Qualities of an Agile Development Team

When teaching our workshops, we have a great exercise at the beginning that requires our small break-out teams to discuss the observable qualities of an agile development team. Development is often a confusing term as people tend to immediately think of software development. Any product, service, or abstract concept that is providing value to an end user can be thought of as development. Once they have a good list of these qualities, we ask them to prioritize the top three.

Agile is rooted in flexibility and collaboration, which has become an essential approach in modern complex development. An agile team's effectiveness is often dependent on its ability to embrace some of these key qualities and principles underpinning the mindset. Obviously in our exercise, there is no perfect answer as it all depends on different aspects of the product we are building within the organizational contexts.

However, it does help us delineate what we would be looking for if asking teams to deliver a product within the confines of the agile values and principles. I thought I could pose some of them that we see in our class here on our site just to help you if you are struggling to identify some top characteristics to be looking for or making sure our culture is supporting in the way of an agile delivery mindset.

  1. Adaptability: One of the hallmarks of agile development is its adaptability to change. An agile team should be prepared to pivot based on feedback, newly discovered requirements, or changes in the business environment. This means being open to alterations in the scope, priorities, or tools used. Defined processes have to embrace these as well, but the overall process of implementing the changes tend to impede a team's delivery speed.
  2. Self-organization: Agile teams are empowered to make decisions and manage their tasks without excessive top-down management. They determine the best way to accomplish their goals, distribute tasks, and address challenges, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility.
  3. Continuous Improvement: Agile emphasizes the concept of the continuous improvement (retrospectives in Scrum)—a regular review of what went well and what can be improved. Teams should be dedicated to continuously refining their processes, tools, and skills, cultivating an environment where feedback is welcomed and acted upon. Even more important is a culture that allows for innovation and experimentation (failing / learning often).
  4. Effective Communication: Open and frequent communication is key. Agile teams engage in daily huddles, iteration reviews, and other activities to ensure everyone is aligned, obstacles are addressed swiftly, and knowledge is shared transparently.
  5. Collaboration: Collaboration is at the heart of agile. This includes pairing between developers, cross-functional interactions (such as testers, designers, business stakeholders, etc.), and a commitment to achieving shared objectives.
  6. Technical Excellence: While soft skills and methodologies are essential, so too is technical expertise. Agile teams should uphold high standards of code quality, embrace practices like Test-Driven Development (TDD), Continuous Integration (CI), and Continuous Deployment (CD), and be committed to delivering high-quality software in every iteration.
  7. Customer Focus: An agile team prioritizes the end-user or customer. By frequently engaging with stakeholders and potentially even end-users, they ensure that they're building solutions that genuinely address user needs and provide value. Even more important is that they focus on organizing teams and the list of work (Product Backlog in Scrum) around this concept as well.
  8. Iterative/Incremental Mindset: Instead of seeking perfection from the start, agile teams focus on delivering small, functional portions of the product, then refining and expanding based on feedback and changing priorities. This iterative approach allows for faster delivery, quicker feedback loops, and a product that better meets the needs of its users.
  9. Commitment: Each sprint or iteration requires the team to commit to a set of backlog items. This commitment, although flexible, means that the team takes ownership and is dedicated to delivering what they've promised.
  10. Transparency: Whether through public backlogs, burn-down charts, or frequent status updates, transparency helps in setting clear expectations, managing stakeholder engagement, and ensuring everyone has a clear picture of progress and challenges.
  11. Resilience: Even the most skilled agile teams will face challenges. Resilience is the ability to face setbacks, learn from them, and bounce back stronger. It's the determination to see a project through and adapt as necessary. I usually tell my Scrum Masters that one of our key attributes is to be an eternal optimist.

I learn through our exercises that the qualities that define an agile development team go beyond mere technical prowess. They encompass a wide range of soft skills, attitudes, and practices that, when combined, enable a team to navigate the complexities of modern and complex development effectively.

These qualities ensure that the team remains user-focused, adaptable, and consistently delivers value, reflecting the true essence of agile development. I try to emphasize to my teams that if you aren't servicing the customer directly, you better be servicing someone who is.

Come learn more at one of our public workshops!

Join us for our various Scrum/Agile centered learning events. We can help you get started or if you are a seasoned veteran looking to learn more, we can help there as well.

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