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Applying Agile Concepts

To become a successful Agile team, individuals must understand their roles, collaborate effectively with teammates, and help create an open and flexible working environment. They will need to view their responsibilities and interactions differently than if they were involved in a traditional project. And they will be expected to assume a greater degree of individual accountability, to share information, and to adjust to a team dynamic that emphasizes creativity and openness to change.

Agile Team Roles

Effective Agile teams have several defined roles, including those listed below.

Customers and Stakeholders

Customers and key stakeholders (including senior management and project sponsors) are much more involved in Agile projects than in Waterfall projects. They provide product requirements, just as they do in traditional projects, but then continue to be actively involved in the development process by reviewing iteration results and providing regular feedback. This continuous review helps uncover hidden or unclear requirements that the team can use to modify products. Customers also indirectly set product release dates by defining the minimal amount of functionality they will accept as a new product.

Senior management and project sponsors must accept the boundaries set by the team and understand that not all requested product specifics will be included in the current iteration (if the team finds that they will not fit in the timebox for that iteration or that other requirements of higher priority need to be addressed first). And management may need to adapt their performance assessment systems as well; with Agile, the idea is to measure the results achieved, instead of measuring the time spent on tasks or the costs incurred. A failure to move from an assessment system focused on time and costs can cause a team to cut corners to achieve these measures, which will result in products of poorer quality and negate Agile’s advantages.

Agile Product Owner

The product owner sets the project’s direction. He or she interacts with stakeholders, continuously working to understand their needs, and to combine all of their requirements into a single voice that shapes the product into a coherent product vision. The product owner achieves the vision by creating and maintaining a product backlog and removing any external impediments to team progress. By focusing on the external elements of the project (the collection of customer requirements, funding for projects, organizational strategic vision, portfolio management), he or she allows the team to concentrate on delivering value to customers.

Agile Project Manager

An Agile project manager doesn’t control projects as much as he or she facilitates them. The Agile project manager has little or no authority over the team (for example, assigning work or directing tasks) as the team is meant to be self-directed by design; instead, the project manager focuses on the Agile process and on enabling the team. He or she looks to keep team members focused on their goals, while also striving to ensure that the Agile processes are free from interference and outside distractions. For example, the project manager should prevent stakeholders from delaying or interrupting work-in-progress* with requests for additional product features or more-frequent review processes.

A project manager ideally should be technically proficient in the processes used to create the product; this will help not only in translating technical terms into simple language when dealing with the product owner but also in assisting and training team members in communicating with non-technical people.

Agile Team Members

When Agile team members work together effectively, Agile projects succeed by delivering products that customers truly want. Team members collaborate with the product owner to understand the project vision and product requirements, but they ultimately decide how it will be built. They select the amount of work that they believe they can accomplish in an iteration from the prioritized product backlog, and then break the requirements into specific tasks to complete. While they work within the boundaries set by the product and project manager, they decide how they’ll work together to satisfy requirements and meet the vision.

Agile Coach

Some organizations employ an Agile coach to help their teams understand and implement Agile principles. The job of an Agile coach is to support Agile practitioners, not to direct them; for example, coaches will expose challenges and help teams employ the Agile framework to solve problems but will not provide the solution themselves. Coaches describe and delineate roles, explain Agile concepts, and answer any questions that arise. They deepen the practitioners’ understanding of Agile practices and help team members grow into the roles required.

Team Environment

Agile teams work best in an open, collaborative environment. Once the tasks for an iteration have been agreed to, team members need to be able to work together to develop the best solution to the project at hand.

To ensure this will happen, Agile organizations need to develop what is called an empirical process—one that sets the boundaries of the project but lets the work processes develop as needed within those boundaries. Team members must be allowed to explore new approaches to problem-solving and to adapt as needed. They must be trusted to produce results with little interference or interruption from stakeholders. And they should be physically co-located, to allow them to collaborate, solve problems, share ideas, and develop innovative alternatives.

Agile is designed to be a self-correcting process; at the end of each iteration, the lessons learned are used to make adjustments. But Agile teams still need planning and some documentation to succeed. Not planning for potential risks can lead to catastrophic results, and relying too much on adaptation at the end of each iteration can lead to project delays and increased rework as adjustments are made and re-made. Planning is still important for Agile projects, but practitioners must always remember that following the plan is not the goal; making the right product is the goal.

An effective Agile environment is a learning environment; it allows for continuous innovation and adaptation. It supports the team in accomplishing its work, with little management oversight and a quick return on investment. It creates a space where staff feel empowered and free to explore and contribute their skills to the creation of exciting results. It establishes a competitive advantage because it delivers products to the market faster and at a lower cost.

Team Dynamic

Agile teams need to be staffed with the right people—that is, team members who have the correct technical and interpersonal skills and can work with minimal supervision. They must be comfortable with change and be able to work with processes and practices that allow change to occur. They must understand the project’s boundaries and then work autonomously within those boundaries. They will make decisions in conjunction with other team members and collaborate with customers to shape products and adapt to inevitable changes. They’ll hold each other accountable for accomplishing the work that the team agreed to do, and they’ll hold themselves accountable to get results. They must consistently share information, help the team overcome obstacles, and meet their goals.

Self-Organizing Teams

Team members must understand that once the work boundaries are set, they are accountable for managing their own workload and completing the work on time. They must recognize that all of the tasks in the task list are the collective responsibility of the team; there are no “experts” on the team and any team member may need to work on any of the tasks. Partially completed work is no longer turned over or handed off to another group or department; the team must complete every task in the project. The product owner and project manager are available to guide and advise team members, but no authority figure will direct their activities or tell them how to complete their responsibilities.

Review Checkpoint

To test your understanding of the content presented in this assignment, please choose the correct answer

1. Which of the following statements about Agile product owners is true?Choose only one answer below.

a. They ensure that Agile processes are free from external interference.

b. They decide how the product will be built.

c. They set the project’s direction.

Correct. Agile product owners combine stakeholder requirements into a coherent vision that sets the direction of the project.

d. They help teams understand and implement Agile practices.

2. An effective Agile environment ________.Choose only one answer below.

a. allows for continuous innovation and adaptation

Correct. An effective Agile environment is a learning environment that allows for continuous adaptation and innovation.

b. specifies which processes team members should follow to complete their work, allowing them to concentrate on the tasks at hand

c. provides a quick return on investment as a result of extensive management oversight

d. separates team members into individual workspaces that provide quiet places to work

3. Once the project boundaries are set, who is responsible for ensuring that the team completes its work?Choose only one answer below.

a. The product owner

b. The team

Correct. Once the project boundaries are set, the team members are accountable for managing their own workload and completing the work on time.

c. The project manager

d. The Agile coach

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