4 Agile Practices you could start with your team tomorrow

Practices vs. Mindsets

AGILE started in the world of software development. Luckily, today we see more and more teams adopting agile practices outside of IT to transform the way their teams work. I’ve had great success adopting these practices in Customer Service and Contact Centre teams; but I’ve also supported HR, Finance, Marketing and Sales teams in working the agile way.

The good news is, that agile practices are easy to implement. You don’t need to wait for budget approval or expensive IT systems; the only thing you need is a trip to your stationary cupboard or to your local shop to buy some blu tack and index cards.

The bad news is, that implementing agile practices still won’t give you the agility that your team or company needs if they are not supported by the right agile mindset. You can have as many stand ups with your team or cards stuck to the walls of your office; but if you still rule your team through command and control, it just won’t work.   

So, what is this mindset? I see it as one of trust, respect, communication, collaboration, transparency and accountability. If you already believe and breathe these beliefs, this will give you a perfect framework to get started on your journey to AGILITY:

1.     START STAND UPS

How long do you spend every morning reading or sending emails to members of your team? And I bet those team members are sitting no further than 10 metres from where you sit.

Stand ups are short meetings – maximum 15 minutes - that happen everyday while everyone is standing up. They are an excellent way of getting all the members of your team on the same page very quickly.

They improve communication and collaboration and if used properly, they are a great framework to find synergies amongst all the projects and tasks that your team is working on.

There is not a rule on how they should be run. As with all the practices discussed here, use them to fit your business needs – and feel free to change and tweak them as those needs evolve.

If you give them a try; don’t be discouraged because the first ones don’t feel natural – persist! The return on investment will be enormous.

2.     BUILD A KANBAN WALL

A Kanban wall is nothing more than a way of visualising all the work that your team is currently doing in a physical (or virtual) wall.

The wall is usually broken down into projects and each project or “piece of work” is then broken into smaller tasks that need to be completed in a given period of time (sprints) –usually 2 weeks.

Each project and task is represented by an “index card” and each card usually has an owner associated with that card.

Imagine it as a grid where the columns are the stages of a project or task (i.e.: To do, Planning, Doing and Completed) and the rows are the way you organize your team or projects (i.e.: People, Processes, Technology, etc..)

By making the “work” visible, you provide an environment of transparency and accountability where everyone knows what everyone else is doing and the state of all projects.

A good idea is to organize your stand ups around your Kanban wall every morning and discuss the progress of everyone’s projects and understand what actions you can take that day as a leader to remove roadblocks for your team.

3.     VISUALIZE IT!

How many folders, subfolders, excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint’s and Word documents does your team need to navigate to reach the information they need to do they work?

Following from the same concept as the Kanban Wall, try to make visible as much information as possible for your team. Use physical walls, screens, or whiteboards to display the information they need to do the work: projects, processes, relevant information, metrics, etc…But be careful! If you display metrics, use metrics that are important to the team to do their job; not the ones that management usually want.

One of the best examples I have used in a Contact Centre environment that is applicable for any team is a visual radar that worked as a timeline (6 months on the exterior and today in the centre) and through the different rings (3 months, 2 months, 1 month, etc…) the team placed cards that represented all the projects that the rest of the company was working on. That way, everyone could easily plan accordingly in terms of resources and training for the new projects and products coming in.

4.     HOLD RETROS

Retrospectives, or retros,  are meetings where the team looks back and discusses what has gone well or not so well with a project, period of time or just how things are going generally.

Each member shares their individual thoughts and through the meeting they find alignment on what is really important and what actions the team needs to take to address any issues.

Generally, retros are run after each sprint (2 week period); but they could be used at any point. I find them especially useful at the beginning of a transformation project or when you first join a company or a team. The key is to let the team talk as much as possible and let them find alignment with little intervention or guidance from you. Once the team has decided on the main things they need to address, ask who wants to take the actions and empower and support them to solve those problems. You’ll see how quickly you will move from a culture of blame and complain, to one of empowerment and engagement.

In summary, applying these four or other Agile practices won’t solve all your problems; but if used properly and supported by the right agile mindset, you will see a great improvement in the engagement, empowerment and happiness of your team.