1 Page
Building a High-Performance Agile Project   Teams – Challenges and Best PracticesRathinakumar Balasubramanian   – Head - A...
Contents 1. Abstract ........................................................................................................
1. AbstractObjective and Scope: Managing projects has always been fraught with challenges such asmanaging unclear scope, t...
2. Introduction                                                                  [1]“The State of Agile Survey 2010”, cond...
3.1 Agile Projects - the need of the hourCurrent global business environment demands faster time to market to remain in co...
Figure-1 Average Team Performance Loss3.3 What is a High-Performance Agile Team?Let us begin with a broader definition of ...
Thrive under trust – Trust is the core of high-performance agile teams. Without trust, there is         no open communicat...
3.5 Building High-Performance Agile Teams – ChallengesLencioni Patrick in this hugely popular book „The Five Dysfunctions ...
almost all Agile Methodoloiges – be it SCRUM or Extreme Programming (XP). An enviroment ofmistrust does not allow a the te...
Respect leads to trust; openness leads to collaboration and courage leads to diversity of views   which in turn feeds into...
for relentless improvement (kaizen) and look for any way to be more effective and efficient.        Iteration reviews and ...
Agile Team: The only people factor internal to the team that can influence the agile team is the teamitself. The „Team Val...
a) Nothing else will boost the morale of the team than a word of appreciation from the senior  management for the work don...
Figure- 5 summarizes the pragmatic approach – a set of best practices encampassing an agile teamto its journey to high-per...
6. Author’s Profile:                  Rathinakumar is an expert in agile project management                  methodologies...
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ETCA_7

  1. 1. 1 Page
  2. 2. Building a High-Performance Agile Project Teams – Challenges and Best PracticesRathinakumar Balasubramanian – Head - Agile Practice, Sabcons
  3. 3. Contents 1. Abstract ......................................................................................................................................... 4 2. Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 5 3. Agile Project Management ......................................................................................................... 5 3.1 Agile Projects - the need of the hour .................................................................................. 6 3.2 Agile Teams – A People and Performance Puzzle .......................................................... 6 3.3 What is a High-Performance Agile Team? ........................................................................ 7 3.4 Why High-Performance Agile Team? ................................................................................. 8 3.5 Building High-Performance Agile Teams – Challenges................................................... 9 3.6 Building Blocks of High-Performance Agile Teams ........................................................ 10 3.7 Building High-Performance Agile Teams – Best Practices ........................................... 12 4. Conclusion .................................................................................................................................. 15 5. References................................................................................................................................. 15 6. Author‟s Profile: .......................................................................................................................... 163 Page
  4. 4. 1. AbstractObjective and Scope: Managing projects has always been fraught with challenges such asmanaging unclear scope, tight delivery schedule, growing customer expectations and paucity ofskilled resources. The software product innovation cycle is increasingly becoming shorter. Hence thetime-to-market has become the key differentiator between success and survival of an organization.Perpetual beta is an accepted practice in product world due to always evolving project requirements.Shorter time-to-market and always-evolving requirements have resulted in the rise of adoption ofAgile Methodologies.But adopting agile methodology has never been easy, particularly for a team that has been followingtraditional plan-driven methodology. Agile places a huge emphasis on people and the success ofagile projects largely depend on team performance. It is not an overstatement that agile team eitherswims together or sinks together. Building a high-performance agile project team that deliverconsistent results is the greatest of the mysteries for many agile practitioners.This paper solves the people puzzle by providing simple and practical ideas to build a high-performance agile team. This paper a) Establishes the need for a high-performance agile project team in agile projects. b) Identifies challenges in building high-performance agile project teams. c) Provides a pragmatic approach on how to build a high-performance