Borrowing rituals from the Agile software development process

In a time of flux, it is more important than ever for leaders to over-communicate the company’s strategy and status. That can be done in regular team meetings every one to two weeks. Those are easy to run on a virtual conferencing platform. But what about keeping people organized and coordinated?

Here is where even non-technical teams can borrow a few rituals from the Agile software development process to stay organized and coordinated.

Agile is by far the most common development process used by most modern software development teams. It was originally designed for software teams. However, its strong focus on collaboration and communication makes many of its practices applicable for any team.

There are a few ideas from the Agile process worth noting:

The Daily Standup

The daily standup is a meeting set up to happen at the same time and place every day. Each person gets 2 minutes to share what they are doing, always in this format:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What will I do today?
  • Where do I need help?

If there are no more than 5-8 people, the whole thing is done in 15 minutes or thereabouts. It is meant to happen with everyone standing. Thus the name  “stand up”.  When conducting this meeting virtually, everyone will likely be sitting. That’s totally fine if the team respects the ritual and format and keeps things moving.

With 15 minutes of investment each day, this single act of coordination can transform a team from siloed thinking to high performing collaboration. It is a great idea for any cross functional team whose members need to coordinate their activities.

One- or two-week-long “sprints” and end-of-sprint retrospectives

The basic unit of time in Agile is a “Sprint”. This is typically two weeks long for most software organizations.

Before the beginning of each sprint, each person plans what they will commit to completing in the next sprint. They will then keep everyone informed on their progress during the daily stand-up meetings.

At the end of the sprint, the team will do a quick retrospective in this format. This allows the team to engage in continuous process improvement.

  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What might we do differently next time?

Tying long term milestones to sprint milestones

Non-software teams working on long term projects rarely find their projects fitting neatly within 2 weeks. A team working on a new warehouse automation robot could be looking at a 4-month cycle for each design iteration. Alternatively, a team may be implementing a complex installation and customization of new equipment that takes months.

For these teams (and indeed – for ANY team), it helps to have a high level schedule with dates for major milestones. Each person can then look at the next two weeks in the context of the overall program, and plan accordingly.


Adapted from a blog post titled "Leading a virtual entrepreneurial team – Part 3. Staying organized and accountable" by  Elaine Chen

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