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Many factors lead to successful software products: expertise, organization, communications, agility, etc. It takes the right combination of people, processes, and technology to successfully bring a piece of sophisticated software together.
But what is the authentic “secret sauce” that makes all of this work? What does it take to create elegant digital products that customers can’t wait to buy? You might be surprised by the answer.
In this article, we discuss the key factors that led us to Agile team building success, the Agile team building activities we focused on, and some of our Agile principles and values. Let’s begin.
Self-organizing teams are a cornerstone for Agile development and the key to success in building the foundation for short- and long-term software development projects. But what exactly do we mean when we say self-organized? According to one organization's definition:
"At the simplest level, a self-organizing team does not depend on or wait for a manager to assign work. Instead, these teams find their own work and manage the associated responsibilities and timelines."
What's tricky is that there are many dynamics behind how to make them work successfully. One of the most common theories of success is Jeff Bezos' two-pizza team, which states that individual teams shouldn't be larger than what two pizzas can feed.
The downside of anything more significant is that you become a victim of the "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome. Things get unwieldy if too many people are involved in a project.
As important as they are, self-organizing teams come with plenty of hurdles. Two main hurdles are described below.
Some of the biggest ones are based on our own mental pre-conditioning. We're continually surrounded by hierarchies and power structures based upon a one-person-in-control paradigm, whether a country's president or a plane's pilot. While these structures are a given in society, they create an unconscious bias in how we work; we expect to be told what to do.
Typically, we think of superheroes as being a positive influence. However, another form of mental conditioning is the "superhero complex," which often derives from sports. We all like to watch great athletes in action as they inspire the best in all of us.
Trouble can start at a deeper level when teammates rely on the superstar to carry the team's weight. Since the expectation is that the superstar will consistently score, it becomes tempting to rely on them rather than working together as a unit or taking on a more prominent role.
What happens if you shift the "superhero" mindset to one of leadership? In this model, the absolute superstar brings a new level of Agile team building spirit to the team. Rather than the one who necessarily made the most points, this hero may be the enthusiastic problem solver who looks after the team, uplifts them, and supports their highs and lows.
In the following, we build on this framework to discuss the essential Agile team building activities and elements required to build super successful teams. Here, we link to the top characteristics that define a self-organizing team and what it takes to create one.
You've heard the adage about "too many cooks in the kitchen." Too many "experts" in one room means trouble and will severely limit your team's likelihood of success. Keeping your team in sync and balanced is essential so that every member demonstrates skills that complement each other.
This goes against the typical superhero mentality in which one charismatic, talented team member carries the team's weight and overshadows less experienced members.
From an Agile team building engineering perspective, a properly balanced software team is one with the proper distribution of skill sets. The object is to ensure junior members are calm and senior developers stay energized.
There are a lot of analogies between running an Agile software development team and sports. On a team, it’s important to periodically replace your best players with substitutes so that no one loses core skills, passion, or motivation.
Similarly, keeping your junior (substitute) developers engaged is essential to learning and skilling up. There will come a time when a more senior engineer leaves for another opportunity or is placed on another project. The ideal scenario happens when the junior replacement is ready to step right in and fill their shoes.
While COVID-19 has indefinitely mandated virtual work teams for companies in 2020, more than remote work is needed for software development teams in the long term. Nothing can replace the importance of face-to-face interactions when designing, building, and deploying elegant products.
Team members who spend time together develop a certain camaraderie that’s not possible through remote interaction alone. Whether it involves solving business challenges, grabbing lunch together, or working heads down on a project, the importance of in-person work cannot be overestimated.
From an Agile team building approach, this is what makes Integrant’s 4Plus1 Shadow Engineering Program so effective. The program enables engineers to “shadow” the primary project team to integrate more easily into an existing workflow. It’s not only a great way to cross-train engineers and keep their skills sharp, but it helps the company to rotate engineers across departments more seamlessly.
Without the ability to meet in person, the impact of the 4Plus1 program wouldn’t be nearly as high. The benefits of team familiarity and close physical proximity are irreplaceable in Agile software development environments.
A good coach maintains Agile team building capabilities and always knows how to get “next level” performance from a team. Building a finely tuned squad that operates effectively together is one thing. It’s another to keep it running optimally, win after win.
It’s often tempting to attain a goal and think, “I’ve paid the price to get where I am, so now I’m free to coast.” Continually keeping a software team on track and operating at optimal levels takes strong discipline and intuition.
Leaders should always be bold and switch up their engineers to identify the best team synergy for the project. Tweaking and fine-tuning a good team will only make it better.
When a sports team goes out to the field, there’s no question in any player’s mind about the mission: to win the game! Likewise, each software developer must know where the team is going and what they want to achieve.
Your mission statement is what gets you up in the morning. It’s about how you and your team will change the world. At Integrant, our mission is clear and straightforward:
“To create a winning formula of people, process, and analytics. We secure customer success by predicting and removing software development challenges.”
The success of any self-organized team depends heavily on its Agile team building culture. Creating a safe environment to grow, learn, and celebrate wins together is critical for the health of any team.
