain, better build in some hardware and sourcing stories. People need a chance to share, reflect, understand and make sense of Agility in their own context. We’ve seen amazing impact from bite-sized learning over a longer period of time, giving the people time to digest and build new habits through exercise and application. A training is just a start to building Agility. Please don’t expect people who participate in a training program magically will turn agile. There is a bit more to it.

  • Application during the training. There is great value in trying Agility in a safe space during the trainings. Agile is not adopted through theory, but through action. It’s great to let people try and also fail when learning, and include constructive ways of handling failure through rapid feedback and improvement cycles. Simulating situations in the learning phase is a great way to build readiness to adopt Agility in reality. Great examples are for example showing an unfinished prototype to senior stakeholders or being forced to prioritise, when everything can not be first priority. It’s tricky! So it should be.

  • Co-creation to decide where to start and how to adopt. We highly recommend open and transparent discussion and even argumentation on where to start with Agility in your team. Transparently discuss adoption ideas and blockers and subject them to feedback. This way your team can connect Agile to their real work, right after they have learnt what it is all about. Agile just makes a lot of sense in some contexts. Your teams will identify where to start, and usually have a high motivation to do exactly that! Often we see such enthusiasm, that we have to recommend not starting with too many Agile initiatives at once, Start small, improve as you go, and scale what works!

  • Agile coaching for teams at the start. Many teams begin with Agile either in a separate project delivery or in one specific team, such as a service team, talent acquisition team or a development team . Some teams fail in establishing new sustainable and Agile ways of working. This is usually when they haven’t been offered coaching support in the start. These teams easily slip back to old habits of sending emails to each other, delivering individual tasks instead of team work and not sticking to the cyclic nature of Agile meetings, reviews and improvement. Agile coaches are guiding teams towards self-management, helping to stay on course with Agile practices and ways of working and most importantly reinforce the human-centric and customer focused values in the team. Agile coaches have “been there, done that”, so they know how to navigate through the obstacles and questions arising and improve together.

  • Senior stakeholders need to understand and support Agile. Senior leaders tend to be the biggest blockers of agility. Not on purpose, of course. Usually because they haven’t invested the time it takes to learn about leading an agile versus a traditional organisation. Agile really doesn’t work if your leaders do not understand Agility. Period. We’ll say this again. “Real” Agility really doesn’t work if your leaders do not understand it. (They probably need a bit of training & coaching too…)

  • Prioritise! Stop starting, start finishing. To bring value to your customers through Agile practices you have to be realistic with your planning. An Agile teams focuses on less work in progress , but get items done and delivered in a faster pace. Thus, instead of having 30 projects ongoing simultaneously, we’ll prioritise three most important deliverables to be done during Q1, and the next three during Q2….We commit to work according to the real capacity, and everyone understands and accepts, that we can’t do it all. We must prioritise. That’s the toughest part. Going from “who shouts the loudest” to “what’s most valuable”.

  • Allocation of capacity to Agile projects and deliveries. Some people tend to think agile is something you can add on a 100% normal day job for team members. It is not. Agile ways of working require the core team members to allocate a significant weekly capacity to actually deliver value together through the Agile loop of working. We tend to say that nothing less than 50% capacity by core team is suited for establishing an Agile team and cadence.. Easier said than done. Many need to reshuffle roles, deprioritise initiatives, and redefine responsibilities to make room for giving agile a real go.

So there it is. No fancy consulting terminology needed. No extravagant strategy one-liners are longed for.

Agility is simple to understand but hard to master. Building agile organisations takes time, practice, and a step-by-step approach. These recommendations are so simple, yet it takes years for teams and organisations to get here.

Happy Agile Transformation! We hope you enjoy the ride!