Agility is among the most used project management models used in software development. There are multiple reasons for this- ranging from predictability in the delivery of updates to the model making it easy to manage the development process. But that’s not to say that there is no scope for improvement in the process. So, here are the ways to improve performance in agility.

The team size should be Optimal

Small team size is one of the foundational principles of agility. Nonetheless, it is one that many team managers and project leads tend to forget about while implementing agility in an organisation. But this, they do to their detriment. The optimal size for an agile team ranges from three to nine people. If it’s more than that, the amount of time that team members would need to discuss before actually performing tasks would be high. In other words, they would be spending more time in meetings and less time working.

So, you should fix the team size at an optimal level, depending on the requirements of the project. Strategies should also be in place to ensure there are no frequent needs for turnover. Frequent turnover could slow down the project’s progress.

Manage product backlog efficiently

The backlog, as the name implies, is where you get to see all the tasks that are yet to be finished in a sprint. If the backlog appears bloated even after significant time has been spent on a sprint, it may mean that the sprint is not being efficiently managed.

More often than not, it’s not the technical inefficiency of developers that causes the tasks to remain unperformed in the backlog. The reason is usually that they have a hard time understanding the user stories. This sees them spending a long time trying to understand the requirement instead of performing the tasks that would help meet that requirement.

To avoid such a scenario, make sure that the user stories that you create are filled with as many details as are required for the team members to understand the requirements. If a particular user story proves to be too complex, inspect the importance of that story. If it can be pushed down the priority list, reshuffle the order of the user stories in the backlog accordingly. Also, if time permits, you can create user stories for two sprints at a time, so that the team members could have more time to acclimatise to the requirements of upcoming tasks.

Factor in interruption buffers

Interruptions are unavoidable in agile sprints- no matter how well to run the sprints are. There are two common scenarios in which interruptions can occur. The first involves a bug being reported in a feature that requires constant attention from a developer. The second scenario involves another team requiring some urgent help from a developer.

Instead of wishing away such interruptions, the smarter strategy is to anticipate such interruptions and make space for them in the planning stage. Buffer interruptions should be scheduled while planning a sprint. Also, when you create a user story, you should take into consideration the number of possible interruptions that might happen during its execution. A rough rule of thumb that many scrum masters follow is to keep a developer’s half a day out of two weeks aside for interruptions. If no interruptions arise during those two weeks, the developer may devote the allocated time to help with some unresolved tickets. 

Conduct daily meetings

The idea of holding everyday meetings is another foundational aspect of agility which many scrum masters ignore to their detriment. These daily meetings are essential to providing all team members with the necessary information on how the project is progressing. It also helps team members to understand if a fellow team member is facing any impediment. If yes, they may help them which helps smoothen the flow of tasks in the project.

The daily meetings should be short- ideally, not over fifteen minutes. The discussions in these meetings are to be limited to the progress of tasks. If any discussion veers off-topic, they should be consigned to a time after the meeting is over. For maximum efficiency, every participant in the meeting should come prepared with their progress status, and also any questions they may wish to ask other team members or the scrum master.

Stay ready to improve the process continually

Ideally, at the end of every sprint, you should find something that could be improved in the process, or rather how the team is following the agile process. Strategies on how to improve the weak element should then be devised and implemented in the subsequent sprint.

To make this happen, during the retrospective that follows every sprint, you should identify a single action that could be executed in the next sprint to make it better than the recently concluded one. You can start by identifying simple actions that are not resource-intensive. You could seek suggestions on points to improve from all participants and choose one of them as an action point.

Remove roadblocks

Instead of trying to tackle roadblocks as they arise during the development process, you should try to anticipate as many potential impediments as possible that may arise, right at the planning stage of a sprint. The best phase to anticipate such problems is while creating the user stories. Such forecasting helps you equip the developers with the necessary tools to remove any such impediments. Foregoing this aspect of planning would result in a higher chance of unexpected impediments popping up along the development pathway. Solving such roadblocks distracts the team from their core tasks, which in turn results in loss of productivity. So, anticipating such roadblocks and taking pre-emptive measures are the best strategies to adopt in this context.

Be transparent about work progress

Being transparent about the work in progress serves to make the team members be more alert about what’s left to deliver. So, it’s a good idea to have metrics related to work progress displayed where the entire team could access them.

One way to do this is by updating the burn-down chart every day. You could also have the kaizen you wish to achieve displayed, as also the roadmap for the project as a whole rather than a single sprint.

Try to avoid multitasking as part of the process

Multitasking is one aspect of work which has come to be widely appreciated in modern offices. However, the truth is that multitasking adversely affects the team’s productivity. Needless to say, this also affects the quality of the product that is released.

