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How to Improve Productivity in Your Agile Sprint

In our previous blog post, we covered key performance indicators your managers should be using to measure the success of software developers. Velocity, cycle time, and sprint burndown are all important metrics to make sure your projects are on track and your teams are working without blockers. 


However, when trying to improve productivity, pushing for a high velocity might be the wrong move. These metrics need to be considered holistically to get a clear picture of your team’s efficiency. “Pushing a team to drastically increase their velocity [makes] no sense,” writes one blogger. “It could be more costly at the end because it can lead the team to cut corners on acceptance testing, skip fixing bugs or minimize refactoring just to reach the velocity.” 


There is a fine line between maximizing productivity and heading toward employee burnout. Here are some ways to improve productivity in your agile sprint without damaging employee morale or increasing error rate.


Keep the team small

The philosophy between agile development is in the name: agile means being able to move quickly and easily. The best way to stay agile? Keep your developer teams limited to three to nine people. “Working with a big team with Scrum is not a good idea. The more you do, the more people will lose information and the more effort required to make everyone aware of everything that is going on,” cautions one expert


Remote developer teams are more productive, but with some clear caveats. When there are too many people spread across too many time zones, bottlenecks can arise leading to project delays. Instead, limit your developer team to three to four handpicked experts who can integrate quickly into your existing workflows. 


Remove impediments at the beginning of the process

Set your software developers up for success by spending more time at the beginning of the spring writing the User Stories. The role of the Scrum Master is to protect their team’s workflow. “Asking good questions during the writing of User Stories, ensuring developers have all they need to do the work, being a shield for the development team so as to not be disputed by stakeholders are tasks that the Scrum Master has to do every day.” 


The Scrum Master should work closely with the developer team to make sure they know their capacity and are only taking on work they can truly handle. Scoping the project accurately from the outset, removing distractions throughout the sprint, and ensuring that work doesn’t get added after the sprint has started can keep things moving efficiently and improve productivity. 


Be transparent

Make sure all team members know exactly what’s going on before, during, and after the sprint finishes. Transparency adds accountability, and accountability can motivate developers to be more productive. Host check-ins each day to make sure everyone is on the same page: “Daily Scrum meetings will impose more responsibility on team members for the delivery,” writes one expert. “Besides, dividing tasks into small subtasks and updating the Burndown Charts on a daily basis will optimize the working process and make it more visible, helping you to avoid multitasking and the art of not working at work.” 


Transparency also makes employees feel more invested in the project and overall company goals. A survey by The Energy Project found that when employees found meaning in their work, they were 1.4x more engaged, 1.7x more satisfied, and 3x more likely to stay with the company. These metrics all impact overall productivity; it’s important to find ways to make your software developers feel they have a personal stake in the outcome of your project. 


Provide the right tools 

Developers need the right tools to help keep their work organized and moving. Routine, manual tasks drain developer energy and can slow down velocity. “Going by the numbers, saving 5 minutes per day for every employee in a 25 person organization will save a lot of man-hours. Automating those manual tasks with some powerful tools would really streamline daily workflows and increase overall employee efficiency,” writes one blog


Slack, Jira, and Dropbox are all basic tools that can help your team collaborate. Other, lesser-known options are Zapier, an integration tool that lets you automate repetitive tasks; StayFocused for limiting time spent on distracting sites; and Time Out, a tool for scheduling breaks for recharging. For more ideas, check out our list of the top 10 tools to help remote developer teams work efficiently


Celebrate the team

If you’re not already doing so, add a sprint review to your agile process. “Sprint reviews are all about team building. The review isn’t adversarial, it’s not an exam—it’s a collaborative event across the team in which people demo their work, field questions, and get feedback,” writes Atlassian. Make sure your employees are recognized for their hard work and getting positive encouragement. High morale translates into higher productivity in your agile sprints.