17 September, 2014

Why communication is key for development

The thing about agile is that to do it properly, we need to be... agile! A one size fits all approach just doesn’t work. That means adapting textbook practices to suit the needs of your own development team and the wider business. The Agile Manifesto and principles are guidelines which help us ensure we’re practicing good Scrum. But how the values are implemented differ from business to business and even from team to team.

The development team at Global Personals consist of one department, five specialist skill sets (CF, Ruby, QA, Ops and UX) and four Scrum teams (Bolt, Tron, Pi and Prime). Each specialist skill set has a team head and each Scrum team contains a mixture of these skill sets, plus a Product Owner and ScrumMaster for each.

Dev communication

One of the biggest challenges our Scrum teams face is ensuring that development decisions made within sprints are communicated effectively with other Scrum teams, as well as with others who share their skill set. We’re all working on the same overarching product, so it’s important that the direction of development is consistent with coding conventions already in place. If a new approach is being introduced, sharing the details means that others can also adopt this approach. This helps us increase productivity and prevent potential conflict further down the line when everyone’s work comes together.

Our Product Owners, Pete and Tim, are responsible for prioritising the work that is fed into each Scrum team. Pete and Tim are also currently working as our Head of User Experience and Architect respectively, meaning they often need to switch between roles. Their main focus is to deliver quality products without cutting corners to maintain high standards and good user experience for members. At the start of our agile transformation, we appointed the people we felt had the most experience and knowledge to take on the role of Product Owner. Given the demands of their new roles on top of their existing ones, they’ve done an incredible job. Now that we’re more established in Scrum, we’re looking to hire a dedicated, full-time product owner to work with the two we already have, so we can continue to grow and improve the Scrum process (which is no easy task).

There are many different resources that we utilise to make sure that information is communicated effectively. We use Yammer to announce new releases and important development updates and hold regular meetings with other departments to update them on active work, while regular reports are circulated to senior management and the board. As most of the company is reliant on the products we develop, there’s a strong emphasis on communication with internal stakeholders. We need to ensure they have all the information they need to plan their own work, such as an email or advertising campaign.

Other departments also use Jira, the tool our development team use to log all work in progress, to report bugs or issues. There are whiteboards in the development area that display high level information for anyone to come over and view. And of course, there is also the old fashioned way of simply speaking to people face-to-face. All of these things help to make sure people have access to the information they need, as and when they need it.

I’ve mentioned before that a major part of agile development is to continually improve our processes. This applies to communication too. We’re always conscious of keeping our communication channels open, inspecting any areas where communication may need improving and reacting/adapting accordingly to ensure the company continues to grow.

Alex Osborne, Project Manager, White Label Dating®

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