Lessons Learned as an Agile Noob
When I first arrived at CA Technologies I was a total agile noob. Currently, I am a marketing rotation associate. (Still an agile noob). As a marketing rotation associate, I get the opportunity to, in essence, work with a few different teams over three, eight-month-long iterations. Working with the folks within the agile management business unit has been such a great opportunity. To give you a little more perspective into my background I just graduated from Baylor University where I studied Marketing and Corporate Innovation.
I had previously thought that agility only followed the definition found on Wikipedia, “The ability to change the body’s position efficiently, and requires the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance.” The agility I first heard about in college a few years ago sure wasn’t this. After playing a few sports growing up I figured I could find some similarities between my old definition of agility and this brand-new idea of agility. This was not the case. Being truly agile in processes, workflow, and collaboration takes practice and lots of organization.
My new Wikipedia definition for agility specifically centered around agile software development says, “Requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s). It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continual improvement.” (Wikipedia) After participating in various agile ceremonies I have learned a few things I think may be worth thinking about wherever you may be in your agile journey.
1. Being agile isn’t all about finishing tasks quickly, it is about constantly learning.
Agile teams and successful agile companies understand that projects do not always go according to plan. Instead of finishing tasks to finish tasks, working within a mindset aware of agility gives you the ability to learn from mistakes. Part of being agile is understanding that at any moment things could not go as planned. Successful agile teams respond to real-time problems by building in capacity and giving themselves some room to breathe.
2. Agile processes lead to increased collaboration and long-term teamwork.
When I first began sitting in on and eventually participating in certain agile ceremonies like standups and one on one meetings I felt like they were almost forced. I didn’t understand why my team would meet even if we didn’t necessarily have anything new to be talked about. After some time of growing with my team, I began to understand that constant and efficient communication becomes the platform from which everyone can flourish within the team. Coming from college this depth of collaboration felt a little weird. I was used to receiving a problem and was expected to answer it alone, and absolutely on time. Working in a mindset of collaboration allows for each member of the team to agree on a set of values from which they can work towards a similar goal. This way, whenever challenges arise the team can respond to the changing needs aligned in goals and values.
3. Agility is hard. Agility is an intentional, company-wide decision.
I came from a small, startup software company that claimed to be fully agile. They did daily standups and the development team worked well together at certain times. However, becoming an agile organization requires full dedication from leadership and each employee in the company. To scale agile throughout all facets of an organization each member needs to understand that they are leaders in their respective roles. Being a leader simply looks like taking initiative to make changes towards collaboration, increased communication, and increased flexibility.
4. Doing agile and being agile are not the same.
I know people who fit the initial definition of doing “agile”. They are flexible, open to learning, and willing to change plans to provide more value at the drop of a hat. However, being agile requires more than one person falling into this mentality. Anyone can do agile by taking advantage of the little things that make their daily tasks more efficient. In order to successfully “be agile,” a group of individuals must think from a broader perspective, curating value for the organization and striving for its main goals.
5. Cut agility down to the absolute essentials.
Simplicity is sophistication when it comes to agile development processes. While agile seems conceptually easy, it can prove to be quite difficult. Since agility has become more subjective the more places it has been used instead of trying to create the most perfect process, instead, focus on organizational change and the creation of new communication networks. When beginning an agile journey, it can be easy to feel like your team needs to include every detail, however, most teams find that these details can gradually become harder and harder to keep track of as changes occur.
Things are happening quicker. People are making decisions faster. As a new member of an agile team, I believe business agility holds value. Although I may not know everything about agility, I do know it has changed the way I do work. Focusing on agility allows me to be more flexible, get things done more efficiently, and it has given me a reason to look forward to working with others. I hope my tips from a noob serve as a reminder to focus on the basics of agility, and I hope they guide you on your agile journey.
About the Author
Steven Black has always enjoyed thinking critically and analyzing and solving certain problems. He attended Baylor University and recently graduated with degrees in Marketing and Corporate Innovation. While at Baylor he worked for a start-up software company where he gained a basic understanding of agile principles and modern software development. While attending Baylor University he learned more about consumer behavior and the ever-changing technology industry. Steven finds his product marketing work to be fulfilling, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Steven is pictured with his sister, Emma.