Sivuyisiwe Tshula has found that Agile Methodology is the key to empowering people in teams to voice their ideas and give equal input on a project’s direction. When there is no structure in place to guide workflows, this sense of empowerment can easily be lost. Here is how Agile has helped Sivu grow as part of a tech team.
Sivu trained as a developer at CodeX, a coding camp in Cape Town. The Agile Methodology that the organisation encouraged its students to follow really stood out for her.
She found it to be really valuable in helping her find her feet as someone who was just starting out. “Because it allows for clearer planning by breaking tasks down into smaller chunks, tackling challenges became a lot easier,” she says. It also helped her engage with people on her team more as the system encouraged a lot of collaboration: “I loved this part because it allowed me to develop strong relationships, which in turn made me feel like I really belonged in this community.”
In her first job, however, her new team didn’t follow the Agile workflow. “Early on, I found that we were facing challenges that I had never experienced during my training. We didn’t have a clear way to plan projects and communicate amongst ourselves,” Sivu says. Without this, her team constantly faced client changes, long hours, internal confusion, and a general lack of motivation. “I felt overwhelmed by this and didn’t feel like I could speak up or do anything about the situation we found ourselves in every day,” she shares. “I started to doubt that I was capable of handling this sort of work.”
Sivu left the company and started in a new role at KineticSkunk, where she was determined to rediscover her passion for development. That’s why she approached her manager and explained the productivity benefits of Agile.
Her manager encouraged Sivu and a few other teammates who had also trained at CodeX to explain Agile’s benefits to the rest of the team. “Our presentation went really well, and I was quite proud of myself. Everyone was keen to try Agile and we quickly adopted it into our daily practices.”
In her experience, the Agile approach to working has many benefits. Here are the main three:
- Constant learning
- Communicating for more effective results
- Developing a sense of ownership
“In the tech world, we have to build things fast, and improve on them fast,” Sivu says. In her experience, improving without Agile is almost impossible: “You need that structure,” she says. “When you aren’t breaking things down and then reviewing them frequently with someone who is more experienced, you aren’t learning until it’s too late.”
The Agile system has helped her to seek frequent feedback from her teammates because it encourages:
- Regular check-ins: Sivu has found that making, breaking, testing and improving features continuously means that there are always questions to ask, and this has helped her approach other developers on her team and build up a system of trust. “When you struggle through something alongside someone, I believe you will form a connection,” Sivu says. “You start to feel comfortable with that person and that’s when you can really grow because you are open to hearing what they have to say.”
- Transparency around strengths and weaknesses: Sivu has come to realise that when you are constantly presenting your work and asking for someone’s opinion on it, it’s easier to see what you’ve done well and what you can still improve on. “The iteration process that we use allows me to see how I am building my skills,” Sivu says. “It’s like building a house because I can see the strong bricks that I have laid as well as the gaps that still need to be filled.”
Communicating for more effective results
At KineticSkunk, the team has a standup every morning where everyone shares what they are working on that day. “Agile gives you a platform,” Sivu says. “When there is no Agile, there is nothing to bring a team together.” She has found that working with a system that allows a team to meet regularly is great because it allows for:
- Diverse problem solving: Sivu has found that the daily get-togethers she has with her team have encouraged everyone to speak up more because, when everyone is together in a group and listening to each other, there is no sense of hierarchy. This makes it easier for anyone to offer advice when someone mentions a problem. “I feel like we are all equal when we are together in the circle,” Sivu shares. “I feel confident to speak if someone asks for help because that person is using the platform to ask everyone, not just the senior developers.” This opening-up of the floor has allowed her to learn from many different perspectives, which she feels has made her experience as a developer richer.
- A more holistic understanding of projects: Being able to hear every day about what all her teammates are working on allows Sivu to get a better sense not only of what they are doing but also what she is doing. When she can see where her work fits in, Sivu has found that it becomes easier to raise flags or ask questions: “When we talk every morning about everyone’s work, I get a sense of what might affect me, or who is the best person to ask for help on something I don’t know. We map everything out every morning and this keeps me on track.”
Developing a sense of ownership
For Sivu, this last part is one of the most powerful aspects of Agile because it gives her a sense of ownership and the bigger picture: “Because the system encourages us to be transparent about the roles that we play, I never feel isolated because I am constantly reminded that I am working with others towards something bigger,” Sivu says. She has found that Agile is helpful for boosting her confidence because it encourages:
- Greater responsibility: With projects being broken down into parts so that they can be iterated on quickly, everyone on a team becomes responsible for something in particular. Sivu has found that this segmentation of work is incredibly empowering because you really get to own how you do it and what you produce. “It’s exciting to me to own work because it pushes me to do my best. I want to make sure I ask the right questions and really think through my processes so that I can explain them clearly,” she says. “And, oh man, when I get it right, it’s the most rewarding feeling!”
- The opportunity to help others: “When you follow Agile, I believe that anyone can become a mentor,” Sivu says. Because the system allows for you to have more access to your team, and because you can hear what they have been struggling with or winning at, it is easy to reach out. “I have had teammates approach me and ask me for help after seeing the work that I have done, which makes me believe more in my abilities,” she shares. “I want to give back, I want to help and so, when I have the platform to make it clear where my strengths are and what I can help with, I feel like a useful member of my team.”
Reflecting on how following the Agile Methodology has improved her experience as a developer, Sivu says, “It has really helped me feel like I am part of my team because it provides me with opportunities to learn from both my peers and my seniors, share my ideas and help others, and clearly see what I am contributing to the work that we do as a group. Using Agile has made me feel like I can make a mark in the tech space.”