5 Things Developers Often Don’t Know About Agile

Agile philosophy has spread around the world and more and more organisations recognise the value of being flexible and embrace change. After all, we live in a world, where it seems the only constant is change and Covid-19 pandemic was a perfect lesson on dealing with unexpected outside changes.

From my experience working in a bespoke software development company that agrees with and follows Agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban, I have learned the value of those principles in action. But sometimes theoretical knowledge or formal courses won’t suffice and you need to delve a bit deeper into little known things about the Agile philosophy to get the full picture. Let’s explore some of the often neglected aspects of Agile below:

1. Personality Characteristics Matter for Agile

The Agile methodology is all about philosophy and mindset but it doesn’t just revolve around principle implementation. Although the core principles and values of Agile can be found in the famous manifesto, it is also important to note that Agile teams discover a lot about the product on the go. Sometimes developers code preliminary software features without having a clear understanding of the bigger picture and this can be frustrating. That means not everyone will feel comfortable in such an environment.

You have to showcase personal flexibility and resistance towards the unknown as the uncertainty is a constant factor that follows Agile software development. Furthermore, you need to be emotionally intelligent and not let your inner emotions overwhelm you easily. Plus, more often than not developers work in a team and besides regulating your own emotions, for the high product quality, it is vital to be able to recognise the emotional cues of your teammates.

2. The Iron Cross of Agile Project Management

In the beginning of his 2019 book ‘’Clean Agile: Back to Basics’’ Robert T. Martin elaborates on the core physics of software development projects. In his opinion, without a thorough fundamental understanding of those principles, developers can’t possibly grasp the whole picture. So what is the Iron Cross exactly, you’ll ask? It represents the non-optional trade-off that each dev team has to make in order to produce valuable software. The four fundamental qualities of a software product are as follows: good, fast, cheap, done.

“Pick any three you like”, Martin says, “but you can’t have the fourth”. Essentially, this means that you can develop a solution that is good, fast and cheap but unfortunately, chances are that it won’t ever get done. Similarly, you can have a product that is good, cheap and done, but you’ll have to sacrifice the time for its development. Of course, those criteria all have coefficients and a good Agile project manager will have to examine them and direct team efforts towards covering enough of each three while remembering that a working solution is something to strive for. It would be nice if the metaphor of the Iron Cross also crosses developers’ minds every now and then.

3. Communication is Key on All Levels

You probably know about this one but I can’t stress enough how important good communication is for Agile teams. Don’t underestimate your soft skills and work on improving them as this will help you both personally and professionally. It is a fact that the Agile approach lives from interactions, small feedback loops, transparency and constant communication. This contributes a lot to its success. The client becomes a partner and isn’t left in the dark about the status of the project. During the daily, the company receives an update on which tasks have been completed and how the progress goes on.

But even if there are problems in development, the company is not there alone as a client. Instead, solutions are brainstormed together with the service provider – right from the start. A customer is thus fully integrated into the development processes, in real time, and with the ability to react at short notice. And if those responsible want to see the results, they have the opportunity to do so after each sprint (usually last 2 weeks). After each iteration, the sprint results are presented in a joint sprint review (demo). Clients have the opportunity to express feedback and request improvements. All participants collaborate and influence the planning session for the next sprint. You see how communication is embedded on all levels of the Agile process.

4. Pay Close Attention to the Metrics

Agile also cares for the metrics. Changes in the mindset can also influence the quality of the project management. Instead of using only traditional project-related KPIs (e.g. time, costs, resources), Agile metrics are also valuable. Why are those important? We all know the observer effect from physics: we influence what we observe. By selecting and tracking certain parameters, companies can improve existing workflows. Usually, the better you can approach and solve a problem, the better market position and profit chances. That is why metrics are important.  For example:

  • Burndown charts measure project progress. The sprint burndown chart shows the progress during a particular sprint. The number of open tasks (Y-axis) assigned to the sprint is tracked against time (X-axis). Tasks can be specified in working hours or story points. The curve usually falls off over time. The release burndown chart applies the same principle to a product release.
  • Velocity measures the speed that an Agile team achieves over the course of a sprint or iteration. Velocity is given in story points per sprint (or iteration). The average velocity is a numerical value that is usually used for predictions about the future completion of tasks (e.g. release planning). As the Agile team learns to collaborate effectively, this metric will improve and show better performance.
  • The Happiness Index measures the influence of negative factors (team fluctuation, overruling of team decisions, etc.) on the overall mood and performance of the team. The procedure is very simple: after each retrospective, the team members answer fixed questions on the subject of satisfaction and the working atmosphere. The figures are consolidated in an Excel sheet and compared with the history.

5. “Don’t Forget to be Happy” says the Chief Happiness Officer

Speaking of happiness, yes, you read that correctly – nowadays there is actually such a business position as Chief Happiness Officer (CHO). Companies that work following the Agile methodology usually have a high-spirited, engaging team culture. But someone has to maintain and nourish such a culture for it to thrive. That is why some companies choose to open a position for a CHO or to simply transform existing executive titles and rename them so.

Chief Happiness Officers care about how employees evaluate their work environment, what affects them mostly and how things can be improved so that they’re more productive and fulfilled at work. What they also have on their agendas is to keep an open ear for the needs and recommendations of his or her colleagues, organise fun events, gatherings, sport activities etc. The main idea is that happy teams are more productive and

With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing us to work from home, I think that the need for Chief Happiness Officers will surge after we come back to normal.

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