Agile adoption in non-IT teams. What is the difference?

31 Oct, 2022
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Self-organizing, autonomous, cross-functional, agile teams. We are used to seeing them a lot in the IT industry. And with the agility trend going up and getting more popular, these kinds of teams keep popping up in other industries. Marketing, HR, finance (you name it) are gradually shifting their work styles to agility. The reason behind it is to establish and strengthen the (product) teams and move away from project or functionally-oriented organizational silos.

As an agile consultant I have had the pleasure to work with many development teams and enjoyed working with several non-IT teams, let’s call them business teams. There are differences in the agile way of working they apply and what we’re used to in IT. Let’s take a closer look at that and see what the differences in agile adoption between the IT and non-IT sectors are.

Lots of tasks

First of all, the business teams have plenty of tasks. Already small and granular. It’s not like in IT when a single feature can keep a team busy for a sprint. The refinement of such activities is done differently. We’re used to starting the refinement session with the goal for the coming sprint and swarming on the backlog content, identifying what are the tasks that contribute to this goal. The whole team performs as a Product Owner (PO) here. They know what they want to do next sprint. There is no presentation of the feature at the beginning of the refinement by a Product Owner or Business Analyst.

The whole team acts like the PO? Wait a minute… Yes, exactly in such teams every member is a master of their duties and has a vision of what tasks are on their plate. There is more individual independence in such teams. Of course, there is a dedicated Product Owner, who keeps the end responsibility for the backlog items and handles the communication. But it feels less hierarchical in a marketing team than in IT.

Speaking up

The second observation is openness and readiness to speak up. For example, in IT teams you’d generally need to invest much more effort as Scrum Master to achieve the cameras being switched on during the online meeting and to get people to speak up and share.

Speed and estimation

The third observation is how they estimate the work to be done. Just forget about Story Points… 😊 They simply don’t buy this idea in marketing teams. Sizing is easier in time for them, or in a T-shirt equivalent (the best-case scenario). Story points are too cumbersome and too intangible for them. And it’s also all about deadlines in marketing. They are simply closer to the business.

The speed of delivery is a consequence of the stricter deadlines and activities of the business teams (remember the amount of small granular tasks they have?). The market doesn’t wait for an investigation, an architectural decision, or a solution design. It rapidly goes on and on.

Business metrics

The last observation I’d like to mention is the metrics the business-oriented teams use. We’re used to burn-downs, velocity charts, cumulative flow diagrams, user story return rates, bug-fix counts in IT. Some of them landed well in marketing, don’t get me wrong, as they are still agile metrics. However, there is more than that. The metrics the business teams use are closer to the actual business needs. Here we speak about the objectives and the key results, driven by the market. Amount of growth, market share, customer satisfaction rate.

To conclude…

All in all, there are differences and commonalities. But adoption of the Agile way of working has an innovational flavor nowadays, when it comes to marketing, HR, finance, and other non-IT areas. There are plenty of grey undeveloped areas, which are not covered by Agile Frameworks’ explanations.
As a strong believer and evangelist of Agile, I can tell there is definitely a huge potential of applying it in a wider variety of teams (and not just limited to IT ones). It has proven itself as a success in practice. However, it requires adapting this approach to the industry and team specifics. So don’t be afraid to innovate and invite all kinds of teams on their non-IT Agile journey!

Galyna Dunaievska
I believe that structure, transparency and striving towards continuous improvement lead an organization to reaching its goals and strategic plans. As passionate Agile consultant and teams' coach, I am contributing my skills, leadership, and enthusiasm to enable these capabilities within the companies. Let's collaborate to unlock your teams' full potential and elevate your organization to new heights.

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