Consulting for agile working
Agility is more than just a modern buzzword. It is an opportunity to bring companies safely into the future. We show companies which agile methods exist, what potential they have and how they can be applied to their employees and processes. We also speak from our own experience: InnoApps has relied on agile methods from the very beginning. When working with customers and developing software solutions as a team, everything is done according to the agile methodology. Customers are part of our transparent and flexible development process. Even as we create a project, we test and evaluate it to present an optimal product.
Agile working offers these advantages
We live in a world that is constantly changing – often without our anticipating it. To remain fit for the future, companies must be able to respond quickly to change. They must be able to quickly develop new solutions. And they must remain flexible and dynamic. Agile approaches make all of this possible. At the same time, they promise better results and employees who are more satisfied and motivated. Agility also ensures that companies can respond better to their customers’ wishes – which in turn leads to closer customer loyalty.
Frameworks play an important role in agile working: these are various approaches that can be used to plan, manage and execute work efficiently. In digital, the Scrum approach and the Kanban method are often used. Both are methods that can be used well for teamwork.
In the English sport of rugby, “scrum” stands for an “arranged scrum”. The players of the two teams rush towards each other and crowd together to take the ball back. A team also faces a similar crush when, for example, they have to create new software or improve existing software: What is meant here are requirements, ideas, goals, correction requests and technical possibilities that come together to form a confusing whole (product backlog). The task of those involved in the project: to bring order to the chaos and achieve the goal by completing the project.
As with sports, it’s helpful to develop a strategy at work – and the Scrum Framework is just such a strategy. How it works? First, the team classifies all tasks into different categories and prioritizes them by importance or by their logical sequence in the development process. Particularly complex tasks are divided into several small ones. This is followed by several development cycles. They are called sprints. During such a sprint, the team works toward a milestone goal. At the end of several sprints, there is the finished product.
However, these processes do not run automatically. As in a sports team, each member of the Scrum Framework must know his or her place in the team. The Scrum framework is not a hierarchical system – because Scrum teams are cross-functional, so theoretically any team member could take on any role. Instead, it is primarily a matter of distributing tasks and responsibility for this on several shoulders: on those of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and the developers.
The roles in the Scrum team
As an expert in Scrum, the Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the framework is followed: i.e. that clearly defined roles and rituals are adhered to. In this way, it also helps larger teams to implement Scrum effectively. At the same time, the Scrum Master must be flexible and open to measures that improve team workflows. To guide the team well through the framework, the Scrum Master mentors and guides each member of the Scrum team.
The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product that results from the work of the Scrum team. Its main task: to efficiently manage the product backlog. Develops and communicates the vision and product goal, creates, weights and communicates the elements of the product backlog. In this way, he ensures that the Product Backlog is transparent, visible and understandable for all stakeholders. Even if he delegates the above tasks, the product owner is accountable.
The development team consists of several experts who work daily to achieve the set sprint goals. They provide feedback to the product owner on what tasks they can realistically accomplish in each sprint. It is also their job to optimize methods and work through the product backlog as quickly as possible. The goal: maximum efficiency in the sprints and thus in the entire process.
Part of the Scrum framework are various Scrum Ceremonies – routines that make the development process transparent, efficient and dynamic at the same time. Starting from sprint planning, the team launches into the productive phases – sprints. In the Daily Scrum, team members and product owners briefly exchange information on a daily basis to communicate the status of the project and report any problems. Once a Sprint is completed, the Sprint Review follows. The end of the complete development phase is the Sprint Retrospective.
Sprints are at the heart of the Scrum method. They have a fixed duration. As a rule, it is often between one and four weeks.
Each sprint serves to achieve a stage goal. When it comes to (digital) products, the sequence within the individual sprints is relatively uniform: At the beginning of the sprint, the team works with the current version of the product, develops it further based on customer requirements, tests it, and receives an improved version at the end of the sprint – which in turn forms the starting point for the next sprint.
Before the Scrum team starts its actual work, it plans the sprint ahead. The Scrum Master, Product Owner and the development team take care of Sprint Planning together.
