Agile Project
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It’s not Agile. It’s your Organization: How to Improve Your Project’s Effectiveness

There are 1,000 reasons why an agile project drifts off the rails. And once it does, it’s difficult to get it back on track. After years of leading agile teams at consultancies large and small, I’ve identified two key mistakes that when overlooked, can wreak havoc. The good news is that they are easily correctable.

Authorize The Product Owner

The biggest reason that most agile projects fail is because the team isn’t empowered to be autonomous and make tactical decisions on their own, and in some cases, this swells up to a Product Owner who hasn’t been authorized to make decisions on behalf of the project.

A Product Owner’s primary job description is to be the sole decision-maker and visionary for what the product will be once delivered. That includes the writing of the product requirements and acceptance criteria, deciding on the design approach, accepting user stories once completed, and along with the Project Manager/ScrumMaster, shielding the team from outside influences.

That’s a lot of important tasks to accomplish and without assigning a proper resource to fill that need, your agile project will have a tough time realizing the benefits of rapidly iterating and potentially releasing software every sprint.

For many organizations, this is a challenging problem to solve. Your people have day jobs. They have responsibilities and moonlighting as product owner of a new project means that their existing role may suffer. That is why we recommend assigning someone full-time to the Product Owner role. Let that person dedicate themselves 100% to the success of the project and be rewarded for a job well-done after successfully completing it. Not only will this provide your people with a change of pace from their normal responsibilities, it will also offer new challenges and opportunities for personal growth within the organization, which positively affects employee satisfaction and retention.

Optimize The Culture

A second big challenge that organizations face is optimizing the culture to fully adopt an Agile methodology. If the entire team isn’t onboard and working as one with support from key leadership personnel, chances are you will struggle with proper implementation. Here are a few tips that will help you align the entire team:

  1. Nurture Self-Organization, But Measure Results: Autonomy should always be encouraged, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved. Work together with your Project Manager or ScrumMaster to set the baseline but let them figure out the mechanics of how to deliver it for you. If you happen to be running a program with several projects, gain cross-project alignment and impose program-wide requirements such as sprint length or tool usage. It may be difficult at first, but you will see cohesion and improvement over time. Guaranteed.
  2. Make Retrospectives and Team-Building Part of the Plan: The best teams build friendships; even remotely. Encourage a culture of transparency and openness where it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. And don’t forget to utilize your retrospective time. Slow down for an hour to capture the pulse on the team. For new teams, keep it strictly business and talk project-related improvements. Over time, as the team grows closer, start researching new ways to do retrospectives. There are hundreds of possibilities online. Pick one and try it out. Understand what makes your people tick and what motivates them to not only do a good job individually, but also as a part of the greater team and organization.
  3. Support Active Participation in Sprint Review: Especially From The Loud Ones: Sprint reviews are the cornerstone of an agile project. This is the meeting where results are expected and the team must justify their time spent in the previous sprint. Urge participation from Stakeholders, C-Level Executives, and key End-Users as they will provide invaluable feedback and shape future iterations of the product. And don’t forget to remind “Boisterous Bob” to participate. His critiques will be some of the most valuable feedback you get. They will also keep your team on their toes. Trust me on this one.

Regardless of whether you are leading a mature agile shop or are just beginning on your agile journey, take a moment to reflect on your project’s framework; has a product owner been identified and empowered? Is the organization’s culture optimized to support the team? If either answer is no, there could be trouble ahead.

At BeyondCurious, we help organizations avoid these challenges by providing Certified Project Managers who have been prepared for challenging and complex situations through BeyondCurious Academy, our proprietary agile innovation program. Contact us to learn more.

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