Level Up : An Agile Organisation, Evolved

Level Up: An Agile Organisation, Evolved

To be truly agile, organisations must continuously evolve their practices and focus on delivering value to customers

A few months ago, I heard a software delivery team ask, “How can I help?” Rather than focusing on their individual roles and saying, “It’s not my job to figure out the requirements of this feature”, they asked “What can I do to ensure we deliver the maximum customer value possible?”

I witnessed the evolution of a team.

The company I work for is Agile with a capital A. Not only do we develop and create software using the Agile methodology but we also coach other organisations who are transforming their organisations to Agile.

Agile is in our DNA. Everyone is adopting this new way of working and buying what we’re selling. Forbes and Harvard Business Review say if the CEO isn’t thinking about Agile, they’re behind the times.

However, what so often happens when big companies start adopting and it becomes commonplace is that the problems and struggles start to emerge.

“How come we never finish what we start?”
“We don’t measure the success of the features. We just move on.”
“Our designs don’t make it to production, scope gets cut and the experience suffers.”
These are the sounds of unhappy team members. It’s not a good sign.

We heard these complaints where I work and rather than continuing with the status quo, we really examined our practices. My company believes in continuous improvement. I used to joke that if something was working well, we would tweak it anyway. We call that Agile. I now see that as an organisation, if you don’t evolve, you will lose your spot as a leader. If you get comfortable, you will stop delivering value and potentially lose some of those top engineers and designers you worked so hard to recruit.

Here are some lessons we learned as we looked to improve how we deliver value to our customers.

Find the silos and eliminate them

Three years ago, we made the decision to collapse five product lines into one. Why?

We found that the product lines were siloed. There was no collaboration and customer problems weren’t being solved effectively. It’s as simple as that. Each product had their own siloed problems and felt they were the most important priority for the business.
Evolution: We eliminated the silos and empowered small teams to deliver value in a constrained problem space.

Delivering value and “Go To Market” should be separate

During our planning events, we kept hearing, “My team has three features this quarter and we hope to go open beta once those three are done.” This usually led to one feature taking a bit more time and causing the entire schedule to slip.
Evolution: We changed our focus to delivering outcomes. “After this quarter, teams will be able to get started with boards immediately and customise their boards in under two minutes.”

This allows us to be flexible with time and scope. “Go To Market” can be addressed separately and can align with strategic market timing. The team can achieve their outcomes even if they don’t fully finish a certain number of features.

Teams work better when co-located

It turns out that it’s a lot harder to work together when people can’t see and talk to each other instantaneously. We have teams across three time zones and when we worked across these time zones, we found that we had to create independent threads of work to move quickly. Collaboration tools help but it’s often not enough to create a true team atmosphere.
Evolution: Our initiative teams are now co-located.

Deliver small increments of value, get feedback, carry on

Many of the features that we delivered in the past few years took longer than expected. By the time the feature was in front of customers, we couldn’t justify continuing to work on it. So, we would move on to the next feature. This left our engineering teams with a feeling that we left behind unfinished features.
Evolution: We now ask “What’s the smallest slice of value we could responsibly launch to all of our users?” By delivering smaller increments of value, our customers can benefit and we can safely steer our product towards our vision.

The questions we ask our teams are also evolving.

How can we deliver smaller increments of value faster?
How can we quickly deliver a true minimum viable increment that can provide unique value to the entire customer base?
How can we minimise the time that features stay in beta?
How can we begin to lead with outcomes and iterate or pivot if our metrics aren’t revealing success?
How can we empower the delivery team to make the right decisions and put the right guard rails in place so that they can go fast?

Last month, I sat in a room as developers asked question after question about which personas we were building for and how we expected experiments to improve the experience. I saw them shed their developer roles and ask the question “what can I do to understand this more and ensure that we’re building the right thing?”

Building the right thing…

Our evolution is early. I don’t know what results we’ll see yet and it’s hard to predict due to the nature of running a “safe to fail” experiment. But the chance of success is higher because everyone understands the urgency and everyone is aligned around the mission, the customer need and problem space of the team. And everyone is excited to come to work.

This is evolution at work.

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This article has been adapted and originally appeared on medium.com.
Headline image courtesy Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com





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