In my last post, I wrote about the ultimate goal that defines my teams success: obsessing about our customers. Where I struggle with this is how to do it well, consistently and grow stronger as a team whilst putting this into practice.
There are so many other things that pull me and my team away from this focus. Daily distractions, changing expectations, unplanned work and other inefficiencies that feel like pulling my attention away from being customer focussed.
The Agile Promise
With an intent of ‘uncovering better ways of developing software’, most teams know and adopt Agile development as a philosophy, or a way of thinking about the process of developing software to improve their team’s chances of success. The description of this way of thinking in the Agile Manifesto, a collection of 4 values and 12 principles, embraces radical transparency, customer led decisions and reflective practice as some of the principles that can improve team success.
There are agile ceremonies and practices to follow that aim to keep the team’s wheels turning, ever focussed on the customer. I like to think of these as guardrails that keep us on track. They’re helpful, and very specific to how the work is done and the methods by which we develop and deliver software to our customers.
Building a successful team culture: the daily juggle…and struggle
There’s something though for me that bridges the lofty goal of team success and the day to day methods of delivering software. The Agile Values and Principles definitely influence what I’m referring to, but there are other things that sit somewhere in between. They’re subtle, more nuanced and less explicit. It’s what’s not said, as much as what is said, the behaviours that are expected, accepted and ignored. I guess they’re the inputs into driving a healthy and vibrant team culture of success.
These characteristics of high performing teams are what we all need to grapple with on a daily basis whilst we juggle with the actual doing of developing software. It’s this juggle that can also be the struggle! When we do grasp them, the team’s journey can be just as successful as the destination of delighting our customers.
I share below some of the thinking from others that has helped me along the way.
Correlating the critical success factors of a team that drive success
In a 2018 study titled ‘Correlation of critical success factors with success of software projects’, the authors advocate for organisational factors, team factors and customer factors that can be correlated with most influencing success. I expand out the team factors below. In the study, survey participants rated the degree to which these factors most influenced their success. Which if these do you think your team would rank as critical to their goal of continually delighting your customers?
- Team commitment
- Internal team communication
- Team empowerment
- Team composition
- Team’s general expertise (software engineering and project management)
- Team’s expertise in the task and domain
- Team’s experience with the development methodologies
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”
Project Aristotle, a comprehensive study at Google on the characteristics that lead to a high-performing team highlights five key factors that are supported by Agile management practices:
- Psychological Safely: can we take risks in this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
- Dependability: can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
- Structure and clarity: are goals, roles and execution plans on our team clear?
- Meaning of Work: are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
- Impact of work: do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
Boosting success through what motivates us
I’ve also seen team success referred to as a mindset, where we collectively harness the power of intrinsic motivation to serve and delighting our customers. In Drive, the surprising truth of what motivates us, Daniel Pink advocates for delivering success through tapping people’s intrinsic motivation by giving them greater autonomy, enabling them the to master skills they want to develop and creating purpose. This is an incredibly helpful framework that lends itself easily to boosting the success of Agile teams.
- Autonomy: we know that successful agile teams are self-directing and possess the necessary skills to deliver their work – with as few dependencies as possible.
- Mastery: each team typically wants to undertake their work to a high standard – delivering maximum value and avoiding crippling technical debt – they also want to be supported by the types of processes and tools that help them to be agile (and ensure tight delivery and feedback loops), not hinder them.
- Purpose: perhaps we can consider this from the alternate perspective – i.e. what happens when teams do not well understand the value they provide to customers and or the reason their existence. Teams without a purpose often spend their time on value-less work thereby failing to deliver maximum value.
Making sure we’re all flying in the same direction
These are three different ways of thinking that have helped me to consciously and intentionally build a healthy and vibrant team culture that will boost our team’s success. They are by no means mutually exclusive with many overlapping themes with each other and with the Agile Values and Principles. They are however incredibly useful when reflecting as a leader of agile delivery team on how I can elevate out of the day-to-day, address what’s holding my team back and set the right tone to bolster our success. The struggle eases, the juggle never goes. We’re more in synch, and better still when we’re flying in the same direction as a result.
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