Roger Swannell

Tag: agile

Exploring modern agile principles: Make people awesome 

As my interest in Modern Agile grows I’ve been looking for situations at work from which I can learn about how to apply the principles and how to work in a way that makes people awesome.

Modern Agile

There is a project team (who aren’t Agile) who seem to have a culture of focusing only on what they need. They don’t seem to be able to hear the needs of anyone else from any of the other teams they work with. I can see how this culture can develop in a team that is so completely focused on hitting deadlines and not having any part of the project slip beyond its allotted schedule, and I can see how this culture is the opposite of the Modern Agile principle of making people awesome. In this situation, the people that work with that project team don’t feel awesome because they aren’t listened to, and are given the message that the project team are able to command their time and effort without being able to feedback on whether they are focusing on the right things at the right time. And I doubt that the project team feel awesome as they probably feel like getting anything done is a struggle against the people who are supposed to be supporting them on the project (of course, they don’t recognise that those people have other work to do outside of the project because they are so focused on their project).

I’m not going to try to suggest a solution to this problem as I don’t think the situation/culture will change, but I definitely want to learn from it. So, I’m going to try to:

– Communicate more clearly,
– ask questions to encourage discussion,
– remember that other people have their own priorities,
– actively listen for implied meaning and ask follow-up questions,
– ask what they need to be successful,
– allow open honest conversations,
– and encourage everyone to be able to positively challenge what anyone says.

I hope that if these practices become part of the projects I’m involved with then we can all help to make each other awesome.

Agile Digital and Ecommerce teams at the BHF

The BHF Digital Teams, like many digital teams, take Agile approaches in their work.

The Digital team uses Scrum with Product Managers writing user stories from other parts of the organisation and taking them to the Development team for prioritisation and planning. The Dev team consists of front end and back end developers, business analysts, and testers. They estimate the size of the tasks and work in two week sprints to complete the tasks. Using Scrum means that once the tasks are prioritised for that sprint they don’t change it. This works well for software development as it’s repeatable work that benefits from a timeboxed approach to deliver value.

The Ecommerce team uses Kanban. We aren’t specialists like the Dev team and our work often involves a broad range of work, including customer service, logistics, developing merchandise, marketing campaigns and products, as well as website development. We accept that with priorities changing rapidly and with what work we can undertake being dependent on others, attempting to plan with any degree of certainty or timebox our work isn’t going to be an effective. We maintain a high-level roadmap that shows what we expect to be working on over the next few months, and we have a very low-level tasks list that we refer to and update daily. This works well for ecommerce projects as the priorities change quickly and often.

Digital Team using Scrum
Ecommerce Team using Kanban
Cross-functional team of specialists, including Product Managers, Developers, Testers, Business Analysts, UX.
Single functional team of generalist who cover Platform Development, Customer Services, Logistics, Marketing.
Daily stand-up meetings to estimate, prioritise and assign work.
Weekly planning meetings to prioritise projects for the next few days.
Works in fortnightly sprints to complete predefined tasks.
Works in continuous flow with priorities changing daily.
Uses a ‘push’ system with work forecasted weeks ahead by the Product Managers and Developers.
Uses a ‘pull’ system with demand from the business and/or customers deciding what work is focused on this week.
Kanban isn’t better than Scrum, or Scrum better than Kanban, each works for the team that applies it in the right way for them.

Ownership is important for success 

Today I was chatting with a colleague about the Digital Systems Team, the team that runs the website, provides a support function to handle requests for fixes, and delivers enhancements. He said that the team manager wants to turn the team into a mini internal agency. I can see why, as the budgeting model for the work the team undertakes is to ask the departments commissioning the work to pay for it.

I think there are issues with thinking of the Digital Systems Team as a mini agency. Firstly, the agency model makes sense if you think from an inside-out, organisational point of view, but if you want to be customer focused, putting user experience and priorities first then it might not be the best way as it could fall into the trap of the departments with the biggest budgets getting what they want. And secondly, with an agency-type approach those in the team will always working on someone else’s success, never their own. They never truly own a project or piece of work. And ownership is important for success.

If I was making changes, I’d start by renaming the team name to make it clear to the members of the team and the rest of the organisation that this team isn’t just there to support other areas of the business, but to lead them. Maybe I’d rename it Digital Product Team, and refocus them, putting them at the centre of digital development and transformation across the organisation.

Maybe the team would become Scrum certified Product Owners, which fits with the team aspirations to work in an agile way, learn skills in Product Management and be called Digital Product Owners. The website would be one of those products, so all the work that gets done now would still get done, but it would widen the scope of the team, give them clearer career aspirations, and most importantly give them ownership of their own success.

4 tips to make any team Agile

Copyright © 2018 Roger Swannell

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