5 tell-tale signs your teams may not be as agile as you think

Arguably these are the world’s most popular and best-performing tech stocks, also known as FAANG.

What is a common thread running across them? They are all super competitive, highly innovative, truly agile organizations. In the 1960s, the average life-span of organizations on the Fortune 500 list was nearly 60 years. Today, it is down to 18 years and is likely to go down further in the years to come.

Now, more than ever before, teams need to be able to respond to a rapid and ever-changing business environment. They need to be truly agile.

    • 1

      Ignorance is bliss – or is it?

      Both India and China grapple with serious air pollution problems. In fact, the ten most polluted cities in the world are now in India. Yet when it comes to measures such as the number of air purifiers sold, China bought 6 million of them in 2017, while India bought just around 200,000.

      So why the stark contrast in uptake?

      In 2014, the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared war on pollution at the National Peoples’ Congress. The address was telecast live to millions. This was followed by awareness campaigns and billions of dollars were committed to the fight against pollution. There has been no such initiative of that scale in India.

      The level of awareness drives people’s behavior.

      If the vision of an organization, the project or even the Business/Product owners are not known to everyone, teams can act in a manner that is at odds with the best interests of the organization and the business objective.

      Tell-tale sign 1: Teams are kept in the dark

      Some or all team members being oblivious to the vision, one-sided meetings with little participation and lack of team participation in business review meetings.

      What you can do:

      - Communicate the vision to the entire team, repeatedly if needed, and preferably by business persons
      - Paste the idea up on the team area wall, if it helps
      - Find ways to encourage the alignment actions to the vision
    • 2

      Gladiator running the show?

      We all love and crave for top performers in our teams because we believe one top performer is better than several "average" performers – a "gladiator" who can take on several challenges all at once. But what about situations where ideation is needed, with multiple pairs of eyes to bring in different perspectives and skills to the table.

      Agile software delivery is a "team sport" often compared to rugby. Having a top performer in your team will almost always lead to situations where others start feeling alienated. Individual performances will begin to matter more than team goals and commitment, ultimately leading to a catastrophic failure.

      Tell-tale sign 2: Relying on one person on the team

      Disproportionate reliance on one or two members in a team, poor participation by other team members and all going well until the "gladiator" moves onto another project or leaves the organization.

      What you can do:

      - Encourage every single member in the team to contribute and participate
      - Share knowledge actively on the team
      - Conduct team-building exercises regularly
    • 3

      With or without you?

      If your teams believe and follow the values and principles of agile, team meetings would be well facilitated, crisp and timeboxed. What would happen if you took the facilitator (scrum master in most cases) out of such meetings? Would the meetings still occur? Would they be as effective? Remember, agile teams are self-organized. Such teams do not wait for others to provide solutions or to take things forward.

      Tell-tale sign 3: The scrum master is an ineffective facilitator

      Stand-ups, reviews, retrospectives and other meetings that are usually facilitated, either do not happen or are not effective, if the facilitator is not always present.

      What you can do:

      - Identify and address the problem, since these are signs of a broader problem
      - Motivate and engage the team in new activities that lay out a path for self-organization
      - Introduce a culture change within the team. It may require support from leaders and individuals outside of the team
    • 4

      Yes, sir!

      We are genetically programmed to command and control. Since ancient times when we were hunters, there was a hierarchy in place, and for a good reason. Now, in the new age which requires us to let go of command and control in areas of the economy where there are knowledge workers, it is natural and expected for many to struggle.

      Tell-tale sign 4: Command and Control

      Teams are always looking for direction. What is to be done, how and by when is handed out to the teams. There is little or no innovation, teams continue to work in the exact same manner endlessly, without inspecting and adapting.

      What you can do:

      - Sensitize the scrum master or the manager
      - Get the leadership support, if needed
      - Show the business what is in it for them if we move away from command and control and move towards self-organization
  • 5

    Mirage or reality?

    Nobody likes bad news on a project, especially when a lot is riding on it. What makes a bad situation worse though, is trying to conceal or sugarcoat the problem in the reporting that is done. How often do we come across projects where the reporting is all green? And, even when everything seems to be going okay, the project falls off a cliff!

    Tell-tale 5: Inaccurate reporting

    Using vanity metrics, watermelon reporting, and a last-minute push to turn indicators green by working backward.

    What you can do:

    - Select the right KPIs, carefully
    - Be open and transparent – Call out issues at the right time
    - Keep it simple – Remember what matters the most is delivering the right feature first, with maximum efficiency. All reporting is secondary.

There are several other tell-signs that you need to look out for and take it upon yourself to address them from time to time. Otherwise, the cost of ignoring them will continue to mount up.