In 2014, I was consulted as an SME (subject matter expert) to help draft user stories for a new platform my company at the time was building. Our dev team didn’t use Agile but the company had brought on a new project manager who was used to working within an Agile framework. As he coached us to write user stories, I was fascinated by pretty much everything he said. It just made so much sense. And even though it was all couched in software development terms, I knew it was something I had to come back to at some point.
Next thing I know, I’m on to my next job leading a product and process training team. We worked our asses off (can I say asses on our blog, @andrea?) that first year, which was really fun, but EXHAUSTING. Despite being a self-proclaimed productivity nerd, getting anything over the finish line to a published state was so much harder than it seemed like it should be. During those days, I casually mentioned Agile a few times and as you read previously, we watched the engineers from afar wondering if we could do it, too.
Another year went by. Finally, we decided to go for it.
From my current perspective, the business value of using an Agile approach is so obvious it seems silly to write about it. Luckily, I know from experience how swirly your head can get when reading books meant for coders and developers instead of the rest of us – “obvious” it was not. I had to first get through to the other side to really understand some of the top benefits to the business and not just our team.
Benefit #1 – Transparency
I am a team manager, product owner, and a working team member (or developer). Before agile, I held hour-long one-on-one meetings twice a month with each person on the team to discuss tasks and projects they were working on and progress made over the previous weeks. We held team meetings to discuss big topics, but overall no one else on the team had the same visibility into what everyone else was doing – including what I was doing and working on. Now, we all commit to our tasks and project goals publicly via an online tracking board and view progress in real time. Anyone in our organization can see what we are working on. The team can see what I’m doing each day. Now that I have all of the information at my fingertips, I meet one-on-one with each team member once a month for 30-45 minutes to discuss their personal development and professional goals.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This type of transparency and accountability requires a level of communication we found exhausting in an entirely new way, but once we settled into the cadence every aspect of our performance improved. There was no going back!
Benefit #2 – Deciding what NOT to do
I will never forget the first time I left my laptop at work at night instead of bringing it home with me. It was Day 2 of a new sprint, about 6 months into us getting the hang of it. I’d had a productive day. My to-do list for tomorrow was sitting there waiting for me. I didn’t have to worry about the “unknowns” I might be forgetting about. I waltzed out of work that day pretty happy with the situation. I felt free.
In Agile, your team’s goal is to get to a place where you can predict and consistently achieve a rate of work that is sustainable – not a rate that slowly kills your soul. And, because you work from a list of projects prioritized by the product owner (someone connected to your stakeholders), you have confidence you’ve committed to the work that is of most value to current business priorities. Inherent in the process is the ability to not just decide which tasks to do, but perhaps more importantly, which ones you will not do. Clear boundaries in any workplace can be hard to set, but Agile gives you boundaries and the words to use to explain them to others. You get to feel good about saying no, and the business realizes tangible progress and results from the outcome of the sprint. Win win!
Benefit #3 – No car parts on the floor
The real, bottom-line business value of an Agile approach became crystal clear to me after reading a book chapter titled, “Waste Is a Crime,” from Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice The Work In Half The Time. In the chapter, Sutherland compares undone work to car parts on the factory floor. The more car parts on the factory floor, the less assembled cars selling on the car lot. The goal of every sprint is to release a viable product – something of value to your customers. This type of focus has an incredible power to energize a team for two reasons. One, because the team chooses what will be released, and two, the results are available for everyone to see. Once you begin to consistently accomplish this kind of result, it’s hard to think about doing work any other way.
I’d be interested to hear from those of you who have adopted an agile approach for your team or business. What value or benefits are you realizing? Have you had any of our same experiences? Are any of you in the beginning stages wondering if it’s all worth it? (IT IS!) Let us know in the comments.
Until next time,
Girl #2 (Jenny)