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How to switch your team to Agile

If I'm thinking of switching the team to Agile -- Scrum, specifically. What do I need to keep in mind? Is this a good idea? I've heard a lot of good things about Scrum and I work with a small team.

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Congratulations on taking a step towards Agile project management. Agile is a good way to make software development less risky and easier to predict. Best of all, it can also be a lot of fun.

I recommend starting with the manifesto and principles behind the Agile movement. It's easy to miss these, and you'll struggle to make Agile successful if you don't first embrace and apply the principles.

Once you've read those, I recommend you read Lean Software Development, by Mary Poppendieck. This will help you develop an in-depth understanding of the Agile approach.

Next, use the things you've learned to start solving problems. Apply the Agile approach to something that is troubling or difficult, and see what kind of results you get. You can do this informally if you need to (not everyone is at liberty to define their methodology) or formally if you think it's possible.

For example, you could start using volunteerism instead of supervisor assignment as a way of doling out work. See what difference that makes. Or you could cut back on documentation and emphasize face-to-face communication. It's important that you experiment with the principles as a way of "warming up" and getting support from others. Successful experiments early on will make it easier to get formal buy-in later.

Agile PM resources:
Software development groups take many routes to Agile

Scrum and requirements gathering

Agile development across continents

Once you've had a few small successes, go for a big one. Pick a project and run it with Scrum. Keep it simple and add tools to your approach as you go. You don't necessarily need a burn-down chart in your first sprint. But if you have short iterations, a work backlog, and daily Scrums, you're off to a good start. Don't expect to be able to do EVERYTHING on your very first try. Add to your tool belt gradually so that you can master all the tools Agile can offer you.

Good luck.

This was first published in July 2008

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