agile project team, overcoming the challenges. d) Enumerates the role of the agile coach in building the high-performance agile team. e) Explicates the role of the management and senior leadership in building the culture of high- performance.Area of Application: Agile Project Management, High-Performance Agile Teams, LeadershipAudience: Agile Project Managers, Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, Senior Management, PMOs whoare looking to leverage the high performance from Agile Teams..Benefits: Project Managers/Agile Coaches/Scrum Masters can acknowledge the need for buildinghigh-performance agile teams; they can implement the pragmatic ideas recommended in this paper tobuild and sustain a high-performance agile teams leading to superlative business value generation.4 Page
  5. 5. 2. Introduction [1]“The State of Agile Survey 2010”, conducted by VersionOne shows that the Agile adoption isclearly on the rise. As per the survey, 90% of respondents worked in organizations that used Agiledevelopment practices to some degree. The survey indicates that about half of projects inrespondents‟ companies use Agile methods. The hunt for global talents is reaching the stage ofpitched battles. Companies are ready to get the talent wherever it is available. With increasingpopularity of Agile practices, more and more companies are embracing Agile Methods. Each one ofthose companies that embrace Agile, do it with a hope that agile teams will deliver faster results andbetter quality.Unfortunately, not many companies have seen the kind of high-performance delivery they hoped forfrom their agile teams. Several agile teams have been a one hit wonders, while many other just couldnot sustain their high-performance over a period of time. Building a high-performance agile projectteam that deliver consistent results is one of the greatest of the mysteries that many organizations aretrying hard to unravel. Fortunately, there are organizations that have succeeded in their attempts todo so. This paper “Building High-Performance Agile Teams – Challenges and Best Practices” tacklesthe people and performance puzzle.3. Agile Project ManagementAgile Project Management refers to the software development principles and practices that adopt tocore agile tenets as prescribed in the Agile Manifesto. [2]Manifesto for Agile Software Development declares the priorities in the following way: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a planAgile Manifesto clearly values the items on the first part of each statement more than the items on thesecond part.The most common agile methodologies are Scrum, Extreme Programming, Feature-DrivenDevelopment, and Adaptive Software Development. Other methodologies like Scrum/XP hybrid,Lean, Scrumban, AgileUP are also follow the agile principles and practices.5 Page
  6. 6. 3.1 Agile Projects - the need of the hourCurrent global business environment demands faster time to market to remain in competition. Theability to respond to changes is a prerequisite to remain in business.As per the survey, top 3 reasons for adopting agile are to:1. Accelerate Time to Market2. Enhance Ability to Manage Changing Priorities3. Increase Productivity87% of the respondents said implementing agile either improved or significantly improved their abilityto manage changing priorities. 70% of the respondents reported that Agile projects showed eitherimproved or significantly improved time to market. 66% of the respondents felt that Agile projectswere faster to completion than previous non-agile ones. 22% of respondents reported that they hadnot experienced a failed agile project.Agile practices address the changing needs of the business more than the traditional models.Rapidly changing products features and crushed innovative cycles are a reality today. There seemsto be no better solution than Agile Projects and Agile Practices to these issues. In short, Agile is theneed of the hours and Agile is here to stay.3.2 Agile Teams – A People and Performance PuzzleAgile teams are ideally small in size. Optimal size for an agile team is 5 – 9 members. Agile teams areco-located and prefer high-bandwidth face-to-face communication. They are cross-functional and self-organizing in nature. They thrive under collaboration; do not have command-and-control. So it isnatural that agile teams are expected to deliver superlative results when compared to traditionalteams.We wish the equation is so simple and straightforward. But, the reality seems to be different.According to authors Michael C. Mankins and Richard Steele in their August 2005 Harvard BusinessReview article titled “Turning Strategy into Great Performance”, the average team achieves only63% of the objectives of their strategic plans. This means about 37% of the performance is lostdue to various reasons, as illustrated in Figure 1. When it comes to agile teams, they either achievesuperlative results or fail spectacularly. So agile teams are no better, than traditional teams and inmany cases they end up losing out in achieving the performance objectives. How can we solve thispuzzle which involves people and their performance?6 Page
