3 Ways you can Empower High-Performing Agile Innovation Teams

Picture yourself presenting a minimally viable product to executives, business stakeholders, and other subject matter experts to develop enthusiasm and garner their support for a new customer-facing innovation your team is working on. 

Leading innovation that drives transformation - Digital Trailblazer - Isaac Sacolick

Now take a few steps backward in time, and consider how to empower your agile teams, led by product management and supported through DevOps best practices, to deliver an amazing MVP. That MVP will show some of the core capabilities but will be far from all the features, bells, and whistles that executives and stakeholders want and dream of in their product visions. 

Which innovation practices will you focus on to empower your team and enable them to optimize decisions on prioritization, user experience, data structures, technology architecture, and the myriad of other decisions that form an innovation's foundations.  

I share several of my innovation stories in my new book, Digital Trailblazer, including one where the team had to turn around a stressful meeting of executive stakeholders looking for advanced analytics capabilities in version one of a new product. In addition to my stories, I share fifty lessons learned that digital trailblazers and aspiring transformation leaders can learn from.

Looking back at my experiences leading high-performing agile innovation teams, here are three lessons I can share with you today. 

1. Lead inclusive brainstorming that drives decisions and actions

Early in the design of an MVP, it's common and necessary to assemble diverse multidisciplinary teams to review opportunities, define problem statements, and brainstorm solutions. 

My key question is, how are product management and agile leaders conducting these brainstorming sessions, especially when in hybrid-working environments, you are unlikely to get everyone in one room? These meetings should be facilitated in structured ways, and my recommendation is to 

  1. Invite a small, diverse, multidisciplinary team to participate
  2. Designate a meeting facilitator, often a product manager or delivery manager 
  3. Define the problem or opportunity, ensure the team stays on scope, and parking lot follow-up topics 
  4. Coordinate the discussion so all voices are heard and dominant personalities don't overtake the conversation
  5. Leverage tools to capture ideas, diagram approaches, and review data
  6. Schedule the final 30 minutes (or more) of the meeting to capture solutions and recommendations
  7. Document the recommendations, and leave them open for feedback, especially from those that were not part of the brainstorming process

This approach avoids several common pitfalls that I've witnessed in brainstorming solutions.

2. Promote data-driven practices: Dashboards, not spreadsheets and PowerPoints

Innovation teams have to sell their ideas, share stories, and leverage data to back up their recommendations. Now selling the idea may require creating a deck, but when it comes to storytelling with data, I encourage teams to avoid watering down data and analytical insights into overly simplified PowerPoints or manually developed spreadsheets.

Show me dashboards that connect directly to data sources and then develop your stories directly off real-time data. Let me or any stakeholder audience ask questions and hopefully utilize these same dashboards to answer questions. 

More importantly, make analytics and dashboards a fabric of how innovation teams operate. That's one step to leading data-driven cultures.

3. Guide agile retrospectives that lead to action

Agile retrospectives should be closed-door discussions for teams to discuss the previous sprint's accomplishments. The scrum master or other team leader facilitates the discussion by asking each teammate what went well during the sprint, what were some of the challenges, and what the team should improve. Some organizations will also schedule retrospective meetings after releases and other major milestones.

I'm hugely supportive of these meetings and usually don't attend them. No one wants the CIO or other leaders in the room when self-organizing teams discuss their collaborative practices. 

But I do expect to see their recommendations and want them itemized on their backlogs. I expect product managers, product owners, delivery managers, and agile team leaders will review them and discuss what changes need to be prioritized. Discussing problems and solutions only leads to improvements through transformative actions.


If you enjoyed and learned from these lessons, I hope you will consider reading my new book, Digital Trailblazer, and exploring StarCIO's center of excellence programs.

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.