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Sep 14

Agile and Non-Agile Teams: Differences and Management Tips

For organizations to thrive, all teams must be aligned regarding goals and objectives. The thing is, agile and non-agile teams use different processes, approaches, and organizational structures in their daily work. That can cause friction and impede business-wide growth.

It’s worth noting that businesses often adopt Agile in some areas, but not in its entirety. It’s a conscious decision since some projects benefit from the Classic approach, while others make more sense in the environment of Agile.

Whatever the reasons, managing agile and non-agile teams is a frequent occurrence. For someone who oversees both, this might cause a lot of anguish. This article will shed some light on managing the two types of teams.

Agile and non-agile teams: Key differences

Teams working with the Agile mindset vary significantly from those working in its traditional counterpart called Classic. We can discern a few key areas that summarize the contrast between the most popular approaches.

Responsiveness vs. rigidity

As the name “Agile” suggests, the approach involves the ability to react quickly to changing circumstances while the project is in progress. The requirements can change in a blink of an eye, and so can the priorities.

Thanks to the division of the workload into short iterations, the team can deliver value with higher frequency. As a result, Agile Teams respond to the customer’s needs much faster and in smaller increments.

The Classic (also known as Waterfall) approach is the exact opposite. The requirements are set at the start of the project and tend not to change as it progresses (aside from some context-specific exceptions such as government regulations).

In terms of management, both approaches have their own sets of challenges. For instance, Classic projects plan the whole schedule, budget, and all resources in advance. Considering that Waterfall projects usually take a long time, it’s incredibly difficult to estimate the budget correctly months or years ahead.

The same can be said for planning the team’s availability. Unplanned absences, staff rotation, or even holiday plans can derail a project phase, which causes a ripple effect on all subsequent stages. Assigning team members to tasks without considering potential setbacks can be costly in the long run.

In Agile, it’s the other way around. The team plans the scope and assigns the available resources for each increment. It’s much easier to ascertain a two-week Sprint than a two-year Classic initiative. Also, the fact that each iteration lasts a fixed amount of time helps organize the increments regularly.

Incremental vs. sequential progress

The incremental nature of Agile means the product is developed over time, with new functionalities added with each iteration. Conversely, Classic projects usually start from scratch and finish with a complete product.

These differences require a completely different approach to planning. In the case of Waterfall, the scope is defined at the very beginning, and projects are grouped into phases in advance. Until one phase is complete, the next one can’t begin.

Agile, however, takes another direction. While the Product Goal is akin to a Northern Star that guides the Agile team, planning takes place every increment. On top of that, when circumstances change in a Sprint, the plans are also flexible. Continuity in development follows continuity and responsiveness in short-term planning.

Management-wise, the planning phase takes place once in Classic projects. Then, assigning tasks, monitoring, and responding to problems take the reins. Communication with the team is less frequent, especially when the documentation is clear and comprehensive.

Agile managers must quickly respond to changes, which requires updating tasks, assigning resources, and regularly prioritizing tasks. Simply put, it’s an ongoing process.

Internal and external cooperation

One of the main issues of Classic teams is compartmentalization. Each group is locked in its own area of responsibility and expertise. This division hinders cross-team collaboration. As a result, the teams don’t exchange information, which can lead to various problems and difficulties in solving them.

An Agile Team is structured differently. The entire team shares accountability for the whole project’s success or failure. All members combine work as a single unit, even though their skillset is different.

Then, there is the issue of working with the Stakeholders. While the project is in motion, the Classic approach disregards this area completely. Instead, the teams rely on requirements. The actual feedback of the Stakeholder takes place once the product is completely ready. More often than not, it’s too late to implement changes, leaving the customer with the end result that doesn’t always fulfill their needs to the full extent.

On the other hand, frequent communication with Stakeholders is an integral part of Agile. After all, they participate in defining the requirements. The Stakeholders also answer questions and share feedback regarding the functionalities throughout the project. Their voices are crucial since these are the people who receive value from the work of the Agile Team.

Relying on knowledge and documentation

The former is the Agile approach, wherein “the team is expected to possess all of the necessary competencies, whether technical (programming, designing, testing) or business (domain knowledge, decision-making ability).” In many cases, the team members develop their skills over time instead of coming in with a full set of competencies from the get-go.

In Agile, documentation is scarce. Instead, the cross-functional team relies on the collective knowledge of its members. There is a focus on creativity and empowering the members to work together.

Classic is a different story altogether. The documentation regarding the project is extensive, and team members refer to it often. While there is space for creativity and problem-solving, sticking to the schedule is more of a priority. Reliance on pre-made resources means that even if one or more team members get replaced once the project is happening, there is a reliable source of information for the new ones to use and learn from.

