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4 tips for CIOs managing agile teams

By definition, agile teams are flexible and potentially tough to predict. So, how do you manage them? Here are four tips to help CIOs and other IT leaders get started.

For more than two decades, the agile project management methodology has been effective for software development. Agile teams were so successful that the collaborative organizational structure has extended to other areas of the company, where diverse project teams are needed to quickly, creatively and flexibly complete technology initiatives.

CIOs have a responsibility -- if not ultimate, then partial -- for these agile-organized project teams. Technology plays a huge part in the success of the initiatives, therefore proper management of the teams involved directly correlates with success. Other C-suite executives and business-unit leaders are also involved with the projects, depending on the topic.

The ultimate barometer as to whether the project is progressing well: Are customers satisfied? Customer satisfaction is achieved through rapid and continuous delivery of the project increments. As a leader, you should have access to a sampling of internal or external customers of the product or service under development, or data from them, to ensure project success.

What's agile team management?

By definition, one of the principles of Agile -- as a development methodology -- is that self-organizing teams are the most likely to succeed. So, rule number one with managing agile teams is not to inject a heavy-handed management approach. In managing agile teams, think of your CIO role as more of guidance, while the project manager manages the day-to-day tasks, goals and completions.

Once you have taken the appropriate steps to establish agile teams, here are four tips on how to effectively manage agile teams:

  1. Mandate daily management calls in-person or over video. CIOs don't need to be on all of these calls, but they should be able to access notes on a team collaboration workspace. In addition, the agile team is expected to regularly communicate via ad hoc calls or videos as questions or problems arise.
  2. Regularly update stakeholders. Keep those funding and evangelizing the project happy. They want regular updates on the progress of the overall project and the completion of each interval. Identify with stakeholders how frequently they want formal updates -- and make sure those happen. Typically, in an agile project, encourage more frequent and shorter scheduled project reviews. But also give your teams the freedom to do ad hoc updates when warranted.
  3. Connect the creators with the users. Whatever the project, make sure those who are creating or developing a new product, process or service are regularly connected with the customers or the users. This way, the team will know in each increment whether it is staying on track with customer demands. After all, they may change over short periods of time and the team must be flexible and reactive to those new requirements.
  4. Pull the plug on the project when warning signs emerge. Don't force teams to be agile with every new project. Warning signs include: The customer isn't clear on project goals; the project manager or majority of the team is inexperienced; or the team doesn't function well under significant pressure.

Types of projects for agile teams

Though there is no definitive guide to projects that are a home run for agile teams, there are some that tend to lend themselves to them. Broadly speaking, the projects should have a main deliverable that teams can develop incrementally -- and each phase can stand on its own.

For example, a project with a high degree of success is improving customer care in the contact center. These types of projects include the addition of new technologies, such as voice of the customer survey tools, self-service knowledge bases and virtual assistants. These projects have a main deliverable: higher customer satisfaction numbers. But they can also stand in incremental phases, with the addition of each new technology improving customer care.

Other projects may include using self-service applications for benefits enrollment, marketing strategy development with the use of marketing automation tools or establishing an automated process for onboarding employees.

The bottom line is that CIOs and other business leaders must select the right type of projects, manage the teams loosely enough where they can be flexible and responsive, yet disciplined enough to meet short-term goals, while keeping business leaders and stakeholders informed.

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