Monday, October 28, 2013

Is Agile Team too ‘Tactical”

Agility is the ability to adapt to the change. It takes both strategy and tactics. 

Practicing Agile has many benefits with three “I’ (Incremental, Interactive and Iterative) characteristics. However, some practitioners warn that Agile teams have a tendency to focus on tactical accomplishments at the expense of strategic goals. Is it true, If so, how did you handle it?

This can happen. And if so, it’s a management problem. This is one of the weaknesses of most Agile practice. 'Going Agile' shouldn't be a pretext for forgetting the big picture of what the project is all about. Sometimes you keep working on tiny stories that everyone (including the Product Owner) loses the big picture vision. Engineering teams can get caught in operations and forget longer term strategy. This is a sign of leadership deficiency and rewards given for the wrong things.

You need to think business goals strategically before embarking on a project. Keep in mind only about 3 percent of the population thinks strategically, the rest tactically. Usually engineering teams are like a tactical strike force. They are interested in tactical accomplishments. It is up to organizational leadership and management to well blend the strategic focus with tactical implementation. Without strategic leadership, vision typically gets lost in translation through the organization. Teams are part of the overall picture. The team implements part of the vision of leadership.

A truly cross-functional agile team tends to have the different levels of focus needed to cater for both the technical and business goals that the project is trying to reach. Developers often have a tendency to focus on the means to the solution and may well lose sight of the overall strategy. There may be reasons where you cannot share certain details due to sensitivity, but most teams perform best when the understanding why what they are doing is important to the business and what goals are to be accomplished. The challenge is when the folks who have an interest and strong opinions (but no accountability) disagree with direction from top. One of the functions of the owners is to make sure that the project is proceeding in a useful direction. That is also a product of well defined stories that deliver sequentially useful and visible results. 

It's very important for the entire team to be aware of the overall vision of the project and the product(s) being produced to meet that vision. Leaders need to keep in mind three key things: Vision, Message and Execution. Have a vision, articulate that vision well throughout the organization and surround yourself with those who can execute on that vision. This is especially important in terms of being able to successfully do 'emergent design'. The awareness of what is planned to come is required in terms of 'leaving room' for the other upcoming features, both in the architecture and even elements such as the UI.

Agile - and specifically Scrum in the software world is the good way to ensure that you actually do execute what you plan - it enables you to do the right stuff quickly and efficiently, and always keep re-aligning to the business objectives and key priorities. These are the "Goal-driven" Sprints (the real intention of Scrum) and the same also applies with the Release Planning activities (a defined Release Goal - typically a set of objectives). 

Therefore, a high performing agile team should be strategic enough to fulfill business vision and tactical enough to deliver the project with customer satisfaction timely. 


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