Agile for Non-Techies – The simple guide to a more efficient way of working!
This article is an improved overview of what an agile scrum board looks like, and, the key benefits of agile over the traditional approach of managing your projects or programs.
After getting a first sweet taste at actually implementing the agile principles, I’ve read a lot about how I led and managed the delivery of the digital transformation project for AIESEC back in 2016. I instantly knew that working the agile way would become an integral part of my personal and professional life. Being the passionately-curious soul I am, I wrote an article back in 2017 about my learnings. I introduced the concept of agile with a focus on Scrum to my network, especially people with little to no technical background.
This article updates my 2017 article highlighting the agile lifecycle, an improved overview of what an agile scrum board looks like, and the key benefits of agile over the traditional approach of managing your projects or programs.
Over the past few years, “agile” has become a buzzword, especially in the non-tech / non-software development teams or organizations. You hear CEOs, Marketing Managers, HR Managers, etc., saying I want my team to work more agile, but it takes three days to get approval on a tool. Sometimes, people even mistake agile for fast project delivery. Beyond the buzzword, with agile methodologies, there’s a higher level of quality improvements on an incremental basis rather than waiting to distribute the finished projects. So let’s get started by first defining agile.
What is Agile Methodology?
Agile is the approach to project management that breaks down larger projects into smaller, manageable chunks/tasks known as iterations. It’s commonly used within software development teams to get new software fixes/releases faster to the market. Still, the agile methodology can be applied to projects or programs in other teams such as marketing, sales, HR, etc. You need to apply the right framework customized to your needs and work following the values and principles expressed in the Agile Manifesto.
One of the different and most widely used frameworks of the agile methodologies is the scrum framework. Scrum is an agile recipe that helps teams be more collaborative by encouraging teams to be self-organizing and continuously reflect and learn through experiences while consistently delivering quality outputs.
“To get your team on an agile diet, scrum is the key recipe you need in your team nutrition plan.”
The Agile Lifecycle: Key Roles, Terms and Events in Scrum.
The key and most popular concept in Agile is a Sprint — the incremental and iterative work sequence. It’s a time-box of one month or less during which a “Done,” useable/viable, and potentially releasable product Increment is created and shipped. This product increment could be a task such as creating a new sales roadmap, a marketing experiment such as LinkedIn lead generation for a new offering, or even a standard repetitive process such as new employees recruitment process.
Before jumping into executing your project sprints, it’s essential first to understand the various roles in the scrum team to drive efficient teamwork. The prominent roles are:
Product Owner: The Product Owner should be a person with vision, authority, and availability. The Product Owner is responsible for continuously communicating the vision and priorities to the development team. This person does not micromanage as it is a self-organized team.
Scrum Master: The Scrum Master facilitates the product team and works to remove any obstacles stopping the team from achieving its project sprint goals.
(Cross-Functional) Team: For proper planning, execution, and delivery of the project, a group of individuals with different skillsets and sometimes functions forms the utterly self-managing and self-organizing Scrum team.
Sponsor: The scrum team's sponsor is one of the most neglected but vital roles in a scrum team. Their primary responsibility is to provide the team's capacity and resources to handle their work and act as a primary stakeholder. Most times, an external stakeholder (e.g., C-level, Director-level) is interested in the project's vision.
That’s it. The product owner, scrum master, and the cross-functional team form the core scrum team, mostly known as an Agile Squad. Your agile squad at any point should not have more than nine people or less, even better, and the best analogy I know to explain why is the two-pizza team rule by Jeff Bezos. Remember, there’s no room for egos in Scrum, and Scrum runs on a “servant leadership” model.
With having the right people with the right roles in your scrum team, now you can focus on the process in the scrum framework, which entails:
Project/Sprint Planning: As with all projects, your team must be aligned on your end goal and objective(s) before starting. This stage is where the project scope can be defined, but remember, it’s essential to make it flexible, so it’s open to change.
Project/Sprint Backlog Mapping: After defining your sprint/project’s end goal, the following line of action is to develop a sprint backlog which is a breakdown of all the desired deliverables for a particular project and all the todo’s to meet these deliverables.
Daily Standups: Short daily standup meetings are essential for the team to accomplish tasks during each sprint and assess changes needed and if the team is achieving its goals.
The daily meetings shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes. The main goal is not to solve problems but keep the team informed, connected, and calibrated throughout the sprint.
Sprint Review: After every sprint, the team should hold a meeting to review the iteration with the project stakeholders, including the sponsor, if possible.
This is the meeting where together as a team, you take a look at the finished product, what was achieved, and also identify & solve the unsolved problems faced during sprint iteration.
Sprint Retrospective: People often confuse a sprint review with a retrospective, and they are not the same sprint event, although they have a few similarities. A sprint retrospective is an event that allows the team to reflect on the previous sprint.
During the retrospective, the meeting is where you discuss what went well during the previous sprint and what could be better about the last sprint—the critical concrete actions to avoid mistakes/issues from previous sprints in future sprints. You can find some fresh retrospective meetings ideas in this blog by Atlassian.
“A perfect mix the well-composed team with the right process overtime supercharges your team towards a more agile way of working”
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Making Agile Visual: The Scrum Board
Bringing the agile lifecycle into practice requires an interactive visual board that keeps everyone in the team on the same page throughout the project/program cycle. The scrum board helps the project team identify, organize, assign and track specific tasks for a project.
Over the years, I have experience implementing agile principles in various marketing and innovation-related projects and teams (both remote & in-person). It can be challenging when you are new to agile Scrum, and a well-organized and managed scrum board can go a long way in helping get the scrum team aligned and have a shared language.
I created a template scrum board on Trello to visualize the process for the scrum process in a way that you, as the scrum team, can self-manage and be more agile. This scrum board is divided into nine different lanes, considering all the processes involved in a scrum project.
You can access the Trello template here.
Why Pivot to Agile Way of Working?
With a customer-centric focused culture, any organization or team benefits from a collaborative, quality-driven approach to delivering and can easily benefit from incorporating Agile principles. With many organizations evolving into more digital-driven organizations, agile working is an excellent way to drive operations and manage teams and projects.
There are many benefits attributed to the agile way of working, most of which you would only start to realize after you start practicing and living the agile scrum frameworks. These benefits include but are not limited to;
Fast speed of releasing your product increments to the market.
Ability to quickly mitigate risks and identify issues during the scrum sprints phase.
Increase flexibility to respond to changes within a short period compared to waiting till the project’s end in a traditional approach.
Since Scrum deals with incremental delivery, you have the most significant advantage of controlling your costs and resources and avoiding wasteful investments.
And the most significant benefit of all is the higher probability of delivering high-quality outputs from your scrum projects as you can locate and fix issues early in the sprints.
Different people understand Agile from different perspectives. Some might see it as a new way of working efficiently; developers might see it as a new methodology of shipping new software incrementally; corporates might see it as a new tool to get teams and projects focused and productive.
Working the agile way both in my personal and professional life has been one of the biggest hacks to my growth. Agile transformations are complex. Successfully designing, adopting, and executing an Agile transformation requires (significant) planning, review, and organizational/team/individual level. It’s 2020; it’s worth it!
I am open to having meaningful conversations around agile, growth, and the future of work. Feel free to reach out to me and comment on your thoughts on the agile way of working, and it’s helped you drive growth.