How to Become an Agile Superhero

Agile IT practitioners must exhibit a range of digital business skills that go beyond the ability to code, such as courage, communication and leadership.

Some superheroes, like Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and the Hulk, have superhuman powers — X-ray vision, power of flight, enhanced reflexes, super strength. Others, like Batman and Iron Man, rely purely on enhancing human abilities.  

Agile is as much a philosophy as a methodology

Highly successful agile practitioners model their growth after the second set of superheroes. They develop skills, live agile values, and strive to continuously improve their proficiency and breadth of knowledge — becoming true “agile superheroes.” 

“Agile is as much a philosophy as a methodology,” says Bill Holz, Vice President Analyst, Gartner. “Technical practices enable agile development, but at the core, it is more about the people involved than the technology. The agile approach leans heavily on creativity, collaboration and transparency, calling for a range of technical, business and professional skills that extend far beyond those needed for success in a traditional IT context.”

Eight key traits will help application technical professionals responsible for product development transform into agile superheroes.

Be an agent of change

Lean and agile methods require a major departure from traditional development, IT and business approaches. Organizational resistance to this change can impede agile success. The agile superhero assumes the role of change agent, responsible for evangelizing, advocating for and creating the changes needed for agile. Influence others through example. Proactively share new ideas, even if those ideas aren’t all winners — it will encourage people to engage in strengthening them.

Read more: Enterprise Architecture Enables Digital Innovation

Be courageous

In the 2019 Gartner Agile in the Enterprise Survey, respondents cited shifting from a culture of control to one based on trust as the top inhibitor to agile success. Agile superheroes must have courage to fight against siloed and bureaucratic behaviors and complacent thinking. Demonstrate courage by communicating honestly and exercising humility. This will help team members trust that they can be honest about their own problems or shortcomings. Encourage teammates to take risks, knowing that failures are okay. 

Focus on sustainable team-based development, not on individual heroics

Model agile values

In agile methodologies, teams are collaborative, self-sufficient and accountable. However, autonomous teams only succeed at collaborating to build solutions when all members of the team commit to a set of shared values. These values should include:

  • Focus: Everyone focuses on the work of the sprint and the goals of the team.
  • Courage: Team members have the courage to do the right thing and to work on tough problems. 
  • Openness: The team and its stakeholders are open about their work and any challenges with performing it. Team members are willing to share knowledge, learn from others and express opinions without fear of being judged or punished.
  • Commitment: Each team member personally commits to achieving the goals of the team.
  • Respect: Team members respect each other to be capable, independent people.

Take these values to heart and regularly assess whether the team upholds them. 

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Become a lean/agile expert

Agile success requires a deep understanding of agile and lean thinking. It also requires experience with proven frameworks and techniques, such as Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), lean, DevOps and continuous delivery practices.

Agile superheroes develop skills and experience in these important concepts. Yet, perhaps more importantly, they focus on sustainable team-based development, not on individual heroics. Advocate for team members to grow their own skills and demonstrate proficiency in these necessary disciplines.

Be a good communicator

Agile promotes the inclusion of representatives from all aspects of a project, including developers, testers, architects, business stakeholders and customers. Strong communication and intrapersonal skills are necessary for this collaboration to be effective.

Be a strong agile leader

Having the right team culture and leadership style is essential to scaling agile and DevOps initiatives. For the agile team to be accountable and self-sufficient, all members of the team must provide leadership, not just managers. Get to know your peers as both people and professionals, gaining an understanding of differing skills, communication styles and personal experiences. Adapt your leadership style based on the situation and team members at hand. 

Be a multiskilled and lifelong learner

The more multiskilled an agile team is, the better it can quickly solve problems. Waiting for the “expert” to perform a critical project step impedes agility. Continuously develop technical skills in areas including analytics, development, testing, user interface, configuration, automation and database technologies.

Look for opportunities to learn from developers with differing skill sets, and take advantage of formal and informal training opportunities. Simultaneously, build nontechnical skills in areas such as product management, communication and business acumen. 

Be a problem solver

Success with agile doesn’t come from those who wait for others to step in and correct a situation. When a problem arises that impedes progress, agile superheroes take the responsibility to resolve it. Apply methods like the Theory of Constraints or continuous improvement to understand problems, identify constraints and initiate change.

Agile superheroes are not born with agile superpowers. They use their innate abilities to learn to overcome challenges. Agile superheroes continually seek new and better ways to accomplish their goals, committing to leading their teams as masters of change.

Gartner clients can read more in “Become an Agile Superhero: 8 Attributes for Success” by Bill Holz and Peter Hyde.

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