  7. 7. Figure-1 Average Team Performance Loss3.3 What is a High-Performance Agile Team?Let us begin with a broader definition of a high-performance agile team. “A high-performance agileteam is a self-organizing team that is empowered to take decisions in order to delivery committedresults. They thrive under trust and deliver business value consistently building high-quality productsat a sustainable phase.”It is important to undersand the key aspects of the definiton as we proceed. So let us decipher thedefinition by breaking it down. Self-organizing team – High-performance agile teams are self-directed. There is no manager who directs them what to do and how to do. Command and control is essentially non-existent. They decide through consensus-building how the team will go about acheieving the results. Empowered to take decision – High-performance agile teams have the autonomy to make the necessary decisions in order to achived committed results. They are accountable to their decisions and to their commitment as well. Agile teams are highly disciplined and responsible in their behaviour.7 Page
  8. 8. Thrive under trust – Trust is the core of high-performance agile teams. Without trust, there is no open communication. Without open communication, no team can imagine achiveing anyting worthwhile. Deliver business value consistently – High-performance agile teams focus on delivering business value to the customer. And they delivery it consistently. They are not one hit wonders. building high-quality products at a sustainable phase – Hallmark of a high-performance agile team is the superior quality of their output. The team does not rush to deliver and will not burn out due to mindless commitments.Being part of a high-performance agile team is a dream come true for any team member. So is thecase for any leader in creating one.3.4 Why High-Performance Agile Team?There are clear benefits with high-performance agile teams. The benefits are so compelling thatorganizations do realize that it is a game changer for them. As Patrick Lencioni put it “If you could getall the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any [3]market, against any competition, at any time.”The key benefits are: Enhanced commitment to delivering results – because the team members empowered to make decisions. Improved speed of delivery – teams that trust each other deliver at an incredible speed. Superior quality product – because of intensive collaboration and the belongingness in what they create. Fostering creativity and innovation – as the teams are encouraged to collaborate and cooperate rather than compete. Greater satisfaction of team – raised motivation and morale of the employees in the organization leading to lowest attrition rates.8 Page
  9. 9. 3.5 Building High-Performance Agile Teams – ChallengesLencioni Patrick in this hugely popular book „The Five Dysfunctions of a Team‟ lists 5 pitfalls of a teamnamely absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment and avoidance of accountablity,inattention to results.When we look at the agile teams, the key challenges in building high-performance agile teams can fallunder 4 major categories. They are, as depicted in figure-2 1. Erosion of Trust 2. Lack of Ownership 3. Organization Culture 4. Fear of Conflict. Figure-2 Challenges in building High-Performance Agile TeamsErosion of TrustTrust is the core of any team, be it agile or non-agile to achieve incredilble results. When the teammembers trust each other, there is open commuication, feeling of safety and free flow of ideas. In alow trust environment, communication gets blocked and progress slows down significantly. Trustcomes from respect. Agile teams respect everyone in the team. Respect is a values espoused by9 Page
  10. 10. almost all Agile Methodoloiges – be it SCRUM or Extreme Programming (XP). An enviroment ofmistrust does not allow a the team work to blossom, let alone the high performance.Lack of OwnershipIn an agile team, lack of ownership is a serious problem. Agile teams are expected to be self-organizing and therefore expected to own their decisions and their consequences. This could be dueto variety of reaons including team not having a vision, there is no buy-in from the team members forthe team goals and ducking the responsibility for the team‟s work. In ecssence, this boils down to thefact that there are huge cracks in the team and team members are not willing to own up theirdecisions.Organization CultureOrganization culture play a major role in deciding how easy it is to build a high-performance agileteam. It is the responsibility of the senior management to provide a shared vison or purpose for theteam, in the absence of which high-performance is not possible. Organization culture that promotecompetion among their employees will find it difficult to make high-performance team, as competitionkills collaboration and communication. Does organization culture actively support team goals andteam results ahead of individial goals and results across the board? If the answer is no, we are talkingabout an impediment to high-performance teams. A culture of command and