The plan developed in the process serves as a binding guideline that each team member can follow during the sprint. The product owner ensures that the development team is aware of the most urgent items in the product backlog. After Sprint Planning, he informs the Scrum Master which requirements from the Product Backlog the development team can complete within the set time.
The Daily Scrum lasts 15 minutes and ideally takes place every day at the same time and place. In this way, the daily meeting becomes routine.
During the Daily Scrum, the developers inform the rest of the Scrum Team about the current state of affairs, progress and any problems that may have arisen. In this way, the Scrum team can track whether the set sprint goals are achieved and, if necessary, adjust the requirements within the sprint (sprint backlog). If the Product Owner or the Scrum Master are actively involved, they slip into the role of a team member for the Daily Scrum.
At the end of each Sprint is the Sprint Review. Its purpose: to create transparency. This is achieved by the Scrum team reviewing the achieved goal during the process stage and sharing the results with the customer or the stakeholders.
During the Sprint Review, the Scrum Team and the customers not only discuss how the project has progressed. Changes in the environment, such as in the market, are also a topic. Thus, the review also serves to add further requirements to the product backlog – if necessary – or to reduce it.
The Sprint Retrospective represents the last step within a Sprint. It evaluates the completed sprint in terms of how it worked. The focus is on questions of quality and efficiency.
The Scrum team sheds light on how efficiently processes ran, how team members interacted with each other, and to what extent tools led to the desired success. Positive developments and problems are also addressed. A short outlook is also part of the meeting: Here, the Scrum Team clarifies which tasks are due in the next Sprint.
The Kanban Method
Kanban is about visualizing workflows: whether with the help of real boards and notepads or as a digital variant with movable text fields. Originally, the method originated in manufacturing. In the meantime, they are also being used in many other areas – including the development of digital applications.
Essentially, the goal is to visually represent the various steps of the development process: with a Kanban board. It has a column for each step – such as planning software, building it, testing it, deploying it, and running it. In the DevOps area, this ideally leads to a kind of loop, so that software that is already running is continuously optimized by going through the various steps again and again. A major advantage of the Kanban method is that it makes bottlenecks such as performance peaks or security gaps quickly visible.
We lead companies into the future – with the help of agile transformation. The changes required to achieve this are taking place at various levels: in the culture of a company, in the organization, among the professionals, in leadership, and in terms of error culture. As a result, information technology is also experiencing a revaluation: instead of seeing it purely as a cost factor, companies are now increasingly recognizing its potential. Often, therefore, IT also becomes part of the business unit.
As an inherently functioning system, every company has its very own culture: it consists of prevailing values, norms and attitudes. Culture provides the framework within which employees act or make decisions. During agile transformation, a company comes to terms with its own cultural identity – and thus also with the question of the all-encompassing vision to which all employees can orient themselves in the future.
Agile approaches often fail because of the organization that is established in a company. Especially with steep hierarchies, it is difficult to accelerate processes and improve them with few resources. In this respect, it is advisable to rethink the organizational structure. This is particularly worthwhile if it is not just a question of existing processes, but if the company is also planning additional digitization projects. Flexibility is everything when it comes to organization: because agility is not a fixed state, but an ongoing process.
Every change that a company initiates affects the people who work there. The fact that things are suddenly to be approached differently can trigger uncertainty: After all, there is a lack of experience with the new processes and working methods. This makes it all the more important to “take employees along” in the agile transformation and to practice new behaviors and skills together. In this way, new methods become positive routines within which employees experience themselves as confident and competent.
A company can be managed in different ways. The directive management style, in which performance and discipline are the most important values, has a long tradition. The supervisor makes decisions largely on his or her own. This is countered by a cooperative style: here, managers respond strongly to their employees, recognize their individual talents and use them in the right place. Clear and trusting communication is important here – a good prerequisite for agile transformation.
In no company does everything always run smoothly. And that is quite normal: because failures are usually part of the journey to the goal, and in all areas of life. The decisive factor is how a company deals with this: For example, it is possible to communicate failures openly and see them as an opportunity to improve. Elevating failure to a virtue also helps in agile transformation, because things can go wrong here, especially at the beginning.
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