February 8, 2017

Agile Software Development. Insights from Intellectsoft

First in a series on Agile methodology, this post explores the springwell of team formation. At Intellectsoft, some of our project managers deploy a tried-and-true approach to team-molding. Titled Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, it is an essential method for a team to succeed.

Agile architecture was created to bring a long awaited flexibility to business and dismantle the stone rigidness of project management and innovation everywhere — from schools to enterprise software development. With Agile, everyone who participates in the process is less stressed and more content: the client, the team members, and the project manager. As a result, the client walks away with a satisfying end product (often to return again), whether it is a retail application or overarching software for a big hospital. Meanwhile, the team is rewarded with a lingering feeling of fulfillment that motivates them for the next project. Nevertheless, it is always hard in the beginning, when a team starts assembling. Here, it is better to carefully deploy proven step-by-step methods that work in line with agile methodology.

Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing in Agile Project Management

The road to agile methodology was long, as organizations had been struggling to map out a better way of management for five decades. One team formation model that perfectly pairs with Agile is similarly seasoned. Called Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, it was created by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965 to describe the path teams usually go through to reach high performance.

First step — Forming

In the beginning of every agile software development project, there are a lot of laughs and uncomfortable moments within the newly formed team. Most people are positive and polite, some feel uneasy, and others are excited. Here, project managers should dominate and start shaping the team into a coherently functioning group. The most important thing to consider on this stage is that the process naturally takes time as team members are getting used to each other.

Second Step — Storming

Commonly the hardest stage, storming is when team members begin pushing the limits established in the previous step. In agile development, the negative impacts of this stage are softened, but the friction between the team members — as well as between the team members and the project manager — can sometimes be high. In the first case, reasons include conflicts in working styles, in the second — challenging authority due to ego & status issues.

Third Step — Norming

The list of values in the famous Agile Manifesto includes placing people over the process. Since 2001, when it was released, the Agile methodology in general and Agile software development in particular,  proved to be friendly and individual-oriented ways to complete projects more effectively and innovate more often. Therefore, the Norming phase may be reached earlier in Agile. The team is molded, and the members have resolved their differences; they appreciate each other’s strengths and have learnt to respect the authority of their project manager. Everybody is more open to meaningful feedback. Most importantly, the progress on a project is visible, with solid results.

Fourth Step — Performing

The Performing phase is about working in the moment: the team now tackles hard tasks fluidly and without friction, working within the outlined structure (or cycle, as it is common to agile software development). Project managers now have the time to forward a lot of their responsibilities to team members and devote more time to ensuring the progress of their project is smooth. Performing is the pinnacle of team formation, and if a team reaches it, the chance of failure is relatively low. As a result, the course of this step is similar for both sides in agile vs waterfall discussions.