29 April, 2014

How our development team are becoming champion sprinters

In August 2013, we took our first steps in implementing an Agile development process to allow us to keep up with the demands of our future vision for White Label Dating® by delivering projects more efficiently. The benefits to date have been significant.

How does it work?

Everything we do now works to an Agile process, specifically Scrum. Scrum focuses on iterative and continuous delivery, working in sprints of typically two weeks. We now have four scrum teams and three Product Owners, including Chief Product Officer, Barry. Product Owners are responsible for reviewing current priorities and all requests from stakeholders; they then distribute the work between the teams. Each team then reviews their backlog and collaboratively plans what they can feasibly deliver in the next sprint. This means that each team can deliver something tangible typically every two weeks.

Before we implemented Agile processes, communication across departments wasn’t as effective as it could have been. It could be weeks before stakeholders were able to see any progress on a project, which made it difficult to judge the scope. Without seeing progress, projects may have been asked to implement major changes; these changes could have rocked the foundations of a project, subsequently harming productivity.

After transitioning to an agile methodology, communication between the development team and the rest of the business has improved significantly. Not only do deliveries happen more frequently but all interested parties are able to clearly see what the product is, why it has been produced, and what the potential impact could be, when teams demo their work at the end of every sprint.

Scrum teams are self-organised and cross-functional. They explain to stakeholders what can be delivered in two weeks, then plan how to achieve this. Everyone participates in all aspects of the delivery process, over and above their specialist skill set, spreading out the workload required efficiently and productively. Over time, this also provides team members with an opportunity to learn new skills from their peers. There is no hierarchy in a scrum team; every individual is equally responsible and accountable for ensuring that their commitments are met on time, and are of a high quality.

How do we create and sustain exceptional teams?

It all starts by forming an identity. When a team has their own identity, they know who they are, understand what is expected of them, and identify what they consider to be important to them. The chance of meeting sprint goals every time then increases greatly.

Why? By identifying what is important to them they can use these values as guidelines to ensure they are following best practices. It is also a very valuable technique for increasing a sense of responsibility within a team. The values a team agree upon have been chosen between the group as a whole and not by one figurehead. It is therefore down to each individual to make sure these are adhered to and encourage others to do the same. Continuous improvement is a very significant part of the process. The performance of a team needs to be constantly evaluated so that areas of improvement can be pinpointed and acted upon.

Once a team’s identity has been established, the success of their sprints and the quality of deliveries naturally evolves.

This is just the beginning of how our new process helps us to become more successful as a department and, in turn, as a business. Team identity, solid (yet flexible) communication channels, and a focus on continuous improvement are, to me, the most fundamental characteristics a team should possess. Without these, we would not be able to ensure that efficiency, productivity, and the delivery of products with the best business value are achieved.

I have learned that a lot of the processes and techniques we use in development can be applied to any kind of team, to ensure that whatever your definition of success is can be met.

Alex Osborne, Project Manager at White Label Dating®

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