Cooking an Agile Team - What are the 3 ingredients to a sustainable Agile team?

08/04/2019 by Paulene Duque

I had this realization when I was cooking one time: I realized that building an Agile team is similar to cooking. With the right ingredients and recipe, you will be able to create a team that constantly performs and satisfies clients. Does this interest you? 

I bet it does. Let me share with you 3 ingredients that will help you cook a sustainable Agile team. 

Ingredient #1 - Know what you’re cooking

While this looks like a no-brainer, believe me, there are times that we forget what we’re cooking!  

Many times, organizations are like that when building Agile teams. A manager will say “Hey, let’s create an Agile team. I found a guide in the Internet we can follow.” And poof, once they apply it, they become frustrated with the outcome and screams “This is not what I expected it to be!” 

Agile teams have a simple recipe - people with the skill set needed, guidelines on how to work together and a target taste or experience towards the end; which is client satisfaction. But at the end of the day, like in cooking it depends one important thing - the cook. Does the cook know what they’re cooking? Do they know what the recipe tastes like? In the Agile context, that is the Agile champion. Do you know Agile by heart? Do you know the team that you’re creating? Do you know the outcome that you want to achieve? 

Great and sustainable Agile teams are not created overnight. It requires the leader to understand deeply what Agile is and cascade that vision to the team he builds. 

Ingredient #2 - Know your team (and what they do) 

One cooking challenge we may encounter in cooking is every cook’s nightmare - it doesn’t taste the same. All the ingredients are already in the pot, cooking together but when we taste it, it lacks something we cannot pinpoint. Until we realize what we do not know - which is very crucial - we don’t know how each ingredient tastes like. That’s why we don’t know where to adjust.  

As we build teams, it is important for us to know who our team members are. A team member is anyone directly responsible in getting the product or outcome done. It can be the developer, tester, UI/UX, business analyst, etc. They satisfy the first item in the Agile team recipe which are the people with the required skill sets. But as the Agile champion, it’s not enough to know their role, but to also know their goals individually and as a team. It is important to know how they approach their role and how they blend with other team members to achieve the desired team goal.  

There was a time when I was assigned to be a scrum master of a team who is tightly knit. They were so close to one another to the point that they hang out most of the time outside work. While they have that good relationship, they can’t share feedback to one another. Everytime we do a retrospective, they can’t open up to one another about work-related stuff as much as they can on a personal level. This led to a recurring accountability issue for a couple of sprints. With the goal to end the cycle, I decided to talk to them one by one. I realized that some of them have concerns with speaking face-to-face, some are highly technical and some shows intense passion with their line of work. Luckily, there was someone who was comfortable to share feedback after our one-on-one and volunteered to express and open this to the team. When he raised this to the team during our daily scrum meeting, the team appreciated the feedback and started creating small changes.  

Knowing who can do what to make a team thrive, in project and by behavior, is an important ingredient to sustainable teams. 

Ingredient #3 - Adapt and experiment 

If you’ve been cooking for quite some time, there will be moments when you’re so excited to create something and realize that you don’t have the usual ingredients to make it happen. Changes like these are inevitable. What does it call us to do? Adapt and experiment. 

Our teams won’t be the same as who they were when we first met them. This is the cheesy bit of the “team recipe” - how the team works together. In sustaining a team, it is required to spice things up a bit by not getting stuck with the usual Scrum routine.  

One example is when conducting retrospectives. The team will come in and then they start writing what went well, what went wrong, etc. The discussion starts, comes up with action items and then end meeting. While there’s nothing wrong with the process, the question is - how’s your team doing during this time? Are they engaging? Do they look forward to it? Are the ideas they presented fresh and relevant? If it’s not, then there should be a twist on how we do these things. 

This is our important role as an Agile champion. We should keep the team interested and motivated at all times. One of the principles of agility states to “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” So, what happens when an individual or the entire team is not motivated enough? Their productivity starts going downhill; which can later affect how the product being created. 

To prevent this from happening, we need to spark creativity in the team. These are activities that pick their minds and allow them to engage with one another. Some ideas can be creating knowledge sharing sessions, doing meetings outside the office or related to my example on retrospective, change the retrospective questions! You can make the questions more interesting and engaging like instead of “What went well”, we say “Let’s celebrate”. That will make the teams feel that they’re celebrating what they have accomplished last sprint. 

Spice things up a bit and spark creativity with your team. Have fun and enjoy 

In cooking, most cooks have this theory that your dish will taste depending on how you feel when you were cooking it. It has been the case during this cooking journey of mine. When I’m frustrated and started cooking, even if I got the ingredients and recipe right, it’s no fun to eat at all. But when I’m enjoying what I do, I also get to reward myself with a sumptuous dish. 

In my entire career, I’ve noticed different types of teams. Some are too focused on their projects, some are easy-going, and there are some that’s enjoying and delivering at the same time. What we’re trying to achieve is the last one - to have our teams deliver client satisfaction and enjoy what they do.  

Creating and sustaining a team is not easy. But with the right recipe and ingredients, your team can make it through the changes that will come along their way and still provide satisfaction.  

Happy cooking! 

Paulene Duque is an Agile coach based in Manila, Philippines focusing on Agile transformation, training and development. She believes that the best way to live life is to have agility – to find comfort in embracing change and improving everyday.
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