This article was based on episode 016 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.
Is it possible for non-techies to benefit from practices like agile that were created by and for engineers? What if we’re not in a tech or software development space? How can non-techie managers take agile and use it for the growth of their teams?
In episode 016 of the Modern Manager podcast I speak with Sinead A. Condon, Transformation Strategist for CA Technologies. We discuss agile priorities and ceremonies and agile for non-techies.
INTRO TO AGILE
If you’ve heard about agile, but are still unsure what it is, you’re not alone. “It's one of the most misunderstood methodologies right now, or mindsets, or a way to work,” says Sinead. When thinking agile, you must keep four priorities in mind regardless of the field you work in - tech or non-tech.
4 Agile Priorities: Value, Improvement, Speed, Collaboration
Is what I’m doing creating the highest impact or value?
If it is of value, how can I continue to improve the process?
Am I doing things quickly? If there are blockers slowing me down, what are they, and how can I get quicker and more iterative and efficient?
If I’ve finished with my work, am I reaching out to support my colleagues in their high-value efforts?
Many people serve to multiple stakeholders, and they may often feel torn in different directions by the simultaneous requests that come their way. As a manager with an agile mindset, you would sit down with your colleague facing these issues and review their tasks. Ask: what is the priority, why is it the priority, and what would be the impact if we don’t do something? We often work in reactive environments, and the agile mindset can help us deal with those challenges in more effective ways.
Being Agile Versus Doing Agile
Many companies call themselves agile but are agile in name only. When a company first shifts to agile processes, it’s often a profound change in how they conduct business. They can get caught up in the ceremonies and structure of agile without aligning with its principles. It’s important to reach a place of equal balance in agile structure and agile mindset in order to reap the benefits of agile, which is about “bringing people together, being collaborative, thinking about creating value, and doing it in a thriving ecosystem where everybody wins,” says Sinead.
AGILE CEREMONIES AND TERMS
There are also a number of events, or rituals, native to Agile. You may have heard of the daily stand-up, in which those working on a team come together in person or virtually for no more than 10-15 minutes every day to share three things:
what they completed yesterday,
they’re working on today, and
anything that stands in the way of getting the work done.
The intent is not to look for a level of completion in the work, but rather to see if there’s an opportunity to collaborate by helping each other remove blockers and move forward in their high value work. This flexibility is in contrast to more rigid and linear project models like Waterfall.
The second event fundamental to agile is the grooming of the backlog, or to-do list, in which people come together to talk about upcoming work and what makes most sense to pull up next from the list.
The third ceremony essential to agile is the retrospective, which is related to the agile principles of passion and curiosity for learning. It frequently occurs after a cycle of work, and is a time for people to come together and discuss what they’ve done and acknowledge they’ve created value. It’s also a time to a ask, “What can we do better? What is the continuous improvement opportunity that we have for ourselves, that we can work on so that we really hit it out of the park the next time?” says Sinead.
Sprints and Stories
One of the most notable qualities of agile is the process of doing things in short cycles, called “sprints” or “iterations.” Traditional projects tend to go for longer periods of time before people stop and reflect on their processes and value creation. Agile sprints typically occur in four, two, or one week cycles. We complete them and conduct retrospectives before moving on to the next piece of work, or “story,” which is then “sized,” or time estimated for each piece of work, based on its complexity. Any person on the team at any time can call a retrospective before the cycle is finished if they feel that it’ll improve the process.
NOT IN THE SOFTWARE SPACE? AGILE IS ALSO FOR NON-TECHIES
If you’re a manager of a non-technical team, and you want to start working in an agile way, the most important quality to develop is curiosity, specifically about the creation of value, says Sinead. Since value is subjective, you must ask what does value look like to you, your stakeholders, and the team? It’s important to agree on what value means for the group so that everyone is speaking the same language before committing to agile ceremonies.
When you consider your team’s internal relationships or external relationships with customers, ask, "Are we getting the right amount of value for the effort we're putting in, or are we getting the right amount of value out of the relationships that we're holding?" Rather than just focusing on productivity and moving forward, it’s important to see if the effort invested in the inputs is giving sufficient outputs.
If you’re not in the software space and you’re considering agile, ask yourself what agile means to you, and what part of it you’re willing to commit to. You don’t need to implement all the rituals; you can pick and choose what works for your team. If you’re part of a financial or marketing team, it may not make sense for your work to have continuous sprints, but the daily standups or retrospectives may be worthwhile. Decide what works for your team, and try to balance the agile structure and mindset. Both are necessary to be successful with agile. And baby steps are just fine. Think about value your team creates this week. What emerges from this agile inquiry?
This article was based on episode 016 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter. Join the Modern Manager community on Patreon and get additional exclusive resources and services.
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KEEP UP WITH SINEAD
linkedin: Sinead Condon
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