control or micromanagement just does not help when it comes to make a team perform to their potential.Fear of ConflictIs conflict good or bad for a team? In general, conflict is good. An agile team including the agile coachshould operate from a view that conflicts are part of the life and they are good. Avoiding or fearingconflict is not a solution. Avoiding conflicts – instead of confronting them with constructiveconversation is a sure sign of low performance team. Conflicts bring in diversity of views andcollective perspective to a problem. High-performance teams will not shun conflicts away.3.6 Building Blocks of High-Performance Agile TeamsLet us look little deep into what makes a team a high-performance team. There are essentially twodimensions that form the building blocks of a high-performance team.1. Team Values : Team values are non-negotiables that form the core of “being” a team. Key team values are Respect, Openness and Courage. Any team to be a high-performance team should possess and live the team values.10 Page
  11. 11. Respect leads to trust; openness leads to collaboration and courage leads to diversity of views which in turn feeds into trust and collaboration. All these values are required at all times. Without these values in place, there is no trust in team, no collaboration in team, and no diversity of views in team which means there is no chance of high-performance.2. Operating Principles: Operating principles are significant actions of the high-performance team that form the core of “operating” as a team. Key operating principles include shared vision, trust, self-direction, collaboration, learning to grow, team before self, and celebration. Shared vision gives a purpose to the agile team to work with. For example, in an agile team, the shared vision is to “deliver business value to customer by creating high-quality software”. This binds the entire team and the whole team can now rally around this one vision or purpose. Trust is fibre of the high-performance team. Speed and trust are directly connected. In a high trust environment there can be a free flow of ideas, constructive criticism, and open communication enabling continual improvement. In a low trust environment things slow down to a crawl. Figure-3 Building Blocks of High-Performance Agile Teams Learning Culture is another principle that high-performance team operate with. Learning culture refers to culture of continuous improvement. It is this principle that lifts the ordinary team to a superlative team with high-performance. The best teams have an self-driven zeal11 Page
  12. 12. for relentless improvement (kaizen) and look for any way to be more effective and efficient. Iteration reviews and retrospectives (iteration, release and project) are classical tools or opportunites in the hands of a high-performance agile teams. High-performance team always remembers that team goals are ahead of individual goals. This will ensure that there is no ego or unhealthy competition within the team that can jeopardize the high-performance team environment. High-performance agile team does remember to celebrate the success and they take pride in what they accomplished. A high-performance agile team is a team of champions and champions celebrate in style.3.7 Building High-Performance Agile Teams – Best PracticesA pragmatic approach to overcome the challenges and help the agile teams to reach the high-performance is to identify the factors that influcence the agile teams and then build best practicesaround them. The influencing factors could be internal or external to the agile team and the factorscould be process-oriented or people-oriented. Now, we will get to see 4 major factors that influencethe high-performance of the agile teams. Figure-4 Factors that Influence High-Performance Agile Teams12 Page
  13. 13. Agile Team: The only people factor internal to the team that can influence the agile team is the teamitself. The „Team Value‟ and „Operating Principles‟ of the team are key to positively influence the high-performance. Section 2.6 above covers this elaborately.Agile Coach (or Scrum Master):Agile Coach or Scrum Master is part of the Agile team, howevermay not involve in creating the product. But an agile coach‟s role is extremely crucial to an agile team.As far as building the high performance teams is concerned, an agile coach‟s role is two-fold:a) Be a Process Owner for the team andb) Be a Servant Leader for the team.a) Playing the role of a process owner refers to the duties of the agile coach in removing the impediments for the team, ensure the agile process are in place and the team follows it without any hurdles. Agile coach need to keep an eye on the operating principles of the agile team and help them to build more evolved operating principles. Agile coach needs to assess if the team values are in tact. Agile coach need to facilicate the planning meetings (iteration planning, daily stand-up, etc.), review meetings, and particularly retrospectives effectively so that the team can drive effortlessly in its journey towards high-performance.b) Playing the role of a Servant Leader for the team