Three tips to help anyone transition smoothly into an agile environment

Anna Starasts

August 2, 2012

Leona Hobbs appears as part of our Leaders Series, conversations with tech and media leaders about influential trends and topics in their field. 

Companies are extending agile processes beyond software development. Many candidates we speak to are interested in working in this type of dynamic, iterative teamwork-driven environment. This could be a startup that uses agile software development or even the marketing department of a media company that runs a highly iterative workflow as an agile business.

Why are these types of organizations so attractive? Well, research suggests teams using agile methods increase innovation and productivity. For example, some research suggests agile teams get projects done 66% faster.

But one challenge many of these candidates face is their current job is anything but flexible, collaborative and iterative. In a job interview, an employer is likely to consider and assess a candidate’s ability to cope with an agile environment. And for good reason – for a startup, the wrong fit can have serious repercussions.

Here’s the dilemma for a candidate looking to make a shift to working in an agile style: How to demonstrate that you can successfully transition into a highly iterative, flexible and collaborative teamwork environment if you’ve never worked in one?

We brought this question to Leona Hobbs, a Toronto-based marketing and communications professional with expertise in social media and digital marketing. Currently running her own consulting practice, Leona is a self-professed “geek for workflow and agile.” Leona has built and run agile teams for communications and marketing at Tucows and during her tenure as vice president and partner at Social Media Group.

With this experience under her belt, we asked her for a few actionable suggestions for candidates hoping to transition into an agile role.

Suggestion #1: Create opportunities for a new kind of teamwork in your current job.

“Just because your workplace relies on a traditional style, doesn’t mean you can’t gain experience with a more adaptive, iterative and collaborative style at an individual project level,” said Hobbs.

Maybe you’ve been asked to run a small group project in your department. Learn the basics behind a work method like agile and try to adapt those principles to your work. Some of the key components of this style include the importance of communication, iteration, constant improvement and being adaptive to changes in your operating environment. [For a quick infographic crash-course on agile, check out this awesome post from Leona]

Adopting an agile management style to run your team project is a great way to create opportunity with a more flexible, iterative style of teamwork.

Suggestion #2: Get to know YOU – what is your ideal role in a team?

As a candidate, you’re more than just your skills. You’ve got to let an employer know what role you could play on the team – that is, your skills and attributes combined with the distinct way you contribute to a team.

“The ability of a candidate to be mindful about how they are on a team and the role they naturally gravitate towards playing is invaluable,” says Hobbs. “Your ability to collaborate and partner effectively is likely going to make or break your success, especially on agile teams, in a small business or startup.”

Suggestion #3: Seek out opportunities to grow your skills in the local community.

If running an agile project at your current job isn’t possible, never fear. Engineers, developers and folks in product development can volunteer time to an open-source project or get in involved with hackathons for social good.

If you’re not in product development, volunteer your time to a non-profit organization, project or event that has meaning to you, and where you can use your abilities to contribute to or run a team.

The goal (besides helping others, of course) should be a glowing LinkedIn recommendation or reference that speaks to your ability to work in a dynamic, highly adaptive and collaborative teamwork environment.

Do you agree with these suggestions? Have you ever transitioned into an agile environment? What kinds of team skills are necessary for success? Leave us your thoughts by commenting below.

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