How to Introduce Agile Project Management to Your Employees
As agile project management leaves the IT-only sphere and becomes popular across industries and other company departments, more leaders are wondering how this project type can apply to their own teams. From marketing departments to consulting firms, businesses are becoming increasingly agile.
While the concept of agile development seems simple, it’s not always easy to implement. If you are a business owner or department head looking to change your company with agile, follow these training tips to onboard your team.
Take Agile Out of the IT Mindset
The first step when encouraging employees to embrace agile is to separate it from the idea that it only applies to coding or IT projects. Instead, present agile as a method for overcoming change.
“The common factor in all of these initiatives is that they involve a change...and thus the need to adapt quickly,” James Scott writes at GanttPRO. “And agile is all about change, [and] dealing with the unpredictable.”
Consider a case study of emergency air transport company, Air Methods, shared by Tori Funkhouser at Udacity. The business wanted to create training materials for its 4,500 employees and 2,000 outside medical crew, but knew that was a massive undertaking and wasn’t sure about the scope and execution of the project.
Air Methods used tools like Trello to create tasks and assigned them red and green labels — red for backlog and green for projects ready to go. They met monthly to review the green tasks and move certain assignments out of the backlog. This provided clarity for employees and management to see what was in the newly organized backlog and how long they should expect to wait before something was complete.
This wasn’t an IT project, but it used agile to enact change and make the process go smoother.
You can also take agile out of the IT mindset by presenting it as a cultural change, rather than a new project management process, Nicholas Malahosky writes at visual management software company, Targetprocess.
“It’s important for Agile transformations to happen more-or-less organically,” he writes. “Nobody wants to put up with another vague strategy change that’s been mandated by management.”
Once your team realizes that agile really can help them, they will be more likely to embrace the new information and apply it.
Present Agile Project Management as a Growth Opportunity
If your team is still unsure about using agile project management, present the concept as an opportunity to grow and improve employee skill sets.
Leadership expert Anne Loehr shares some interesting statistics on employee training and coaching. Essentially, engaged employees want to learn more, and employers who invest in employees typically notice higher engagement rates:
52 percent of millenials cite career progression as the most desirable quality in a workplace.
Employees who have the opportunity to develop professionally are twice as likely to say they will spend their career at a company.
The strongest engagement driver for employees is belief in senior leadership, followed by growth and development.
This focus on professional growth and development also encourages team members to come to you for agile training and use cases. They want to learn more from you to see how agile can benefit them.
“Preserving positive workplace morale means taking the time to communicate with employees about the change before and after it occurs,” career coach Tess Taylor writes. Your open communication will demonstrate your respect for your employees and their “right to know” what is going on, while giving you a platform to provide enough information to soften the change.
Even if you do have early adopters chomping at the bit to use agile, try to keep everyone at the same learning pace and knowledge level. Ron Eringa, professional scrum trainer, says your entire company should try to match pace with what they learn and apply in the agile framework.
If unaligned, with some teams immediately applying agile while others are still learning it, both parties can become frustrated. One side wants to race ahead while the other is overwhelmed with new agile material. By keeping most scrum teams and managers at the same (or at least similar) application levels, everyone can grow at the same rate.
Identify Roadblocks and Barriers to Implementation
Once you start testing projects with agile project management, look for problems slowing down adoption in your company.
Management trainer Marcus Blankenship says there are three types of employees likely to push back against your agile process:
Cowboys and mavericks. These team members hate having to check in and report on a daily basis.
Heroes and crisis managers. People who love to save the day at the last minute. The problem is, identifying issues before they become problems is a component of agile management.
Brilliant hermits. Team members who lack social skills and have no desire to improve them.
Looking out for these employees and intervening when you find them can help you understand agile pushback and address the issues appropriately.
Look for Hierarchical Barriers
Additionally, you may need to adjust your hierarchy or corporate communication policies to implement agile project management.
“One of the key principles of Agile is not only to work with your users, but that developers will have access to key stakeholders on a daily basis,” Jory MacKay explains at online project management provider, Planio. “For some companies, this is a stretch. Is there a hard set hierarchy in place or will those at the time gladly be a part of the development process?”
The problems don’t always lie in employee adoption if upper management is creating their own barriers.
Prepare for an Agile Culture Shift
Your team also needs to be ready to embrace the culture shift that comes with agile project management.
“Agile teams are empowered to do what's right for the product,” writes Paul Rasmussen at technology consulting firm Omni Resources. “Their allegiance is more to the team than it is a manager. This notion is a shift from the traditional top-down command and control type management your company may be used to.”
Again, this is where traditional office culture and hierarchy could get in the way of successful agile productivity.
Reinforce the Company’s Dedication to Agile
Training isn’t something you do once. Even if your team seems to have a strong grasp of agile concepts as you introduce them, they may forget some of the best practices over time.
“Frequent training can help maintain skills and knowledge,” Mike Kappel founder of Patriot Software, writes. “Regular sessions are also a great way to teach more advanced skills and notify employees of any changes.”
Constant learning applies to leaders and managers as well as lower-level employees. In fact, the more leaders learn, the better off their teams are.
Business agility consultant Adam Ulery strongly encourages scrum masters to keep learning the “why” behind what they do. If your first response to any question is “because I said so,” you don’t know as much about agile as you think, he writes. Plus, your team is unlikely to follow your lead because they still have no idea why a certain step or process is important.
“Employees develop a comfort level when they see management supporting the process,” writes Patricia Lotich at Thriving Small Business writes. “If you can’t support the change 100%, don’t even think about making it. Employees will know it and will self destruct.”
Employees might ignore new processes from senior management out of loyalty to their direct reports, or fail to embrace the agile process if other teams aren’t required to use it — even if their manager wants to implement it. This is another reason to introduce it at the same pace across the board.
Tips and Resources for Successful Agile Training
Once you have a plan for introducing agile to your team, gather the best resources and training options to make the process easier.
Rachel Burger, a leading voice in agile, sets out an 11-step live training process where teams can learn and apply agile best practices through a small group project. This introduces ideas in a low-stress environment instead of suddenly asking teams to do their work differently.
Agile coach Anthony Mersino created a useful graphic you can download and give to team members. It includes the 12 agile principles, three scrum roles, four agile values, and five steps to implement the process. It’s helpful for any team using agile, regardless of their experience.
IT expert Curtis Franklin Jr. has a guide comparing agile development to Pokémon Go. This takes a dry topic that may confuse your team and allows you to create a fun reference or activity to help your employees develop an interest in the new information.
Bob the BA offers video training and in-person tutorials to help your employees understand agile management and how to use it.
Each team will embrace agile concepts in different ways. By using multiple training resources and developing a comprehensive onboarding process, you can make sure that no employees are left wondering what agile is and why they should use it.