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HIGH-PERFORMANCE TEAMS IN AN AGILE ENVIRONMENT

With the recent status of digital transformation, besides the technical skills of teams, soft skills for fostering collaboration are gaining even more importance.
BY RUBÉN RODRÍGUEZ AND ALBERT ALSINA

«Every company can shift to bi-modal IT when they have the staff with the right attitude and qualities.»

«You can raise the velocity of your digital transformation by being people driven. People naturally tend to back off from new ideas. An agile partner can enable customer teams to become more motivated and flexible.»

Not only the big players, but also small or medium businesses can benefit from outsourcing parts of their processes, structures and lifecycles to external partners. In Spain, digital transformation is becoming an engine for IT consulting, representing 7. 9 % of the entire revenue of Spain.

Building an efficient team is not an easy task. Companies strive to accelerate the learning curve by using modern processes and methods. Although most companies claim to be agile, in real life they often are not. In the information technology area, most employees are technicians. But there are actually far more soft skills required. When taking a closer look at an agile external partner, you can simply tell at a glance that his staff is different. It is made evident by the way they communicate, and how they are able to adapt their language to the interlocutor; they are open, direct and speak up on issues at an early stage. These traits are something that is beneficial to look for already within the recruitment process. It is understandable, that every company not only wants to have the best technically skilled employees, but also the best communicators. This is not always a match. The question is, whether you can train people to become such good communicators or if there have to be some inherent traits within the personality. In the consultancy field, the opinion prevails that at least some potential must be brought by the candidates as part of their personality. It is not even unusual to hire people who have no technical skills at all but match the soft skill criteria perfectly. Sometimes it is the right attitude that decides the recruitment process in favour of a certain candidate. External consultants often have their own models and methodologies in choosing and developing people for high-performance. A demonstration of one such model/method can be seen in (FIG. 4). Collaboration, negotiation and giving feedback to the client are skills that the customer is keen to acquire. The agile mindset in terms of « there is no failure, only feedback » is an important precondition of high-performance teams. In an agile working culture, after two-to three-week cycles, results are presented to the product owner, which involves a pure negotiation – a task of convincing and argumentation. The tasks that will be done in the next sprint are also something that needs to be negotiated in order not to promise too much and fail with the delivery.(FIG. 5)

In the past, the standard procedure of consultants delivering service to customers was based on hours worked on an assignment. Now the billing models are rather aligned to what is delivered to the customer. The delivery of Managed Service is of real value to the customer. At the end of each sprint, a product is delivered with a certain business value and the customer is charged only for that value. (FIG. 6)

Most agile customers require to have an agile partner by their side. In other cases, it is needed to convince the company to try out the agile approach. How can a consultant enable a customer’s team to become agile? There is a whole set of tools that can be applied. On top of it all, great leadership is a basic pillar; therefore, training leaders at all levels of the company to act as coaches instead of managers is inevitable. A company should consider reshaping the organisation into smaller, high-performance teams that have their own goals. As already mentioned earlier, creating ways and systems to achieve the transparent flow of information is of great importance. Like, e. g., using « systems of engagement» more besides «systems of record», as the market has evolved from back-office recording more towards active engagement apps which are used by employees. Implementing external employer branding can help to attract the desired applicants. Within an agile culture, it is advised to encourage people to give feedback to each other openly and frequently.

«An agile mindset means having the will to learn despite failures and using the lessons learned for continuous improvement of future actions.»

To keep the team dynamics on a high level, there is a standard development model consisting of four phases: forming, storming, norming and performing. During the forming phase, when team members are getting to know each other and the company, commitment is formed. The storming phase is marked by the chance that team members will start to challenge their leader or each other. Coaching on conflict management and communication as well as facilitation is needed here. After the members have managed the conflicts, the development phase of the team starts, also known as norming. At last, on the performing stage, team members are finally able to work towards common goals. An external partner can bring in his own development models. E. g., he may have different modules in order to train team members on different levels, which can also show the customer how to proceed. To help the customer to sustainably learn from an agile partner, a retrospective can be a useful tool. It is done within a team at the end of each sprint to improve how the team works. What can be applied at the customer's location is that a retrospective is not only realised within the work of a team, but generally on everything that can be improved. When there are different teams working at the customer's don't really relate to each other, a retrospective can be held as a meeting between the teams as well as cross-teamwise. All presented agile practices are simple, highly visual and valuable. This allows you to inspect the fast flexible flow and easily adapt it to your specific situation.

 

Example 1
DELIVERY MULTIPLIED BY THREE THROUGH AGILE APPROACH

A pharma company is looking for ways of improving the performance of its team within an assigned project. ERNI, as the partner approached for collaboration, provides a scrum master to the customer so that he gets understanding for the particular business area of the customer on-site. The aim is for the customer to become more agile and flexible, and to learn when and how to communicate requirements. The assignment takes one and a half years. Due to framework change in the project, the customer decides to give the consultant the overall responsibility for the project. As a result, the delivery at the end of the project is multiplied by three, based on the transformation of the project to agile.

Example 2
BRINGING THE AGILE APPROACH TO THE CUSTOMER

A sub-supplier for the automotive sector wants to shift to the agile mode of delivery. Also, he requires transparency of the billing process. As a partner, ERNI is engaged for the task. Based on agile principles, the customer sees the value delivered on a bi-weekly basis and pays only for the value that he is satisfied with. The company is hoping to raise the efficiency and productivity of its growing teams in order to enable faster delivery to the market and minimise risks. During the course of the project, the partner ensures enablement of the customer’s team learning agile processes and increasing the learning curve of the teams. The partner initiates the adaptation of the project setup to the new circumstances. In the initial step, the partner’s team communicates to the customer about the criteria for the project setup.