Every company that chooses to adopt an agile approach to project management wants to become “better, faster and stronger,” says Jason Cusack, consultant and enterprise agile coach. Not all of them will. Jason has worked with more than 300 teams in a wide range of industries and he’s seen a pattern. To be successful, he says, companies need the right culture, people and technology. And while there’s no “silver bullet” when it comes to technology tools, Jason says there are a few things to consider before you invest in technology to support the agile process.
Here are 6 things your technology should help agile teams do:
1. Collaborate effectively wherever they are
Collaboration is the cornerstone of agile. One of the founding principles in the 2001 Agile Manifesto is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” But the right tools can help those individuals interact more effectively whether they’re in the same office or miles apart. Jason says many organizations today want to take advantage of talent across the world. So when they adopt agile, they have to find better ways for people to “seamlessly communicate and collaborate using some form of technology.”
Unlike some in the agile community, Jason doesn’t buy into the idea that people have to sit together to work together. He values what he calls “presence over proximity” and says technology needs to allow everyone to fully contribute. “While I can understand that proximity might help with the engagement, it’s really more about the presence of those folks and the ability to engage and their desire to engage that’s more important.
2. Design with diversity
Collaborative design is about drawing on a diverse pool of knowledge to solve problems. Jason says this form of collaboration is especially productive in an agile space, where multidisciplinary teams with people from different walks of life and different business units are designing together on the fly. Technology should be simple and enable people to contribute ideas and experiences and create a better design together than they would have on their own. He says a great thing about agile is that it puts everyone “in the same canoe paddling at the same rate, making adjustments as they go.”
3. Communicate with ease
Teams need to share information if they’re going to build collective intelligence and reap the benefits of making decisions with diverse input, says Jason. And technology has to simplify the communications process so people can quickly sift through information and determine what’s important to them. He says, ideally, the tool would enable people to categorize and tag things, so it’s easy for them to figure out how they can contribute. “Simple and adaptable communication tools are essential so you can get information on-demand and engage with it when it’s convenient for you.”
4. See workflow at a glance
When you get diverse groups working together, it’s essential they have a common language and a shared vision of what they’re trying to accomplish, says Jason. Tools that support workflow visualization are key to the success of agile teams. He’s impressed with Nureva visual collaboration solutions because they provide a large cloud-based digital canvas that makes the workflow big and visible so everyone can see and interact with it. He says that helps people understand the game plan and figure out how they can contribute to the process.
5. Create an adaptable process
If technology needs to be one thing, says Jason, it has to be flexible. One of the biggest gripes he hears about the technology tools currently on the market is that they’re not flexible enough. They use a specific framework that forces people to do things a certain way. He says that turns people off because the tools don’t allow them to mirror what their individual team process is. What teams really need is a tool they can customize to fit their needs, so they spend less time struggling with technology and more time focusing on the project they’re working on.
6. Feel empowered to solve challenges
Empowerment is closely tied to flexibility. Instead of being told how to do something, agile teams need to understand what has to be done and be given flexible and dynamic tools that allow them to choose the best way to accomplish it. Teams need to own the process, says Jason, for them to buy into it. “The consequence of not having buy in is people begin to not care. They become almost ambivalent about whether they do well or don’t do well, if someone is going to force feed them what a process is.” Empowering teams often requires a culture shift. He says the most successful agile companies have leaders who lay out a vision then step aside and trust their teams will achieve it.
What are your goals?
Choosing technology to support your teams ultimately comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish, says Jason. He suggests before you do anything, ask yourself a few questions:
“Why are you investing in a tool? What are your goals for the tool?”
Jason says the best technology helps organize and manage work so people are focused on the right things at the right time. But technology has to be combined with a culture of trust and an empowered workforce. It’s a tall order, but the payoff is huge. Your employees will be more engaged and highly motivated to build better solutions for your customers.
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