Have you ever been confronted with an impatient CEO who is wants the business to be more nimble and able to capitalize on emerging opportunities and outpace the competition? This might be an all-too familiar scenario. With companies big and small becoming increasingly dependent on tech in all areas of their operations, it’s critical for IT to cultivate and practice flexibility in response to rapidly changing business needs. Fortunately, thanks to the IT agility that results from using the agile methodology, there are many smart techniques your team can use to tackle this new reality with energy and resilience.
IT agility and why it matters
Although the agile framework was originally created for software development, it’s now being used to deliver value on a broader scale throughout the business. People even talk about agile marketing and agile human resources. So how can IT agility benefit your team?
If you’ve ever managed a traditional project like rolling out a new mobility solution, you’ve probably run into every project manager’s nightmare: encountering a new requirement or seemingly unwelcome change just before launch. Traditional project management processes like the waterfall approach—which require you to tackle work in separate phases with requirements fully defined upfront—don’t handle these sudden changes well. But since these out-of-the-blue changes are a regularly recurring feature of IT projects, we need a better solution to responding to them.
An agile approach allows you to stay focused on your main goal while flexibly responding to emerging challenges and opportunities that inevitably show up along the way. By adopting iterative, two-to-four week sprints (work cycles), which allow you to break work into bite-sized chunks, you have an opportunity to review where you are at each incremental point in the project before beginning a new piece of work. You can also choose to accommodate any changing requirements that may be surfacing at each point along the way. This is in line with values promoted in the Agile Manifesto, which tout a “ship early, ship often” approach—putting the customer at the center and promoting constructive collaboration.
While this approach fosters more flexible project management, it can also pose a challenge when it comes to team dynamics. An agile team doesn’t behave like a regular project team and needs special care to work well.
Assembling an agile team
It’s essential to build an IT team that can quickly react to changes and continually improve itself, all while staying on task in a rapidly changing environment. Sound fun? This begins with forming a cross-functional team that eliminates silos. You may even want to include a non-tech colleague when assembling your team, depending on the circumstances, to ensure steady feedback from your customers or main stakeholders. You also need to make sure that each member of the team is dependable, both in terms of submitting work on time and communicating well within the group. Without good communication, a breakdown in the psychological safety that is so critical to agile team success will quickly ensue, endangering the project’s progress. Your team needs to be stable, self-healing, and resilient when things don’t go according to plan—ideally without an active, guiding hand from leadership. Your team should also view mistakes or challenges as learning opportunities rather than show-stopping obstacles.
As an agile IT team leader, you need to prioritize communication even more than you might when leading a traditional project. This means giving clear overall goals for your project and incremental objectives that your team will tackle in each sprint. It also means supporting and encouraging frequent, collaborative communication within the team.
Foster a culture of trust and empowerment in your group. This might include inviting team members to participate in the planning process or providing them with specific roles and positions of authority within the project according to their skills. As they become more experienced, your team members will develop and strengthen the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities that will serve your business well, time after time, project after project.
The agile way
Ultimately, IT agility represents a more current, customer-focused approach to IT service delivery. If you and your team have ever been told that you need to be more responsive and less stuck on procedure or policy (like pretty much every IT department on the planet, no doubt), you probably want to take a look at the flexibility an agile approach can offer. You don’t have to abandon due diligence or discipline—far from it—but you may just find that you’re able to navigate and adapt to changes more easily as they come. That’s a capability any IT team would love to have in abundance.