How to Get Agile Teams Collaborating Across Departments

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Agile is expanding beyond the IT department, but how can you ensure teams from across the business work well together?

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In today's world, being able to react quickly to develop new solutions or ways of working is the key to success. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown, you never know what's around the corner, and revolutions in the way we do business can be upon us before we know it.

Traditional ways of working and approaches to development often can't keep up with this, which is why solutions like agile are proving vital to many firms. And this isn't just restricted to IT development. Increasingly, agile initiatives are taking a cross-departmental approach that brings people together to identify solutions to the challenges facing firms and implement them quickly and efficiently.

But this can pose its own difficulties. When people from different backgrounds, with differing priorities, come together, it can create friction. Therefore, you need to have a clear plan in place to ensure people from across the business are on the same page and are able to work towards the same goal. So what do you need to do to achieve this?

1. Have the right people

No agile initiative can succeed unless it's built on a solid foundation, and this means choosing the right people to be a part of the project. Ask yourself not only which departments will need to be involved, but which individuals are best-suited.

It's important not to just take the advice of a department head or pick the best performers on paper. You need people who are motivated and enthusiastic about the project and show strong teamwork skills. These softer skills shouldn't be overlooked - they're just as important as technical prowess.

Don't worry too much about issues such as geography, as even if team members aren't physically near each other - or even in the same time zone - this shouldn’t impact their ability to work together provided you plan ahead.

It's also important to keep continuity across your team. If you're chopping and changing personnel and frequently bringing in new people, you'll not only have to waste time getting them up to speed, but this will disrupt the relationships that have built up within the group, where everyone knows each other's strengths.

2. Have a clear communication plan

Once you've got your team assembled, you need a clear strategy for keeping in touch - especially in larger companies where the representatives from different departments may be spread across a large office, or even multiple locations around the world.

The best solution, if you can manage it, is to schedule regular face-to-face meetings with your team - especially at the start of a project. This can ensure everyone is on the same page and has an equal chance to contribute to setting out the goals and objectives.

If it's not possible to meet face-to-face on a regular basis, an effective videoconferencing solution is the next best thing. You'll still get the essential facetime needed to build trust and communicate effectively without adding any extra inconvenience or wasted travel time. For activities like scrums that require a constant cycle of feedback and discussion, being able to jump on a call whenever and wherever can greatly speed up the process.

3. Use the right collaboration tools

Aside from video communications, the right collaboration tools will be essential in making any agile project a success. There are a wide range of tools that can help keep agile projects moving, including team management software like Slack, development tools such as BitBucket and Github, and planning tools like Monday.

These ensure that whichever agile approach you choose - whether it's Scrum, Kanban or another framework - you'll have the tools to ensure everyone is aware of what's going on and what they need to do next.

4. Have a clear structure

When it comes to working across multiple departments, it will be important for everyone to understand what role they play. For instance, Atlassian recommends splitting agile work into three distinct product phases; development, operations and sales, with each department focusing on one or more of these pillars where their particular skills and experience will be most useful.

For example, project management teams will sit at the center of this, working across all three pillars. Meanwhile, dev teams will contribute development and operations aspects, while marketing professionals may only be involved in the sales phase, building collateral to support the launch of the new product or service.

5. Have common controls and standards

Ensuring everyone agrees on a single set of standards and best practices for the development is also essential. In many large organizations, different departments may often develop their own way of doing things, which can create confusion if these are applied to agile projects where other members of the team won't be familiar with certain processes.

Settling on a well-defined agile framework is a good first step in avoiding this, as it will lay out a clear roadmap for everyone to follow. However, this alone won't be enough. You also need to think about development procedures, code standards and styles and other key practices and how you'll standardize these across different departments. Getting this right early may add a bit more time to the early stages of the process, but it will pay dividends in the long run.

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