While the agile team methodology is still largely associated with software development, this non-linear approach to project management has become a fixture of many other industries over the last decade. More versatile and faster than more linear, traditional methods, the agile process breaks large projects that would take months to complete into specific tasks that are then completed over shorter “sprint” periods (usually 1-2 weeks). Although the project may still take the same amount of time to complete, the work itself is done differently, with interconnected team members working concurrently on various tasks rather than working sequentially over a longer time frame.
There are a number of reasons why organizations are using agile teams. Here are 5 of the most important:
Perhaps the most widely cited agile team characteristic is their ability to complete work more efficiently. According to one study consisting of 8,000 projects, agile teams are 25 percent more productive than more traditional teams. Agile teams deliver these benefits by shifting the structure of project workflow. By breaking up large projects into smaller tasks and assigning key deliverables over shorter, more frequent deadlines, the agile approach ensures that the team is continually working toward key goals rather than putting them off until later in the project cycle. Ideally, an agile team’s work output should be consistent over each 1-2 week sprint, whereas a traditional team structure often sees its workload dramatically increase over time to account for work that wasn’t completed when the deadline was still distant.
Agile teams are constantly reviewing their progress, both through daily standup meetings and weekly or bi-weekly sprint planning. The public task board makes it clear who is responsible for key deliverables and which assignments are dependent upon others. When a team member is unable to deliver, the rest of the team knows about the problem immediately. If someone is consistently unable to complete their tasks, the workflow can be adjusted to accommodate the situation or other solutions can be identified. Since agile teams assign and complete tasks over a relatively short period, there is less chance for accountability problems to go unnoticed. This high level of transparency also facilitates better communication over workflow and how the team is pursuing its key goals.
The characteristics of a typical agile team place a lot of emphasis on communication. Daily standup meetings allow team members to share information about short term objectives and impediments while longer planning meetings encourage them to discuss how effectively the team is working toward its long-term goals. Better communication allows for more effective collaboration. Everyone is made aware of the team’s challenges, so each member is in a position to help be a part of the solutions. Since tasks are being broken up into smaller components, team members often need to work closely with one another to ensure deliverables are handed off properly. The increased interaction between team members can also help build trust over time, which is one of the key requirements for effective collaboration.
Manage Shifting Priorities
In today’s fast-moving economy, organizations in all industries face rapidly shifting demands from clients, partners, and customers. Teams sometimes need to change their focus quickly, adapting their strategy to accomplish a new set of goals. For traditional teams, this can be a rather traumatic experience. If a team has been working on a project for several months, simply abandoning that work can make people feel like their time was wasted and causes them to rethink how they approach their new tasks. But agile teams experience change almost constantly. Every new sprint workflow brings with it a different set of tasks; they just move on to the next thing. This makes it easier for agile teams to adapt to change and accommodate shifting priorities within an organization.
Get Rapid Feedback
Agile teams are all about deliverables. Every workflow task is associated with a specific deliverable, which not only makes it easy to track progress toward a goal, but also makes it easier to evaluate work quality in the process. Rather than waiting until the project is nearly completed to get feedback, agile team members get almost immediate feedback on their work from their peers. This allows them to make adjustments and improve quality rather than using a cumbersome review process that could take many months to gather enough data to make an evaluation. By quickly identifying successes and areas of concern, team members can address problems before they threaten the team’s effectiveness. Incorporating rapid feedback allows them to make improvements and deliver better overall results.
Agile teams have fundamentally changed the way many organizations manage their workplace. As more and more companies outside the software development industry incorporate agile methodology into their team structures, employees will surely come to appreciate working in an environment that emphasizes communication, accountability, and collaboration. The productivity and versatility gains associated with agile teams will no doubt be attractive to organizations looking to deliver quality results faster and more efficiently.