Each member should do their best to prepare everyone else for success. Ideally, a well-functioning team becomes like a family, which holds each other accountable through transparent communications and regular check-ins.
A safe and prosperous culture doesn’t just happen. Everyone must do their part to embrace a positive mindset and attitude. For example, how we treat others, value their opinions, and communicate – this is all a reflection of our mindset.
One of the most critical attributes for Agile team building is flexibility, agility, and open-mindedness. Seeing team members as investments, not costs, and focusing on their strengths, not weaknesses, is critical to everyone’s success.
Keeping a positive mindset is about laying aside the ego and treating others as you wish to be treated. Respecting others’ opinions and speaking courteously are paramount and solve many drama issues that quickly get in the way of healthy team interactions. First and foremost, successful team synergy all starts with the proper mindset.
"If at first you don't succeed, call it VERSION 1.0"
Recruiting and hiring for success is part of the magic behind a self-organized team. It’s critically important to bring in people aligned from Day 1 with your company’s core values, vision, and mission. If you don’t align upfront, then it will never happen.
While it’s not entirely clear if good hiring is an art or science, there’s no doubt that it requires a robust recruitment process that rigorously screens applicants to find the best fit for the job. Strong recruitment is key to a successful, self-organized team.
One source stated: “A good recruitment process allows you to find qualified candidates quickly and efficiently. The process requires planning and constant evaluation.”
A mathematical equation shows a direct correlation between the number of relationships and the number of people on the team: [R = n*(n-1)/2].
For three people, you get three relationships that must be maintained, while for nine people, it turns into 36. You get the point; the larger the group, the more difficult it is to maintain trust, communication, and alignment.
This is why the two-pizza team is such a good idea; if you have more people on your team than it takes to feed with two pizzas, then it’s probably too large!
Empathy is one of the most important (and sadly, one of the rarest) attributes today. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective is the single most powerful way to create a powerful team synergy.
Performance is vital for any business, but at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. Everyone will have a bad day on occasion, which is why team support is so important.
Patiently understanding each other’s shortcomings will result in a much stronger team dynamic. Remember, empathy goes a long way and costs nothing!
When focusing on Agile team building, assembling a high-quality, self-organized, efficient, and high-performance team takes time
Our project management experts suggest that it takes about six months to understand their strengths and weaknesses after hiring a new engineer.
Bringing on a new person is always a risk because there are apparent unknowns beyond the interview; someone who interviews extremely well may still mask certain red flags in their work ethic or character.
A good rule of thumb is to count on at least a year for an engineer to settle into their new environment and to allow time for adjustments, tweaks, and mentoring to fully prepare that person for success.
At Integrant, we are proud of our hiring track record. Fortunately, we’ve had a very high retention rate over the years. This indicates a solid ability to identify outstanding team players who combine the right blend of experience, mindset, and soft skills.
Recognizing Signs of a Thriving Self-Organized Team in Agile Team Building
Successful self-organized teams are not hard to miss. They are characterized by a set of values that are enviable and unmistakably on point. At Integrant, we define success as a reflection of the unique values that define us as a company. In summary, these are:
At Integrant, grit means getting the job done and never giving up. If our employees have grit, they can accomplish anything.
We roll up our sleeves and get right in the thick of it. Our engineers individually take ownership of their work and actions, which rolls up to the team level, giving our customers’ teams a breeze.
Open communication and honesty are critical in building long-lasting partnerships with our customers and, just as importantly, our teams.
From tight timelines to lack of capacity, from budget constraints to project unknowns, we’ve got your back!
That’s why we hire and offer our best engineers to work on your projects. Meanwhile, our employees can always expect a fair, transparent working environment for them to thrive and grow. And our customers can always expect to receive fairness and truth no matter what.
We do everything from policies to programs, methodologies, and our custom software with service in mind.
At Integrant, we strive to build outstanding software development teams that love what they do and do what they love. After 29 years and counting in the business, we think we’ve learned a thing or two about building ready-to-go, self-organized, and Agile teams.
There is no one magic formula for pulling this off, but what is clear is that it takes hard work. It requires a lot of dedication to vet your candidates properly, determine the right fit, and ensure they align with your values and culture.
It requires time and patience to bring in new hires, integrate them into your workstreams, and mentor them for success. All of this takes at least a year, minimally and frequently longer.
But the path is well worth it! Because there’s nothing quite like receiving the accolades and references from a super-happy client. There’s nothing quite as special as seeing your employees engaged, happy, and thankful to be part of your organization.
If you’re looking for a way to set your business apart in the market or begin your journey toward digital transformation, you’ve come to the right place. Because we know that “teamwork makes the dream work,” we are prepared and ready to make your own dreams come alive.
Our seasoned developers will plan, strategize, and build a compelling, elegant solution that exceeds your expectations. We’d be more than happy to share a demo of our work!
Call us today to learn how we can partner on your next project. Subscribe below or contact us to see how we can impact you and your business.
Integrant’s Vision is to transform the software development lifecycle through predictable results.