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What it takes to be part of an agile development team

Agile development is all about working well on a team.

What does it mean to be agile? 

By Merriam-Webster's definition, it's a quality that's "marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace." For most people, the image of a group of software developers tapping away at keywords and scanning through an ocean of code isn't the first thing that comes to mind here. But there's a reason that software creators have adopted the term agile, and it's a fitting one. 

Back in the day (circa 1990s), applications were constructed as biennial, monolithic builds. Processes were cumbersome, and there was a severe disconnect between the various professionals involved in development. Software releases were clunky, buggy and infrequent under this model, which is known as waterfall development.

This began to change in the 2000s, as teams started gravitating toward a more inclusive, goal-oriented model with the intention of creating software more quickly, and designing in such a way that it was easier to update incrementally. This sped up time to market, significantly increased the number of releases, and it created an adaptable framework that could adapt to changing market demands. One might say this way of doing things was "marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace."

Today, agile development is the method of choice for countless organizations, which is why project managers, developers, testers and designers with the following qualities are in a strong position to succeed. Here's what it really takes to work in an agile environment:

1. An open mind

"Those who are too set in their ways are not of the agile mindset."

It's assumed that any professional seeking work on an agile team has a certain level of technical expertise. Any job listing will clearly outline these specifications, and the more of them you meet, the better. But what not every job posting will tell you is that open-mindedness is an extremely important component of an agile framework. 

According to software development expert Will Pleasant-Ryan, this trait is a cornerstone for success in any software development environment, but especially in an agile one.

"Some of the occasions when I've grown most as a developer happened when I let go of my existing prejudices, throwing myself into whatever new technology was in front of me with an open mind," Pleasant-Ryan wrote. 

One of the main goals of agile is to eliminate the rigidity of processes, and replace it with the flexibility necessary to respond quickly and appropriately to shifting market demands. Those who are too set in their ways are not of the agile mindset. 

2. A strong communicator

Part of the big problem with waterfall development was a lack of communication between business stakeholders, developers and operations teams. This led to the creation of silos that ultimately set back projects. 

Agile dissolves these barriers. Rather than having a clunky deliverable come clambering down the pike only to be sent back the other way by quality assurance, builds are leaner, and releases are frequent – typically as frequent as once a week. Developers, testers and stakeholders must therefore work in a synchronized manner, and this requires a lot of communication. Projects need to be meticulously tracked, as does test creation and execution, defect management, user stories and more. 

"Agile methodologies stress the benefits of working with cross-functional teams to encourage strong communication between business owners, from whom we get requirements for products, and the technical team that produces the product," industry expert and TechTarget contributor Yvette Francino wrote. 

If you want to get in on an agile team, you need to be a strong communicator

Collaboration on a shared objective is a central tenet of the agile mindset.Collaboration on a shared objective is a central tenet of the agile mindset.

3. A team player

By now, this last one should be fairly obvious. The flexibility in agile processes sometimes precipitates some overlap in functions. So for instance, it actually helps to have a very basic understanding of programming if you're a QA tester on an agile team – the same also applies to developers regarding testing. You don't have to be an expert in both to be on an agile team, but the point here is that there's a unified sense of accountability for the software. It's not unlike a team sport, where there's a shared objective. Everyone's working toward the same goal. 

This mindset also applies to agile project managers, who should be less domineering, and more hands-on in facilitating smooth processes. Again, think of the project manager sort of as a point guard on the basketball court. They'll call the play, and they'll be integral in facilitating its execution, but they're not nearly as bossy as the suits on the sidelines. 

"Agile development practices will thrive in an organization that fosters a collaborative culture rather than a command-and-control type of culture," Francino wrote. "An Agile mindset is very similar to values practiced in collaborative cultures that encourage consensus-driven decisions, self-managed cross-functional teams and servant leadership."

Start looking for an agile role today

If you have the technical expertise necessary for software development, a willingness to adapt to new ways of doing things for the sake of getting the job done, strong communication skills and a collaborative mind that can work without someone cracking the whip, then you have everything you need to be on an agile team. 

Start looking for your new role today at the prosourceIT career portal