Employees get their best work done when they are in what’s called a flow state. This state is nothing but one in which the employees could perform an uninterrupted series of tasks. Generally, the productivity and the quality of work are high during the flow state, not to mention the satisfaction that the employees derive from their work. However, if an employee needs to halt a work in progress to attend to some other tasks and then come back to the original task, it disrupts his workflow, and it is hard for him to reach optimal productivity in such a scenario.

Employees tend to multitask a lot when they have to juggle a large number of tasks during a single sprint. To avoid this, you should make sure that the number of tasks that are in progress at a time is manageable for every team member. This should be something you should be aware of during the planning stage itself so that when creating user stories, you should allow them in such a way that no team member becomes overburdened with tasks. Also, new tasks should be added to the workflow only if you think it is necessary. The unfortunate practice of adding new tasks even if they are not strictly necessary, only because team members happen to have some time on their hands, is still seen in many workplaces. But that should be avoided. The free time that workers have could be better spent on acquiring new knowledge and skills, or maybe by improving the quality of an already finished feature.

Empower teams to self-manage

A manager or a scrum master may not always be accessible to the team members. This is why it is beneficial for the team members to learn how to manage work by themselves, without relying too much on the scrum master. The idea of self-management is to aid the team members to finish all the tasks on their to-do lists without relying on anyone else for directions. This would also equip the team members to guide a sprint without too much effort on the scrum master’s part. As you may have guessed, this also means inculcating some leadership values in the team members, regardless of where they are in the hierarchy of designations. You could educate the team members about the principles of Scrum and also the various nuances and intricacies of the current project. This would give them the necessary context to grow their leadership skills.

Meanwhile, it shouldn’t be assumed that a self-managing principle precludes a team leader. The manager or the scrum master would still be very much involved in helping execute a sprint. However, instead of guiding the team members through a sprint, the leader’s duty now would be to help the team members be self-organised.

Being self-organised helps teams be more independent. Usually, teams that enjoy higher levels of independence are more efficient than their more constrained peers. This in turn enhances the quality of their performance. Suh independence also promotes employee satisfaction which in turn leads to a better overall work culture in organisations.

Introducing new practices to the process

Agility is largely seen as a set of principles that governs the way projects are executed. While this is true to a good extent, it doesn’t mean that agility mandates no new practices be introduced as part of the process of executing projects. Finding space for new and meaningful practices helps increase the performance of agile teams.

This is especially true as new software that supports agile projects are introduced into the market frequently. These software products could also provide valuable tools that could help enhance the quality of project management. Indeed, such software has almost become an integral part of agile project management in the contemporary age. The smartest managers try to get the most out of them by using the novel yet useful tools that they offer.

A terrific example of such a software platform is I’m Productive, the project management tool.

There are quite a few project management systems available in the market, but not all of them need to be suitable for agile projects. I’m Productive thought is especially useful for agile projects.

For one thing, re-assigning a task after one iteration can be done with just a few clicks on this project management tool- something that could be useful while carrying over a task into a new sprint. After all, there are instances when a task needs to be redefined and reassigned based on new requirements.

On a more fundamental level, the project management system helps you design and view the workflow easily. Access to view the workflow could be shared with all relevant team members so that everyone stays updated about the project’s progress.

Aside from staying updated about the progress, another bedrock of agile projects is fluid communication between team members. In this regard too, you would find I’m Productive quite the boon. The software brings you multiple features that help you share your ideas and other information with team members promptly. For instance, you can easily share files and other resources that the team might find useful for executing their tasks, in a common space where everyone could access the documents.

You could also comment on tasks, and share messages with specific people in the teams to help guide them through a project. These are but some of the features in I’m Productive that help you efficiently manage agile projects, and improve the team productivity,

Aside from these, the project management tool also beings a feature which is rather uncommon in products of this nature- the platform helps you accurately judge when the project could be delivered.

It is common enough for project managers to face a lack of clarity regarding project delivery time as the project progresses. An inability to accurately predict this time point often leads to them promising an early delivery than is practical. I’m Productive helps you avoid such scenarios by incorporating powerful Artificial Intelligence. You just need to click on a button to get the accurate prediction, which is based on the number of hours that each team member spends on a task. This metric too is calculated with precision- extraneous data like the time that team members spend on break is not factored in while measuring the hours of work.

As you have seen, I’m Productive- as the name implies- not only helps you improve the performance of agile teams, but also helps you accurately predict the project delivery time. Read their website to learn more about this project management system.

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