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Agile Skills Don’t Revolve Around Ceremonies and Procedures: They’re About Traits and Values.

Agile skills require an evolution in people’s soft skills and behaviors. Handling ambiguity, being agreeable, and being extroverted are some of what’s important for an effective agile team.

Scrum.Org and McKinsey & Company collaborated on a study to explore the values and traits of individuals who make up successful agile teams. This focuses little on technical acuity but provides an important perspective on better ways to recruit and coach teams.

The study talks about two sets of factors:

1. Personality Traits

These are innate and acquired traits that make an agile team culture bloom:

Handling the unknown – The nature of agility requires a high degree of flexibility. Individuals and teams that handle ambiguity well are able to focus on goals and prioritize what's important instead of needing to address every single detail before starting their work.

Being agreeable – In competitive corporate cultures, agreeableness was an unexpected result for McKinsey. Google's study of high-performing teams showed that trust (an aspect of agreeableness) was important. So was straightforwardness, which enables being open and frank with one's viewpoints while being courteous and courageous enough to voice opinions that conflict with the team’s.

Extroversion – While not required for all roles in agile, being extroverted helps roles that involve communicating with stakeholders and customers (product owner, product management, team leaders) have an easier time.

Introversion – However, in a team that is creative and high performing, introverts can be important as they are great listeners and are better at channeling great talent and putting those people in the spotlight.

2. Work Values

Certain values are linked with success in agile teams:

Pride on what they do – Great agile teams take ownership in the product that they deliver. For these teams, pride in the product outcome itself sits higher than the process of making the product. This is more than just being happy or content. It means a desire to be associated with the product and taking ownership of its values and contributions.

Being customer focused – Quite simply, everyone must care about the customer. This allows teams to achieve three important ends:

  • They find the most economic ways to deliver value as quickly as possible.
  • They have a shared responsibility for the final outcome – the customer is a regular part of the process.
  • They know exactly who they are helping, consequently humanizing the effort and increasing the motivation to get it right for them.

Self-directed – This is not an innate value but is gained over time. It requires that teams already are open to change, understand the impacts, and are confident to adjust accordingly.

Our Take

Too often, when we think about agile, we think about hard skills like software development. This is not to say that software engineering isn't an essential skill for someone on an agile software development team. However, it's an essential skill for someone on any kind of software team, so it’s not unique to agile! McKinsey’s focus on behavioral traits highlights important differences (agile skills). However, it misses a critical aspect of being agile: you can no longer live comfortably within a tight specialist box.

Atlassian, the creators of Jira and Confluence, also have a serious agile culture. They say that specialists are not a defining trait of an agile team. We agree, but the journey to being agile requires people to go from specialists (I-shaped – being prescriptive) to generalizing specialists (T-shaped – doing agile) to true versatilists (V-shaped – being agile).

Source: Info-Tech's Implement Agile Practices That Work blueprint. Accessed February 26, 2020

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