is a great thing an agile coach can do. Being a servant leader demands the agile coach first to be a servant to the team – carry water and food for them. In reality, servant leadership role will exemplify the beginning of the path for high- performance team. Without servant leadership, an agile team will face innumerable hurdles along the way to reach the destination. How long an agile team would take to become a high- performance team depends on how effectively the servant leadership is.Senior Management:Senior Management is external to the team but their involvement is the single-most factor to take thehigh-performance team to the peak performance. Because in the absence of senior management‟sactive support, the team will get a message that they do not matter to the orgaization that much.There are scores of literature aviailable in the leadership domain that explains the role of seniormanagement. From agile teams perspective, there are 2 good practices worth-reiterating here. Theyare:a) Recognize the agile team’s effort andb) Be genuinly interested in the team.13 Page
  14. 14. a) Nothing else will boost the morale of the team than a word of appreciation from the senior management for the work done by the team. Recognition is a energy booster for the team which confirms that the senior management does care for them. This will reaffirm their faith in the work they do and will propel the performance to the newer heights. When it comes to rewards, encourage the team rewards first, to send a message that team goals are above individual goals.b) Senior management should take genuine interest to talk to the agile developers, testers, architects, and coaches. Following 70-20-10 is a golden rule … 70% listening, 20% questioning and 10% summarizing.Enterprise Systems:Yet another factor which is external to the team but mostly process-driven is the enterprise systemsthat govern the employees of the organization. Enterprise systems – like performance evaluation,Rewards system, Training and Developing (I prefer to call it “learning and growing”) system – are allpervasive in any organization and can clearly spell out the intention of the senior management. Allthe good work done by senior management will be undone if the enterprise systems do not walk themanagement talk.In a nut shell, Performance evaluation should promote collaboration rather than competition, Rewardssystem should encourage team achievements rather than individial achievements, Learning andgrowing should be part and parcel of the culture rather than an intermittant events. Figure-5 Best Practices that build High-Performance Agile Teams14 Page
  15. 15. Figure- 5 summarizes the pragmatic approach – a set of best practices encampassing an agile teamto its journey to high-performance. It is imperative that all the four factors will have to go in tandem inorder to generate a superlative performance from an agile team. Though it may look like a tall order, itis worth the hard work.4. ConclusionHigh-performance Agile Teams have something very unique. They turn the work into fun. It is alwaysa joy to work with such a team. It provides immeasurable satisfaction and sense of achievement thatcannot be unrivalled by another means in business. They are a delight for the customers too as theycustomers can see the business value generated iteration after iteration in a sustainable pace. Inother words, it is a win-win for everyone in the game.Building a high-performance agile team is not a destination; it is a journey that takes you throughexciting phases of building a world-class products. It is worth doing every moment of it.5. References Item Description http://www.versionone.com/pdf/2010_state_of_agile_development_survey_results.p 1 df 2 www.agilemanifesto.org „The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – A Leadership Fable‟ by Patrick Lencionihttp://www.versionone.com/pdf/2010_state_of_agile_development_survey_r 3 esults.pdf15 Page
  16. 16. 6. Author’s Profile: Rathinakumar is an expert in agile project management methodologies. He has more than 15 years of rich experience in traditional and agile project management practices at organizations like Infosys Ltd., Accelrys Software Solutions, Valtech India. He has successfully managed large IT programs and projects for Fortune 100 companies across USA, UK and Singapore. He has coached and trained hundreds of project management practitioners in agile methodologies. His expertise includes transforming project teams to agile delivery, building high- performance agile teams, establishing agile processes, managing agile product development, saving troubled projects, and setting up PMO. He has authored several whitepapers and presented insights on agile project management to participants in various international project management forums. As head of Agile Practice at SABCONS, he is helping organizations to experience enterprise agility. Rathinakumar is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), PMI-ACP (PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner) and CSM (Certified Scrum Master).16 Page

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