Richard Prowse, Head of Digital at the University of Bath explains why he prefers the Agile approach.
Agile isn’t just about software development. You can also use it to plan, create and deliver content.
A lot of people I talk to struggle with the concept of Agile. Agile is more than just a set of tools and techniques it’s also about embodying the change in attitude and behaviour that you want others to adopt.
Three years ago the Digital team at Bath adopted an Agile approach to development and content production. The aim? To create a user-focused website by building a community with a shared goal of transforming our user’s digital experience.
On our journey to create a user-focused website the team has celebrated its fair share of successes and commiserated a number of failures as we’ve learnt to work in a new way. Agile has taught us a lot about ourselves and how we work as a team – it has also taught us about its limits.
One of the biggest challenges teams experience is making the switch to Agile. Here are some things you can do to help your team adopt an Agile approach.
1. Explain what Agile is
You’ll be surprised how many people don’t spend the time to sit down with their team to explain what Agile is.
Start with your team leaders, take them out for a coffee and explain Agile, why you want to make the switch and what the benefits are.
You’ll then need to sit down with the rest of the team to explain. Don’t worry if people don’t get it or appear unwilling or resistant to change, it’s a perfectly normal reaction – the idea is to get them comfortable with the idea that things are going to change.
2. Agree an approach
At Bath, we have a set of shared delivery principles. They are critical as they set out how we work with each other, as well as the wider University.
They keep us focused on what’s important and allow us to collaborate by sharing a common way of working.
Bath’s digital delivery principles
- Start with people’s needs
- Design with data
- Adopt standards and structure
- Make things simple and intuitive
- Release iteratively and often
- Provide support
As a team, agree on your own principles. This will help you to get people to think about how they can work together.
3. Get people used to the idea of Agile
You can do this by gradually introducing the team to Agile tools and techniques as part of your existing process. This will help people to adjust to a new approach without the added pressure of a project.
Start by organising a stand-up every morning. Agree a set time every day to come together so you can tell each other the single most important thing you worked on yesterday and the single most important thing you’ll work on today.
Stand-ups are a great way for the team to gain a better understanding of what everyone else is working on. They will also help you to identify team members who aren’t sure what they should be focusing on – as well as any blockers to delivery.
As people get used to the idea, you can then introduce other concepts like user stories and task boards. This means when you adopt an Agile approach for the first time the team is focused on delivery and they are used to the idea of working differently.
4. Start small. Think big.
A lot of teams decide to adopt an Agile approach to deliver a major project. Start with something a little less high profile – the simpler, the better. This gives people the chance to get used to the idea of bringing all the things they’ve learnt together for the first time.
Choosing a small project means you will be more likely to succeed and this will help to build your confidence and that of your team. It will also show other colleagues in the wider organisation that an Agile approach can work for content too.
Starting with a small project also means it’s easier to work out what didn’t go so well and why – you can then apply these lessons to your next project. As you gain experience, you’ll have the confidence to deliver larger projects.
5. Work together
Make sure that everyone is involved from the start. Successful teams have a shared understanding of what they need to deliver and how they will deliver it.
One of the easiest ways to do this before you make the switch to Agile is to make time for discovery as part of your existing process. This gives the team a sense that they own the problem and a collective understanding of how they will solve it.
Ownership is key to achieving a shared goal, without it, the team will lose focus.
6. Stay focused
The biggest lesson we’ve learnt over the last three years is to work in short bursts – these are called sprints.
Sprints should last no more than two weeks, with no more than two sprints back to back. This allows everyone to keep their focus on delivery, but also makes sure that the team doesn’t get worn out.
In the downtime, schedule things like user research and retrospectives. This gives the team time to reflect on their experiences from the previous sprint, as well as an opportunity to find out how well their existing work is performing with users.
Retrospectives are a great way to do this. They provide a safe environment for you and the team to explore what worked well and what didn’t. At the beginning of every retrospective remind everyone that they did the best job they could do with the time available. Limit each retrospective to one hour – this will help focus people’s thoughts. Use Post-it notes to write down the three things that worked and three things that didn’t.
Remember: it’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from it – make a commitment as a team to change or improve at least one thing based on the retrospective and incorporate that into the next sprint.
Holding a retrospective will help you to make sure that the Agile approach you’ve adopted works for the team.
8. Celebrate successes
Make sure that you take the time to celebrate your achievements. At Bath every time we ship a new product or service, the whole team stops, and the people responsible get the chance to make our pet dragon roar. Create your own rituals – they help to bring people together.