160px-Vlcsnap-420741Remember the game show “Name that tune”? Hmm … I might be dating myself on this one.  The show ran in various editions from 1951 – 1985 (and I’d like to state for the record I do not remember the 1951 edition). The idea of the game was basically this:  Contestants would bid for how many notes they needed to in order to name a tune. It was ridiculous in some cases they’d get it down to only needing 2 or three notes. If they got it right they got money.

In a recent talk to a PMI community event I made a statement I got challenged on. I said I could go into an office, and within a handful of minutes form an opinion around how Agile the team is. The one sign I was using as a measure is whether there were information radiators on the walls. One of the people challenged me saying I wasn’t being realistic about in this measure. The person didn’t agree ‘stuff’ on walls was a sign of how agile a team is, and you could be Agile with all your information in systems.

While I will concede it could be true it’s possible to be highly effective and have all your information in systems I don’t find it very likely.  Groups spend too much time putting information in systems, and then almost always I hear people complaining they can’t find it. It’s too easy to create barriers with systems, which means you lower the amount of information flowing between people.

There are numerous things I’d look at when trying to get an early/fast indication of how Agile a team is.  Some of things I look around for are:

  • ‘stuff’ on the walls — information radiators help to keep information flowing. Teams who use various information radiators effectively learn the value quickly. I find these teams will resist going back to hiding information in systems.
    • Note: I once had a PM print their MS Project Gantt chart on a plotter and post it up as an information radiator. Although it did make it more visible the team still looked at it as ‘that PM thing’ so it doesn’t count in my mind
  • Post-its — Agile teams quickly learn the value of post-its in organizing thoughts, embracing change, working through problems, etc. How many post-its are on the walls?
  • Organizational stuff — organization structure, working agreements,team manifesto’s, etc.  All are very important pieces of information, yet too many managers don’t bother to make them visible
  • Product roadmap / Story map — is there a product/story map visible for all to see and understand? Are we able to see a roadmap of releases being planned for?
  • How sterile is the office environment — A pristine maze of cubicles does not foster collaboration & team work. Where cubicles are the only option for furniture are they arranged to allow for open areas and visibility to other people & information radiators?
  • Retrospectives — I’d ask about the last time the team had a retrospective and what they did with the outcomes. If it’s been a long time and/or they aren’t doing anything with the outcomes it’s a sign they aren’t doing enough to improve how they work
  • Buzz — some of the most Agile teams I’ve worked with seem to have a buzz about them.  There’s ownership, excitement, passion, openness and more

There is likely more but these were the signs which jumped to mind for me.  What about you? What things do you see as being signs of a good Agile environment?  What signs would you look at if you have 5 mins to assess how Agile a team is?  Please comment with your thoughts as I’d like to hear more.

As one final thought. My real preference is to help teams assess this for themselves through retrospectives and other activities.

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