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8 ways to know when you’ve done agile well

Bob Galen Agile Methodologist, Practitioner and Coach, Vaco

You'll find many measures of agile team performance and behavior out there, but the eight listed here are ones you don’t often hear much about—even though they're key to success.

Why don't you hear about them? Because these are indicators of success, rather than straight-up metrics, for IT leaders who want to observe how an agile transformation is actually changing things for the better.

Here's how to tell if you're succeeding.

1. People are beating down the doors to be part of your organization

This is one of the truest measures of the health of any organization's culture. Do employees recommend your organization to friends, family, and colleagues? What are they saying about your organization?

Consider your work environment. If you put on an open house and invited folks in, would they feel welcome? Would they get a sense of the culture from the people who work there?

2. Intentional collaboration around a limited set of high-impact, high-value efforts is the norm

Do people on your team swarm on the work to be done—or are there lots of "Lone Rangers" or "brilliant jerks" in your culture? Collaboration should be the norm. This doesn't mean that you can't have heathy and respectful debates. But they should happen only around the things that truly matter.

The flip side of this is that you should make space for introverts who prefer to work alone, offering both physical space and space for thinking, reflection, ideation, and being themselves.

3. Your culture is serious about results, but the experience of getting there is joyous and fun

Do you sense that people are happy the minute you enter the workspace? Is there a sense of joy and playfulness in the air? And is that joy resilient, remaining even when your teams face challenges and the going gets tough?

It should be coming from all directions, bottom-up and top-down. It should be honest and genuine. And it should be modeled by everyone.

4. Customers are fully engaged in the value stream and are getting their highest-priority needs met

Do you always focus on the customer and on delivering what they need, as opposed to what you think they need or might ask for? Is there too much discussion about "being agile" in your community and too little focus on getting the actual work done?

Successful organizations focus on delivering value.

5. Your team's junior members make suggestions, offer constructive criticisms and ask for help

Is yours a culture where anyone can have a candid conversation with the most senior leaders in management—and across the teams themselves? Can they safely speak truth to power; that is, will management receive it as healthy and useful feedback?

What's more, do your leaders actually encourage and demand this sort of feedback? Hierarchy and titles should be less important than having the crucial conversations necessary to deliver great work.

6. Diversity within and across teams is part of your culture

You need diversity not just in hiring but in decision making and ideation. When seeking broad diversity, think beyond gender and racial diversity.

You want to create a culture that naturally embraces people with a diversity of experience, ideas, cultures, and backgrounds. This is not something that HR can inspire with diversity metrics. It's about being inclusive.

7. Everyone coaches, mentors and leads when appropriate

Is everyone empowered to be a coach, a mentor, a teacher? Is it part of your culture to help one another and accept help? It should be about learning and growing together as a team. Is your team about "us and we" over "I and me"? And is everyone open to being coached—even management?

Leadership, rather than being instituted by title and hierarchy, should be something that rises from within individuals. They should lead by example and be role models for the organization. They set the organizational culture by what they do and by walking their talk.

8. Leaders exhibit humility, positivity, appreciation, and kindness

This is about being nice to one another. No, you don't want niceness to become excessive, but your culture should be one where everyone on the team is kind, humble, thankful, grateful, and appreciative of one another.

Rather than viewing people simply as resources, your organization should treat them as human beings.

How do you measure success?

Imagine working in a culture that supports, exhibits, and encourages all eight of these indications. What would that feel like as an organizational culture? Would it support agile values and principles? Imagine the results such an organization could deliver.

So think about it and think about supporting these practices within your own culture as part of your leadership journey. Don't look upward for change. Instead, look inwardly, since it starts with you.

Join me at Agile + DevOps Virtual, running June 8-11, 2020, where I'll be leading an in-depth tutorial on agile leadership and culture-shaping principles, strategies, and tactics for creating high-performance teams. I am also speaking about "Self-Care for Agile Leaders." 

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