Agile for non technical teams

This is a guest edition in our Productivity series, exploring how non technical teams can improve productivity by implementing Agile methods.

Anyone involved in software development will be familiar with the term “Agile”. Agile methodologies have been advocated for some time in the tech community and many start-ups also subscribe to the lean and agile mantras. Agile doesn’t have to be restricted to programming or start-ups, though. The same methods produce great results in improving productivity and performance in any line of work.

What is Agile?

In the software development world, Agile is usually underpinned by a cross-functional team (programmers, designers, product managers) who plan their work in short 1 or 2-week bursts, or sprints, and review their progress and future plans regularly. Agile teams often hold stand-up meetings where each person goes through their recent successes; struggles and current workload to keep the others updated and to get input and ideas for solutions from the rest of the team. Frequent re-iterations and continuous improvement are key to the Agile methodology.

Why does Agile work?

There has been plenty of psychological research into why Agile works. It promotes optimal thinking framework to achieve our best performance. As Jenni Jepsen told delegates at BoS conference in Cambridge in June 2015, the key to this improved productivity lies in better communication. According to research by the MIT, frequent, informal and face-to-face communication with your team produces the best results.

Jepsen explained that the reason this works so well stems back to neuropsychology. The Agile workflows, where you continuously discuss progress with your team; get support; and break down projects into bite-sized, achievable tasks means that our brains get to operate using the prefrontal cortex. This is where our openness and creativity are based but it does not operate well under stress. When we are overtaken by emotions, such as fear of change or dread of unmanageable workloads, the prefrontal cortex shuts down to give away to the limbic system, which operates on instinct. This is the part of the brain that used to get the pre-historic man out of danger by going into autopilot mode: it was fight or flight without space for creative or optimal thinking.

How can non-techies use Agile?

You can easily implement Agile into your routines even if you don’t work in software development. The core of Agile is to be flexible and collaborative. You can pick and choose the elements of the methodology that work for you. For example, daily, quick stand-up meetings could help any team work more collaboratively and productively. Knowing you are expected to share what you have done and what you are currently working on will motivate most people to achieve something worth sharing during their day. Responding to feedback either from within the team or from customers is good practice for any company. The Agile way to handle this is to always be ready to re-evaluate and re-prioritise as demands change.

Read more articles in our Productivity series.