Agile is not for purists – everyone who even scratched the surface of this approach knows that. There are so many different frameworks and takes, created for the sole purpose of adjusting Agile to teams’ specific needs. Yet, even the most flexible approach needs a solid foundation. In Agile it’s the communication between stakeholders to keep everyone aligned. That’s why alignment meetings are so important.
What is an alignment meeting?
In broader terms, alignment meetings are gatherings of all interested parties, that have one purpose: to keep everyone on the same page. According to the University of Minnesota, developing a common understanding among the key stakeholders of the purpose and goals of the project and the means and methods of accomplishing those goals is called the alignment process.
This emphasis on common understanding is a key for every Agile project and program you work on. With the classic (Waterfall) approach, the update comes when the stage ends. It can take weeks or months without any proper updates. Alignment meetings in Agile happen much more often, usually every few weeks, and are cyclical. Below are the main topics, that are usually addressed during those meetings.
Why are we doing it, or project purpose
With the start of every Agile project or program, a manager must ask themselves one, but very important question: what is the business value we want to achieve? What is the main purpose of each initiative? You can’t even begin planning without establishing, what your team is trying to accomplish, improve, or increase the program’s business value.
What do we want to achieve, or goals
After you clearly establish your business goals, you can break them down into smaller chunks of work. These goals can be milestones, KPIs, or Story Points. Each goal should bring you closer to the business value. It must be understood by every party and be achievable within the Sprint.
How we want to achieve it, or means and methods
What language code should you use? How many Story Points do you want to achieve in this particular Sprint? Which tools you should use to communicate internally and externally? These are the questions that need to be answered before the actual work starts. Knowing what set of tools each team uses helps you understand their workflow better and communicate more effectively.
Who will take care of what, or roles
In Agile Scrum, there are three key roles: product owner, scrum master, and the development team members. The product owner must manage the backlog items, communicate with stakeholders, and set a clear vision for the business value they want to achieve. Scrum master supports the development team in its work and helps the product owner define the goals and visions. This role is often called a servant leader – an approach that prioritizes cooperation and authority over power and autocracy.
The importance of alignment meetings
Trust – the cornerstone of Agile
Thinking about the Agile manifesto, there is always one thing that comes to mind – trust. The big shift, that this approach brought to the management world, wasn’t about iterative workflow or dividing programs into smaller chunks. It was about how we approach and perceive our teammates.
From the beginning of the 21st century, the shift in management was more and more visible. The hierarchical approach required many steps to contact higher-ups for their approval or opinion about every slightly bigger initiative. The tool to track your commitment wasn’t the amount of work you did, but the time you’ve spent in your office. Every process or way to solve the problem was supposed to be approved by management, and team members had very little room to experiment or interact aside from rigid rules of the office space.
Meanwhile, Agile is based on cooperation and a more vertical hierarchy. Instead of people that will just order you what to do next, every interested party is involved in the whole process. Trust is gained on the base of constant, mutual communication, and work items the team members finish each Sprint. Instead of reporting, everyone is talking about their progress, sharing their hesitations, or complimenting other members’ work. Teams are much more self-governing, they don’t require much more outside supervision. By their fruits shall ye know them – a great biblical quote that fits within the Agile world.
Alignment meetings – how do they help your team?
- Celebrate every success.
- Analyze your failures.
- Don’t blame people.
- Encourage collaboration over competition.
- Invite people from different teams for alignment meetings.
- Cross-team your planning process.
Keep your team updated with alignment meetings
By gathering the facts we already established, we already know that aligning your teams during the work on both short and long-term goals can be achieved through different means. It can be done through regular meet-ups, which can happen every few weeks; by giving certain autonomy to the teams and asking them about progress, without the whole report to me schtick. Or by giving every interested party a voice, and letting them know they’re part of a bigger whole, that can address the problem and inform about breakthroughs or successes. Importantly, always look for doubts or less addressed areas and issues and try to talk about them and, if possible, flush them out. The more people understand the program or project, the more value they can bring to them.
Tips for an optimal alignment meeting
Common challenges of alignment meetings
Naturally, the most basic challenge is gathering everyone in one place (or call) at the same time. That’s why delegating one person from each team is a common solution to this problem.
The next challenge is moderation. When preparing an alignment meeting, one must think about the agenda of this meeting – the order, in which the teams speak, what topics you want to cover, and the time period (e.g. current and previous Sprint).
The other challenge is the environment. Don’t create a stiff, official atmosphere, where everyone must report each initiative. Be welcoming and encourage people to talk about overall directions, potential halting points, or achieved milestones. You create a place, where ideas aren’t thwarted, but lively discussed and people can trust each other. Which, as we already know, is a cornerstone of Agile.
Reaching alignment with your group
The best way to reach group alignment is simple – just listen to what others have to say during Daily. This event, as the name implies, happens every day and is essential for every Agile team. It synchronizes each team member, allows them to unfold tasks effectively, and reassigns their efforts to more important tasks. Daily is truly a miracle tool and usually lasts about half an hour – a small price for more effective work.
Step-by-step alignment meeting instructions
- Set one, specific day of the week for alignment meeting (e.g. every Tuesday every three weeks).
- Invite people and teams, that will actually benefit from these meetings.
- Be on time.
- Stay on the topic – ask about the most important initiatives, plans, and upcoming events.
- Encourage other meetings that will deepen the potential important issues – alignment is about the bigger picture.
How Can You Accelerate Team Alignment?
Don’t turn alignment meetings into slog – this way, you will soon hear many excuses not to attend the next meeting. Keep it simple – alignment meetings should be about tasks and initiatives in a broader sense. Keep the time limit reasonable – two hours should be enough, usually, these meetings can last even one hour. Then the acceleration comes with each meeting – team members know what they should talk about and to whom should they delegate their coverage. This way it gets better and better each time.
Resources for achieving alignment meeting mastery
There are many great tools to help you improve your meetings and get the best out of them. From obvious ones, such as Zoom or Google Meet to even connect, you can use Jira to follow the tickets, BigPicture to see the progress and roadmaps of initiatives, Miro for potential brainstorming, and Calendly to plan additional meetings. There are myriads of apps to use, so don’t hesitate and experiment with them and see, which tools are the best for your alignment meetings.