It seems a painfully obvious answer to the question of how engineers can best contribute to an Agile team, but the simple reality is that an Agile team requires agile team members; team members that are trained in Agile methodology, but who are also genuinely agile, in the human sense of the word, and that includes engineers.
If you’re taking a strictly binary look at a software engineer - evaluating their potential or contributions based on technical proficiency alone - you’re not capitalising on what makes an engineer a truly valuable, dynamic asset.
Good ideas aren’t created in a vacuum
"We know that people tend to work harder and more enthusiastically when their opinions and input are received and acknowledged. Engineers working within an agile team are no exception."
In the same way that an unengaged designer or product owner is fatal to the successful delivery of a superior product, the contributions of a siloed engineer are similarly compromised. Business fundamentals tell us – with ever-increasing frequency - that professionals who truly, meaningfully feel like they’re an integrated part of a team are the ones who deliver the best work product. We know that people tend to work harder and more enthusiastically when their opinions and input are received and acknowledged. Engineers working within an Agile team are no exception. From the outset, engineers should be encouraged to contribute their capital in ways that raise awareness of technical debt, and address nuanced issues such as items concerning cost of implementation. These are areas about which engineers possess unique knowledge; areas where they can help teams solve problems, save time, and face challenges, head-on.
In fact, it’s often the case that team members prefer working with engineers who are eager to be challenged and participate in a process where challenges aren’t seen as roadblocks, but as opportunities. Regular, consistent communication with other engineers and team members helps avoid the creation of a technical echo chamber, and that helps create and deliver a well-rounded, robust product.
Communication is more than key
The secret to drawing out and harnessing the full potential of an engineer is this: when it comes to including them as a member of an Agile team - there can be no secrets. From the first phase of a project, engineers must be involved, at a meaningful level, in order to make meaningful contributions. Throughout the life cycle of a project, engineers must be given the opportunity and encouragement to contribute, question, and ideate alongside their team members, even where that input isn’t strictly within their technical wheelhouse. After all, that’s what a dynamic team member is meant to do.
An engineer with well-rounded knowledge of the product they’re creating is an engineer that will, ultimately, create the best product possible. In order to make sure an engineer has that essential knowledge, they must be included in conversations about user journeys and product purpose, up front, and they must regularly be included in, and contribute to, ongoing discussions about the project - not just when there’s problems.
"Communication isn't just a key, it's more than that: it's paramount to the creation of an environment where team members are comfortable to act in bold, enterprising, and truly agile ways."
Facilitating communication within an Agile team might seem like a given: it’s natural to assume that providing people with more information will help them work better and more efficiently, and the Agile model absolutely requires that all team members work collaboratively. But it’s not just about giving engineers the information they need to create a superior product, it’s about creating a space where they feel confident using that knowledge to act in truly dynamic ways. That’s why communication isn’t just a key: it’s not a custom-built tool meant to ‘unlock’ one, and only one, door or opportunity; it’s more than that. Uncompromised, open communication provides unrestricted access to the resources required to create an environment where team members are comfortable to act in bold, enterprising, and truly agile ways.
A human approach to agile
Agility, as a business model, has been amply defined, researched, and deployed, but agility itself remains a distinctly human characteristic.
An engineer making meaningful contributions to an Agile team shouldn’t be confined to the development box. In the same way we’ve come to expect innovation and progression from anything and everyone around us, we should expect and encourage engineers to explore, understand and question the space occupied by an entire project, not just an insular task or ticket. Building the search for exceptional engineers - those who problem-solve, ask Bigger questions, recognise patterns, and communicate well - into the recruitment phase ensures a more human approach to an Agile methodology, and it’s a crucial element in discovering and utilising extraordinary talent.
If the question is ‘what contribution can an engineer make to an Agile team,’ the answer is a fundamentally human one: engineers that are agile - those that are trained and encouraged to meaningfully participate throughout the life cycle of a project by questioning, challenging, and exploring - make the most informed, worthwhile contributions to their team and undoubtedly help create and deliver more superior products.
Ultimately, when it comes to crafting an Agile team, the key is to infuse agility into the process, and the people.
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