I was introduced to Agile in 2009 when I was a Software Development manager. For several years after my initial introduction and training into Agile, I have played the dual role of Development Manager/Scrum Master. I maintained our ALM tool VersionOne and created our company’s Agile Best Practices documents, while also mentoring various teams and departments on Agile and the practice of Scrum.
As a Scrum Master we followed a two week Sprint cadence with Sprint Planning, Daily Standups, Sprint Reviews, Retrospectives and Kickoffs. I worked closely with our Product Owners for Release Planning and backlog grooming. Our organization was successful in various pockets throughout IT, with some teams really embracing Agile and others falling into more of a Scrumfall.
Our Scrum teams still had issues with developers being silo’d in their skillsets, team members were still partitioned in separate cubicles and as Product Owners and Scrum Masters we still “pushed” our work onto our developers. So Agile was working, but we weren’t realizing our full potential until we made a more Agile commitment to change our environment, mindset and culture.
Early in 2017 our company decided to restructure our various project-based Agile teams to product-based, permanent Agile teams. We collocated our teams and organized their work environment to shared bullpens or pods. We now emphasize paired-programming so that there aren’t as many silo’s, and our teams are “pulling” their work instead of having it dictated onto them. Our organization also moved me out of a Scrum Master role and moved me to an Agile Coach.
As an Agile coach I am responsible for mentoring all of our product teams on the Agile Mindset, Values, Principles and Practices. I do this by conducting a 6 week immersive Agile Training where teams bring their current work (project, ad-hoc service requests, production issues) and we work in an isolated, Agile focused environment. In this immersive training session, the product teams first create a Charter, consisting of: an elevator pitch, community map, goals & measures, skills matrix and working agreements. The 6 week course consists of hyper sprints that last 2.5 days long, so our teams end up doing 12 Sprints over the duration of the class. The Agile training emphasizes the Agile Mindset, Values, and Principles while leveraging dozens of "Information Radiators" to immerse our teams in Agile practices. These Information Radiators consist of story boards, skillset matrixes, sticky notes, story maps, community maps, and just about anything that supports and radiates agility. I also conduct quarterly Agile "Road Shows" where I go out into the wild and train all our IT teams on certain parts of Agile that I'd like teams to focus on.
Some quick wins that we’ve seen by moving towards a truer Agile Mindset:
- Using Elephant Carpaccio (thinly sliced meat) to cut down our stories into manageable slices in order to deliver working software quicker and get immediate feedback. This has made an incredible change as we move away from Scrumfall and even Epic driven features where our business partners aren’t able to offer feedback or see value for several weeks or months due to the size of our stories.
- Visualize your work: by using information radiators (physical boards) vs. electronic boards, teams are able to visualize and pull in their work more effectively. Collaboration happens naturally because their work is front and center for all to see. Before, developers would myopically focus on their work (in isolation) in whatever digital tool we were managing their sprint work in.
- Morale: teams are more engaged, connecting and collaborating with one another. There is a general spirit of unity, increase respect and willingness to help others.
Being an Agile coach has allowed me to see and work with all our various IT product teams and demonstrate to them how their work can be better served by practicing Agility. It has allowed me, in turn, to see how different their work can be and yet how effective Agile can be in organizing and effectively managing their work. I know that Agile promotes higher quality, happier customers and more effective teams. But for me, Agile means a quicker feedback loop, and from that feedback loop we build the right solution. And by building the right solution, we effectively have higher quality and happier customers and more effective teams.