Encouraging creative thinking while doing Agile

Encouraging creative thinking while doing Agile

Here is a list of actions we can put into practice to encourage creative thinking in Agile projects. Take a look at them and move forward towards better results in your software projects!

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The development of new software products involves the generation of unique and useful ideas. Encouraging creative thinking in Agile methodology will be key when it comes to team members’ performance, teamwork, efficiency, better communication, and excellence in the final results.

Nowadays, it is common to see development teams using Scrum or other flavors of Agile as their process of choice when tasked with building software. Going Agile can help an organization control the work to deliver more often and achieve a faster time to market while at the same time promoting stakeholder involvement and satisfaction.

One of the key premises Agile uses to accomplish this is that the team’s focus should be, almost exclusively, on the work at hand, for example, the Backlog. There is even a defined role in methodologies like Scrum, called Scrum Master, whose responsibilities include protecting the team from outside interruptions and distractions.

However, not everything is positive with such an approach. Having a clear structure and well-defined tasks will help you achieve higher throughput, but it comes at a cost. It might hinder creative work. Creativity requires freedom, and in a tight Agile schedule, with deadlines approaching every two or three weeks, there is little time for it.

As members of an Agile team, our challenge is to ensure that there is still room to think outside the box (or process) and encourage creativity. What actions can we put into practice to make sure we promote creative thinking in Agile projects? I’ll highlight those I have encouraged within software teams on a daily basis which have shown great results.

1.    Make time

Good news! In an Agile context, the teams get to decide how much work they take on. Take advantage of this.

While it is true that you would like to have a highly productive team, there is no need to push it to the limit. If you feel like there is no room for other essential activities, like learning new technologies or exploring risky but promising ideas, make more time by reducing your next iteration commitment. To put it another way, you need to stop your work from becoming a “user-story tyranny.”

2.    Avoid micromanagement

Once you have decided what you are going to be working on, let the team and individual engineers determine how they will do what needs to be done. Use estimating techniques like Planning Poker, but avoid the temptation to take estimates too seriously.

If the team made wrong estimates, trust it to auto-adjust instead of micromanaging. When in doubt, be broad when defining the scope of a task. It is always more flexible to describe a task in terms of what needs to be done than how it has to be done.  Take the opportunities to be creative within the boundaries of a task when you can.

3.    Ask why

Interrogation mark over a wall inside a dark roomEngineers tend to focus on problem-solving. Understanding the motivation behind finding a solution to a certain problem will open up a whole range of possibilities. It might be a great moment to encourage originality and invention.

Do not just focus on what you are building or how you are going to build it; focus on why it needs to be built. Imagine yourself in the position of your users or clients. Let yourself be creative and think about what other solutions to this problem may exist. Analyze its tradeoffs, and if you feel you have found a better approach, do not be afraid to speak up.

4.    Get involved

While it is true that business needs to drive product development, decision-making regarding what goes into the Backlog should not be left exclusively to product development people. Listen to everyone on your team and make sure you create those spaces and scenarios where everyone can express their thoughts about the existing roadmap.

There is no seniority level for creativity, and you may not know where good ideas come from. Do not disregard the team’s insights about the project as if they were of lesser importance than others.

To Sum Up

In conclusion, whatever Agile methodology you choose to adhere to, remember that it is just a tool to help you achieve your goals. Do not let an over-commitment to it become a burden on the team. At its core, software development is a creative process with much fewer limitations than other engineering endeavors, and if it stops feeling like that, then changes need to be made.

Encouraging creative thinking in Agile teams will make a huge difference not only in the final product but in the way teams and stakeholders are involved and committed to the project itself. It is not a coincidence that the Agile manifesto’s first line says, “Individual and interactions over processes and tools.”

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