Preparing the Foundation for High Performing Agile Teams

Preparing the Foundation for High Performing Agile Teams

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Every software company wants high-performing software development teams working on their projects. Easy right?

  • Recruit and hire an experienced Agile product owner. Check!

  • Recruit and hire an experienced Agile scrummaster. Check!

  • Recruit and hire 4-7 highly skilled Agile developers. Check!

So now you have your high-performing all-star team! Good luck…

I’ve been a member of a team like this and I can tell you, pure skill will not get you where you want to be. The experience of others who’ve failed in this situation is invaluable. Let’s step back a bit and make sure we’re preparing the foundation for our high-performing team properly.

Step 1 – Study the Agile Manifesto

Don’t simply read it. STUDY it. It will likely come intuitively on your first read and you will think ‘Simple, I’ve got this.’ Trust me, you don’t. It will take time to understand why the four values are so important, and even more time to intuitively make decisions based on the 12 principles. Keep in mind, the Agile Manifesto resulted from 17 of the best minds in the industry, coming together and uncovering better ways of developing software based on their combined experience. These folks know what they are talking about. Each value and principle is there for a reason. Read between the lines and apply them to your daily work habits.

The key Agile principle we are addressing in this article is:

“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

Step 2 – Study Scrum

Again, study is the key. Merely grasping the concept at a high level is not actually doing Scrum. Conducting daily stand-ups is not Scrum. Skipping steps is not Scrum. It takes practice, trial and error, failure, reflection, discipline and determination to get it right. Even then, Scrum is not perfect and needs to evolve as your company grows. I recommend treating your Scrum process like you would your product. Make iterative improvements over time. Attend Scrum training courses and read as much as you can about the framework. Follow Scrum groups on LinkedIn and attend local Agile meet-up groups. I’ve been doing this for over a year and still learn something new at every meeting.

Step 3 – Take Care of Your Hygiene

Not your personal hygiene (although still very important :). I’m referring to Hygiene in the context of the Herzberg Motivation-Hygiene Theory (also known as the Two-factor Theory). I was first introduced to the theory at Socal CodeCamp in 2013. It was brought up during a discussion about building Agile teams. In a nutshell, factors that impact job satisfaction differ from those that cause dissatisfaction. All of which should be consistently addressed in order to achieve a state of Motivation.

Example Hygiene factors that should be addressed include:

Hygiene Factors
(result in dissatisfaction)

Company Policies
(perceived unfairness, excessive paperwork, salary, PTO, work hours, dress code, etc)

Supervision
(micro-management, time reporting, etc)

Relationship with Supervisor
(personality conflicts, overbearing or disrespectful behavior, etc)
Environmental Conditions
(temperature, noise, light, etc)
Equipment/Tools
(slow computers, lack of necessary software, inadequate equipment, etc)
Salary
(below market compensation, poor benefits, etc)
Relationships with Peers
(poor team dynamics, little day-to-day interaction, etc)
Personal Life
(compassion in times of need, understanding of personal issues, etc.)
Security
(future company prospects, financial stability, turnover, etc)

Addressing the Hygiene factors will help ensure your team members are not dissatisfied, setting the stage for Motivation. Motivated team members have a huge impact when it comes to completing software development projects that deliver value to the customer. Motivation factors include:

Motivation Factors
(result in satisfaction)

Achievement
(completing important projects, reaching career goals, etc)
Recognition
(compliments from peers, awards, etc)
The work Itself
(creative projects, empower the team to solve problems, encourage out-of-the-box thinking, etc)
Responsibility
(ownership of projects, empowered to make decisions, commitments as a team, etc)
Advancement
(clear career path, opportunity growth, etc)
Growth
(personal and professional skills training and training materials)

After additional research I found that Herzberg’s theory appears to be inspired, at least partially, by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow observed people following the path to Self-actualization. To get to this state, basic needs of survival must be met (food, water, sleep, etc). You must feel safe from physical harm (now and in the future). You must feel loved and accepted within your social circle, resulting in high confidence in your abilities. Others recognize this about you and in turn respect you for it, which you reciprocate. Followed by your continued pursuit of personal achievement, growth and fulfillment.

So we’ve discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it doesn’t speak directly to the needs of a team member at work or their workplace environment, whereas Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory does. Factors involved with Job Dissatisfaction (Hygiene) should be on your radar if you intend for your team to perform at a high level. If you address Hygiene then Motivation can be pursued.

As seen below, the basic needs of every person not only applies to our personal lives, but also in the work lives of your Scrum team. Without it, your teams will struggle to iteratively improve because they are dissatisfied, struggling with basic Hygiene issues rather than focusing on their work.

By meeting basic Hygiene requirements, you can expect your team to perform at a high-level. Without it, your top talent will likely become dissatisfied and seek employment with competitors who understand the value of a safe, healthy and motivating workplace.

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