Agile for Non-Technical Teams
What is Agile?
Agile methodologies are a set of rules first designed specifically for managing software development. Unlike traditional management tactics, Agile allows different teams to cooperate in a faster, more efficient and less stressful way by better allocating the workload between team members. Jeff Sutherland, author of ‘Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half’, popularised this concept and divided the world of business into before and after Agile.
Agile is not about bureaucracy, corporation culture and self-sacrifice in the name of work. The key ideas are transparency, flexibility, and visibility. Agile advocates planning for only as much work as you can handle, analyzing where improvements will increase efficiency, and seeing the end goal to which every team member contributes.
Why should non-technical teams be Agile?
Traditionally, tech teams embraced Agile more enthusiastically than non-tech teams. However, Agile has benefits to offer to every business. Given that 56% of employees reported that stress and anxiety impacted their workplace performance, it is of paramount importance to minimize this number, which Agile achieves by breaking complex tasks into smaller ones.
Also, different departments of one company can use Agile to simplify communication between themselves and to remove any obstacles which prevent them from working effectively towards the same goals. Agile methodology can be especially effective for marketing and sales teams that work in tech companies.
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Easy steps to start with Agile
A year ago, my team at Lemon.io decided to adopt the Agile principles for our non-tech teams. We have since learned that for the best results, you will have to experiment, embracing the things that make your work easier, while rejecting those which stress your team even more. You don’t have to follow the rules for the sake of following the rules. Here are 5 crucial Agile principles, which have worked well for our team:
Kanban board is a tool for tracking a team’s workflow. It can be an online platform or a real board in the office with stickers, where everyone indicates the tasks accordingly to the stage of their development. The basic Kanban board consists of 4 stages: backlog, selected for development, in progress, done.
The best part of this feature is that you can visualize the tasks you have to do by assigning them to the appropriate columns. This helps to avoid the situation where some team members are overloaded while others have nothing to do. Besides that, every employee is more motivated to work hard, as they see how important their part in the process of achieving the greater goal is.
Sprints are the short iterations of the working process during which team-members work on a pre-arranged list of tasks. Usually, non-tech teams prefer a one-week sprint, which is a perfect length to deal with short deadline projects. However, feel free to choose whatever timing is the most efficient for your business. The only rule is that every sprint has to be of the same length. Remember, every time you are preparing for the next sprint, try to include 30% more work than you think you can do, so you can increase productivity every sprint.
Daily standups are an everyday procedure, during which the team-members share what was done yesterday and the plans for today. They simplify the communication between the teams and keep these interactions on a regular basis. Daily standups are a good time to discuss the obstacles which you faced the previous day. Also, they are a great opportunity to ask co-workers for help or to remind them about the tasks they forgot to do.
Some companies prefer standups in real life, but in our case, chatting is more efficient as it takes less time and avoids long talks, which often disorganize the whole working process. Another reason we prefer chatting is that the majority of our team works remotely and without any specific schedule, so it would be hard to choose a time that suited everyone.
At Lemon.io, we do retrospective discussions once per week, where we share the achievements of the previous sprint. If we feel that the team could have done a better performance, we are trying to find out what was done wrong and how to avoid it in the future. These kinds of discussions are of high importance before planning the next sprints, as they help to get the right understanding of what has to be done first. As we grew and mastered our planning and consistent workflows, we’ve discovered we didn’t need as many retrospective meetings as in the beginning. So now we use them only once in a while when it’s needed.
At Lemon.io we use Trello as a Kanban board. It is very versatile and simple to navigate. It is perfect for non-tech and/or smaller teams. You can modify the columns and adjust them to the specificity of your work. For example, we added the column ‘Review’, when we are waiting for someone’s final approval on the work done. Also, it is free to use and has many useful power-ups.
Slack is a perfect place for daily standups. Our team has a separate channel that has reminders for every member. This platform helps our team to follow a certain format for communication. In addition, you can have separate chats regarding different working processes (development, marketing, HR, etc.)
Weekly planning sessions and retrospectives are done in Gmail and sometimes in Google Hangouts. If we feel that some questions need an immediate discussion between a few members, Hangouts is a perfect tool for this.
A year on after adopting Agile methodology we can say for sure, that it is worth trying, despite all the complications that might arise. It has been a great help in managing the team’s work, reducing the level of stress of the employees and increasing their productivity. However, while becoming an Agile team, stay flexible and creative. Don’t be scared to experiment with the aforementioned concepts and to transform them the way they would work for you. Agile is not about following the rules, it is about adapting them to the workflow of the team.