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Agile project life cycle: how to ensure projects stay on track

The third installment of a blog series on the Agile project life cycle reveals how to manage projects successfully by empowering your team.

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Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing Agile pricing and how to incorporate design into Scrum workflows. In the 3rd installment of the Agile project life cycle blog series, we will tackle the topic of managing projects by empowering your team.

There is already a lot written about managing projects to be on time, on budget, well managed by ‘X’ or ‘Y’ methodology, so I am not going to add to this in the usual way. What I am going to address is empowering your team to recognise when things are off track, rather than relying on one person (typically the project manager) to correct the course for you. Although I know a few outstanding project managers who you can trust to do this, it’s a fairly ballsy move to rely so heavily on a hero type to save the day.

Agile methodologies have been very useful to us at SilverStripe as we find we have more opportunity for success through the ‘inspect and adapt’ principle than other methodologies. But let’s face it: it’s not the methodology that wins the day; it’s how well the team can deliver the outcomes to users. I have been involved with Agile projects that have succeeded and some that have failed, as well as waterfall projects that have been successful and some that have failed. It’s not so much about the methodology, but the trust of the team, and the ability to adjust course if things are off track.

Key attributes of a high performing team are:

  • A high level of trust in each other
  • The understanding that everyone is there to do their best work
  • Team members ask for help when they need it without the feeling of failure
  • They call each other out on their bullshit
  • They have control of their ‘destiny’ (or at least how they deliver to an outcome)
  • They do what they say they are going to do
  • They work in a transparent and honest way
  • They do not rely on one person to save the day and own the workload/commitment together as a team
  • They have no problem escalating blockers or issues as they arise and have no risk of it reflecting poorly on them  (a.k.a blame culture)
  • If they find something isn’t working, they call it out and make a new plan – they don’t wait for the end of a sprint/release/project to do this
  • They understand not just how and what they are delivering, but who they are delivering it for, and what problem they are solving for the user

These are just a few clear points on what makes a team work well together, and weather any project storm. If the team are bonded in this way, it’s very difficult for projects to remain off track if they do end up there, as the team will respond accordingly to pull it back on track. These points are also ‘methodology agnostic’, although some methodologies support team empowerment better than others. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing high functioning, stable teams over perfecting a methodology. I highly recommend the client works with the team in a similar way to how they work with each other as it’s equally true they need to trust that their team have got their back.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think that Agile practices, when working well and with discipline, have meant we at SilverStripe have a lot more certainty about project success, and we can say, hand on heart, that we have a higher probability of delivering projects on time and on budget. But I sometimes wonder if the culture at SilverStripe does more to support this than the methodology, or maybe the Agile mindset has formed the culture. Regardless of the cause, I am very proud of our teams, and the work they consistently produce is world class. I have never worked with such a passionate and talented crew as I have at SilverStripe, and I see many of the key attributes reflected in the way they work.

I know I could tell you all of the tricks of the trade about tools and reporting, burn downs and velocity, but really, I would throw those all away for the above traits any day. With teams like these, we could take over the world!

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About the author
Diana Hennessy

Diana heads up the Channel Excellence team at SilverStripe, ensuring clients and partner agencies deliver amazing customer experiences through the web, every time, with the best tools and practices. Diana believes coaching executive level leaders in Agile practices and focusing on practical execution of Digital Transformation strategies is essential in delivering large scale transformations in both government and commercial organisations.

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  • The overall goal of each Agile method is to adapt to change and deliver working software as quickly as possible. However, each methodology has slight variations in the way it defines the phases of software development.

    Posted by Ryan, 27/06/2017 1:40pm (7 years ago)

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