Agile is OK… So now what? 6 ways to improve your software projects

Even if your Agile software development process is working just fine, there are always ways to improve the process. Here we have six areas of focus for mature Agile teams who want to become even better.

1. Implement Test-Driven Development (TDD)

Instead of testing a piece of code after it has been developed, why not write the test first and then write the code so it passes the test?

This approach may have some drawbacks regarding the additional effort that it requires to accomplish a requirement, but we think that it is the best way to work. Here is why:

  • It is faster because the quality of the code that is written is better to begin with.
  • It is more robust because it has been written to pass a very simple unit test with very simple requirements. There is no wasted time or effort spent writing code that is not going to be tested.
  • Finally, the code that eventually gets written is more flexible and easier to build upon. The reason, according to Martin Fowler, is that one of the essential steps in TDD is refactoring the code (including the old code) in order to have a clean structure.

If you are interested in a more in-depth discussion of TDD, we have written about it in our TDD vs After testing article

2. Refresh your Scrum values

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Scrum values address the type of mentality a team should have in order to foster the best possible Scrum environment. The next step of maturity is to go beyond simply implementing Scrum and instead, integrating its values deep into the work environment.

Rather than focusing on methodology, the Scrum Values go right to the heart of things and describe the underlying values that every great Scrum Teams possess. Taken directly from the official Scrum Guide, these are:

  1. Commitment. A personal commitment from each team member to developing a great product.
  2. Courage. The courage to uphold best practices, do what is right for the team and the product, and jump in and solve the toughest problems.
  3. Focus. Each team member is focused on what’s taking place at the moment during the Scrum process. Nobody gets sidetracked by activities that don’t support the common goal.
  4. Openness. Collaboration and teamwork require transparency, honesty about how the work is going, what challenges the team is facing, and any obstacles they encounter. That way, all the stakeholders have clear expectations about the status of the product.
  5. Respect. Scrum is driven by small, self-driven teams whose members are committed, capable people. The driving force that binds them together is respect.

3. Improve your Backlog process

The product backlog often gets overlooked when teams are searching for ways to optimize their Agile framework processes. To refresh your memory, a product backlog is a list of tasks that need to be done. The list is prioritized so the team knows what to work on first. The list is created according to the requirements of the job and the roadmap that’s been set. It is usually the product owner who creates the priorities, while trying to optimize the team’s workload for efficiency.

A way to improve the process is to continually check the backlog and make sure it is updated as work progresses. The development process is organic, meaning things can change. The product backlog serves to connect the Product Owner with the development team so when feedback is received, the backlog items can be re-prioritized to respond to feedback or new requirements.

Some items can even be “scrapped” or saved for later, which helps avoid the undesirable “splitting” of an unfinished product backlog item (PBI). It is not uncommon for product owners to simply create the backlog at the beginning of the project and then never adjust a thing later on. When that happens, they may be tempted to split the PBI’s to make it look like they had a good sprint even though some of the PBI’s were incomplete.

4. Maximize your Scrum Master role

Agile Software Development

The Scrum Master is the team advocate – someone who looks out for the team and removes obstacles that might stand in their way. They do this by adhering to the Scrum Values we talked about earlier, by helping everyone understand Scrum, and sticking to Scrum theory. And in short, they do everything in their power to create self-driven teams.

The original developers of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, recently joked during an interview that a Scrum team member complained that his Scrum Master rarely showed up for the Daily Scrum so they were not sure what they should be doing. The irony was that a self-driven team should know what to do if their Scrum Master is doing a good job! If your Scrum Master ca not skip out on the Daily Scrum without risking loss of focus or direction in the team, then there’s work to be done!

5. Enhance your Product Owner skills

Products that impress customers are likely to be the result of having a talented product owner on board. This is the person who represents the product itself, and who ensures the needs of all the different stakeholders are met.

Fully understanding the difference between the Product Owner and the Scrum Master is the first step. The Product Owner represents the stakeholders and ensures the team has a unified vision to create a great product. The Scrum Master, on the other hand, is the “caretaker” of the team and of the Scrum methodology.

Other steps for enhancing your Product Owner skills include:

  • Grooming your backlog
  • Creating a better product roadmap
  • Spending time to create a truly compelling product vision (see below)

6. Create a compelling product vision

Successful products are developed by teams who are driven by a clear vision of where they are taking their product. When each team member, whether they come from marketing, development, or product management, is excited about the product, there is a certain unifying energy that drives everyone forward. There needs to be an overarching goal that everyone understands and supports – it is this common purpose, this team-wide belief – that serves to keep everyone motivated even when the going gets tough. It is what keeps everyone fully committed to putting in the time and energy.

Agile Software Development

Creating a compelling product vision starts with a thorough exploration of why you are excited about the product. It is possible that different team members have different reasons for why they’re excited. If that is the case, a shared vision must be determined.

There has to be some common ground upon which everyone can agree is what will pull them to work hard, be creative, and collaborate better. Here are a few examples of a shared vision that everyone on a team is likely to find meaningful:

  • Help seniors to schedule medical appointments
  • Help teens enjoy poetry
  • Help warehouse managers keep their workers safer while on the job

Each of these visions are clearly defined, easy to relate to, and potentially very beneficial, especially when compared to the business goals they are paired with. The following “visions” are not very inspirational, although they are describing the same products as the examples above:

  • Increase efficiency in a doctor’s office
  • Grow a business by increasing their ad revenue
  • Improve compliance at a manufacturing company

What’s next?

If you are inspired to level up and improve your Agile processes, these six ideas are only a start. For more ways to improve your Agile game, check out our other posts on Scrum. It is one of our favorite topics so you will find plenty to inspire you!

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