Tips for Improving Your Agile Skillset

If you want bigger paychecks, adding Agile skills to your personal toolkit could be the way to go.

A recent survey confirms that tech pros who have mastered the Agile methodology can command overall salary premiums of 22.6 percent. Best of all, the higher pay applies to application-development job titles as well as strategic positions (i.e., management).

However, achieving proficiency in the methodology is more difficult than it might appear at first. The list of soft skills and practices that developers, QA testers and project managers need to master is long, and studies show that forming new work and communication habits often takes considerable time.

So how can you adopt these new behaviors, especially if you work in a non-Agile environment? Experts say that there must be a balance between experiential activities and mastery of the underlying content or theory (which is often referred to as experiential learning).

The good news is that experiential learning is largely self-directed, meaning you can use the following techniques to build up your Agile skills either on-the-job or in your free time.

Applying Values

Developing a deep understanding of the core principles and values behind Agile provides the best foundation for hands-on, incremental learning, advised Stacey Ackerman, Agile coach and owner of Ackerman Consulting Services.

Put simply, Agile is a different way of managing development teams and projects. While each company might apply the methodology’s techniques in a slightly different way, the core beliefs remain the same across the tech industry.

“Once you understand Agile’s overarching values and principles, build your competencies and experience by applying them to your everyday activities and integrating them into your relationships with teammates, sponsors and users,” Ackerman added.

David Hawks, CEO of Agile training and coaching firm Agile Velocity, agrees with those ideas. “Look for opportunities to slowly integrate various components of Agile and Scrum, such as daily standups or taskboards, into your workflow to gain hands-on experience,” he said. “Most companies don’t implement Agile overnight, anyway. Try to introduce a new feature or practice every month.”

Another option is to apply the Agile methodology to volunteer projects or personal activities, such as using a Kanban board to organize a wedding or buy a new home. Or volunteer to help coordinate an open-source project that needs better test automation or customer empathy (for example).

There are several ways to learn the principles that form the foundation of the Agile and Scrum movement. You can study the Manifesto or Scrum Guide on your own, enroll in a free online course, or take a two-day Certified Scrum Master or Professional Scrum Master training course. In addition, most cities have Meetups or user groups where you may find a coach, learning partner, or practice events.

Develop ‘T-Shaped’ Skills

Developing ’T-shaped’ skills could make all the difference in mastering the methodology. T-shaped skills are complementary competencies outside your primary area of expertise that will help you thrive in a self-organized, cross-functional, collaborative Agile-driven project team.

“Building up a couple of secondary skills can increase your marketability and value,” Ackerman noted.

For instance, if you’re already involved in QA, learn how to code or acquire UX-related skills. If you’re a developer, learn DevOps practices or transition to a customer-facing project team to develop empathy, customer focus and collaboration skills.

Being certified isn’t enough. Demonstrating your ability to implement and apply the Agile methodology is critical to scoring a raise or a new position. In the process of acquiring T-shaped skills, you will also be developing hands-on expertise in areas such as people-centric approach, continuous improvement, rapid delivery, and so on.

Since many companies have yet to fully implement Agile, being able to provide specific examples of your Agile-related skills and experience during the job application process (including interviews) can give you an edge in the market, Hawks explained.

“Because Scrum is founded on empirical process control theory, employers are looking for professionals who can demonstrate mastery of the underlying concepts and the ability to apply the methodology and their skills in different settings,” he said.

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