Editor’s note: Bill Murray is a startup mentor/innovation catalyst with American Family Insurance.

Working “agile” can come with a lot of frustration. You’re doing all the right things. You have a daily standup. You have a backlog. You’re demoing your work with your customer. So why does it feel like you’re still working the old way? Agile promised better outcomes like faster results, better alignment to customer needs and improved team morale … but you’re still buried in work and your customers are almost as unhappy as your team. What gives?

The benefits of working agile don’t directly come from rigid execution of scrum ceremonies. Agile is a mind-set that drives how you approach your work. When teams start working agile, that mind-set is still developing and won’t start to impact the work for a while. What I’ve seen is that when teams set up the traditional scrum ceremonies and go about them with an experienced coach or scrum master, the development of that mind-set is significantly accelerated. Below I’ll share some of the signs of evolution from different agile ceremonies and tactics that I look for as I help teams go from just “doing agile” to being agile.

Where to start? Get a sponsor or product owner. This person will own the team’s work and clear obstacles that would ordinarily slow a team down. The coach should be meeting with the sponsor regularly to help guide their agile journey. Sponsors are often tempted to manage a team at the outset, but quickly learn to mentor instead. Their value comes from the great questions they ask the team about their work, rather than a series of directives that limit the team to the sponsor’s assumptions. 

Working with the sponsor, inventory the skills of the team. Do you have the right mix of talent to do the kind of work you’ll be expected to do? If not, how can you procure it permanently or on-demand in a way that doesn’t slow the work of the team. ...