Tips for managing Agile and non-agile teams

Some Project Portfolio Managers might struggle with handling Agile teams in non-agile environments. The two teams are at odds in certain respects, making the task much more challenging. Having said that, not all hope is lost. Stick to these tips to help teams know more, work more efficiently, and achieve better results.

Organize regular cross-team meetings

When all teams strive towards a common goal, it’s imperative that they align their efforts, regardless of their approach to handling projects. The flow of information must be free to establish the proper division of responsibilities and ensure all teams move forward in the same direction.

Make sure the progress is visible to everyone

While Agile Teams don’t have a transparency problem regarding the progress of their work, Classic teams often do. To bridge that gap, provide all teams with frequent updates on the project’s overall progress.

You can use a PPM tool like BigPicture. It will display the real-time progress of all the initiatives the teams are involved in. This will clarify any doubts they might have regarding the project’s progress. You can assign access to specific teams only for the initiatives they work on, so the rest of the information can stay need-to-know.

Speak a universally understood language

Of course, I’m not talking about English, Spanish, or Mandarin. Agile and non-agile teams use different terminologies, which might cause misunderstandings for the other group.

Make sure the non-agile units understand the agile-specific phrases and vice versa. It will assist both teams in communicating and digesting information regarding the state of the projects.

Encourage cooperation between teams

Even though the Classic philosophy doesn’t emphasize teamwork, it doesn’t mean the people involved won’t benefit from it. Whether it’s focused on exchanging ideas within the team or in a wider setting, working together might help solve problems, inspire new ideas, or confirm suspicions, whether focused on exchanging ideas within the team or in a wider environment.

How BigPicture helps manage Agile and non-agile teams

With the right PPM software, the everyday process of overseeing various project types and teams becomes easier. For organizations using Jira to manage work, BigPicture adds a new dimension of functionalities, especially for managers.

The main improvement is that BigPicture supports Agile, Classic, and Hybrid approaches. That means you can manage both Agile and non-agile teams in a single tool with complete transparency, cohesion, and better effectiveness.

You can quickly create any project type and make use of methodology-specific tools

Agile

For Agile, you have a Board with the complete list of tasks you can assign to the team. The Board is timeboxed, so you can easily plan and monitor the Sprint your team is working on at any time. Additionally, you can see the timeline, capacity allocation, and dependencies. Moving tasks is lightning fast since you have the option to drag and drop them wherever you wish.

It is accompanied by a panel with a backlog with aggregated metrics to get a quick view of the overall state of the project.

What about long-term planning and monitoring? You can quickly create a detailed roadmap for Epics using a Gantt chart. Just look at the screenshot below. Also, this tool allows you to visualize upcoming releases in an organized manner.

SAFe®

Large organizations using Scaled Agile Framework® will benefit from the PPM software, especially in Program Increment (PI) Planning. The Scope module is a visual board where all Epics are visualized and aggregated. It also supports the WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) prioritization model that considers the Cost of Delay and the relative task size.

Establishing, monitoring, and executing objectives is crucial to the SAFe® PI Planning. BigPicture equips your organization with the Objectives board, where managers can set ART-related goals and visualize them in a clear and concise manner.

Aside from setting and visualizing the business targets of the Program Increment, you can measure their execution in Probable and Actual Business Value. It benefits the SAFe® team in two ways; You can see both the progress of each objective and how it impacts your business at any time during the Program Increment.

Classic (Waterfall)

Managers of Classic projects have some helpful tools at their disposal as well. The first one is the Gantt module. It contains the hierarchy of all the tasks in a given project phase, baselines, milestones, and markers – all the ingredients of a complete Gantt chart.

The wide range of visible information will help you create an exhaustive Work Breakdown Structure. The result is a detailed scope, clearly defined and quickly visible deadlines, dependencies, and more – all of which play a crucial role in staying on top of the project’s progress.

Hybrid

Let’s not forget about Hybrid. It’s a blend of Agile and non-agile approaches. BigPicture is the perfect tool for managing Hybrid initiatives. You can estimate teams’ workload using Story Points or time. The former works with the more Agile-inclined teams, whereas the latter is better suited for the traditional ones.

Overall, BigPicture gives you all the tools you need to manage teams and resources, track progress, visualize dependencies, and more. The complete set of information regarding your project applies to any methodology, helping you make data-based decisions at any project stage.

In many ways, agile and non-agile teams are like fire and water; they stand in opposition to one another. However, it’s possible to tame them and make them work together. With the right approach and a tool like BigPicture, you can create an environment where managing two kinds of teams is more than doable – it makes your work easier.

About The Author

Content Specialist at BigPicture. Passionate about new technologies, both in hardware and software form, as well as creating educational content that makes complex ideas more understandable.