Maybe it’s the spring air and the budding trees. Maybe it’s the longer daylight hours. Maybe you watched too many home organization TV shows when it was too cold to go outside. Whatever the reason, there is something about this time of year that makes us want a fresh start by spring cleaning. And what better place to direct that energy than towards freshening up your agile team’s practices.
There are many points in time where a refresh just makes sense. Your team may have changed in composition, with new members or stakeholders. Your product direction may have changed. You might realize that no one really knows what is lurking in the back of the “junk drawer” that is your backlog. All of these are indicators that your team could use some spring cleaning.
Here are 5 easy-to-follow tips for spring cleaning your agile practices:
Tip #1: Before you do anything, identify your goals!
It’s important to first identify the areas you want to focus on. Having these goals in mind will help you target certain types of spring cleaning activities that will best meet your goals. Some key areas to take a look at are people, processes, and technology.
People — does our team have the right mindset and skills to support our customers?
Processes — does our process work for us? Do we understand the “why” behind our process, or are we just going through the motions?
Technology — do we have the right tools in place to support our and our customer’s goals? Do we use these tools effectively?
Use the gaps you identify to set some goals for the refresh and be sure to check back later to see if you achieved your desired results!
Tip #2: Have a team reset.
Team resets are a powerful tool to call upon when you are seeing some opportunities for your team to better connect. They can also be a simple activity that helps the team take a step back and ensure they are heading in the direction they want to go as a team. A team reset could include any of the following activities:
Team health check — Have the team assess themselves in various aspects of successful teams and identify areas they would like to focus on improving. (Bonus if you can compare these results to a previous or future health check!)
Revisit team norms — Have the team revisit their previously defined team norms, or even start from scratch. It’s always a good time to make sure a team’s agreements are aligned.
Review the 12 Agile principles — Having the team internalize these principles will greatly improve their connectedness to the process.
Tip #3: Take time to clean up your backlog (aka the junk drawer).
We all have one. The place where things that we don’t need “right now” but we think we might need “in the future” go to be forgotten. Sooner or later there are so many things there, we aren’t even sure what they are, and surely wouldn’t be able to find something we needed if we did happen to find a use for it.
No, I’m not talking about old batteries or tubes of super glue!
One of the beautiful things about Agile is its flexibility with changing priorities. Unfortunately, one side effect of a busy team with work shifting in and out is that the backlog becomes a black hole. It can contain a build-up of old requirements, forgotten tech debt and bug fixes, and a handful of things someone who didn’t know how to properly use Jira created and lost (you know who you are). But good news! It’s spring cleaning time!
The best place to start is to do a quick triage and delete things that are no longer needed. This could be old requirements, duplicates, or mistakes. Group similar stories and prioritize what you can. This is also a great opportunity to organize tech debt and make a plan to address a little during each sprint as another clean-up item.
How do you know when you’re done? Well, sometimes that is when the junk drawer is empty. But most likely, you will have a well-organized set of things you know are relevant, as well as a plan for how they will be used in the future.
Tip #4 — Pace yourself!
A sure way to make a mess rather than cleaning one up is to try and tackle the whole house all at once. Pacing yourself and focusing on one thing at a time will set you up for success instead of burnout.
The same applies to improvements for your team. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Instead, take an approach of incremental and continuous improvement. This concept is called kaizen, and is essentially the cycle of planning, doing, studying, and adopting incremental improvements over time. You may identify improvement opportunities with your team as part of a team reset exercise or retrospective. There is no pressure to make every change at once. Choose one or two small changes to start with, and assess how they work for your team before adopting the change and trying something else.
Tip #5 — Amplify your successes
Finally, remember that spring cleaning is not only about what to get rid of but also about choosing what to keep. Ensure your team considers amplifying the things that make them successful as much as they are editing out the things that aren’t. This can help the team grow and reach higher levels of performance than before.
This is especially useful when a team already sees themselves as high-performing and can’t come up with anything to “fix”. Challenge them to define what makes them successful, and think of ways to encourage that behavior or practice to grow beyond where they are today.
Spring cleaning is good for your team!
Spring cleaning your Agile practices gives you and your team the opportunity to renew your focus, passion, and commitment to the team. So take a deep breath of fresh spring air, and let’s get started!