Agile coaches support organizations on their agile journey. They help management and different teams apply agile practices, continuously improving themselves in the process. How can we shape this process in a targeted way?
In this blog, I would outline a possible path to goal-oriented, agile development using a practical example.
The client project
For over two years, we have been supporting a leading Austrian gaming company in its agile transformation. A Nagarro team of scrum masters and agile coaches supervises development teams distributed across locations, trains the product owners and the management - primarily remotely, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The teams are organized in large units (so-called tribes), working on a common backlog, for which a product owner is responsible in each case (based on the LeSS scaling model). I work in a tribe that comprises around 50 people.
Everyone involved is well aware of the sprint processes. The development teams deliver a reliably high percentage of their forecasts every fortnight (> 85%). The software is rolled out with a time lag and in an excellent quality after further release tests.
It takes a lot of daily research to maintain this level of maturity. And even more so, to improve it further. Of course, new challenges arise all the time. Additionally, it is important to push for the targeted development of the tribe.
In the first phase, we mapped our issues as agile coaches onto a board. The board covered everything: a mixture of impediments, short-term and longer-term activities, space-filling and space-blasting, etc. Not satisfied with this, we decided to try something different after some time - to separate our strategic work from day-to-day business and to plan it with our board or backlog to not lose focus and overview.
Basics of targeted development of the tribe
In a joint meeting, we looked at the planned measures that had got stuck in implementation. We wanted to assess: Which measures were still important and which ideas we should have for the near future?
To restructure our planning, we decided on a bottom-up process:
- collecting, clustering, and prioritizing ideas
- cleaning up our backlog
- finding focal points and giving them a name
In this way, we identified tangible areas to create momentum and improve.
What were our goals? We had already laid the groundwork for this:
- A Tribe Manifesto, in which we worked with the teams to define how we wanted to collaborate within the tribe.
- The Mission Statement, which describes the purpose of the team of agile coaches and scrum masters.
- Output from strategy workshops, where the goals of the agile transformation were developed.
Based on this, it was not difficult to derive goals for further improvement and compare them with measures that were found and added.
We applied the concept of OKR (Objective Key Results) for the definition of goals, supplemented our topic areas with descriptions of goals and demanding key results, which we can use to recognize the achievement of desired changes. We transferred our results to JIRA and decided to plan and review our medium to long-term actions at regular six-week intervals henceforth.
We applied the principles that we teach our clients every day: Define goals, implement the next increment of actions, react to changes and feedback.
Experiences from practice
Like development teams, we had to learn how many of our activities could actually be implemented in a sprint, especially where we needed colleagues to implement them. After all, the goal of agile coaches cannot be to stop them from developing software. So we had to intervene in well-measured steps. The short-term objectives of our client changed very quickly due to the Coronavirus crisis. Parts of our action backlog became obsolete and new things were added. Ideas that we would have liked to implement had to make way for more urgent ones.
The regular cycle of adjusting our plans, having deadlines and meeting them, reflecting on them - everything enabled us to maintain medium-term planning along with the day-to-day business. This helped in applying a controlled process to develop the tribe further and to integrate new challenges continuously.
In the autumn of 2020, we switched to a four-week cadence, in line with the agile principle of choosing a shorter interval in case of doubts and learning more quickly from experience. We asked our teams for feedback quarterly, using a structured process. In any case, it allowed us to check the correlation between sentiment on certain issues and the actions taken. And indeed, in areas where we had taken several steps, we could see that measurable results had changed for the better!
Outlook for 2021
For the orientation in the new year, we chose a top-down approach. Is the goal of our efforts still valid? Yes! We only had to add individual aspects to it. Of our focus topics, some remained, others were added. We adjusted the backlog accordingly.
Scrum masters newly hired by the client actively helped and already implemented their first measures independently. We were learning by doing. This is no coincidence because the further development of internal scrum masters is one of our goals, among others, to help customers with agile transformation.
What were your experiences in similar situations? What has worked for you to continuously improve your organization along with the day-to-day business? Please share your experiences, I look forward to an exchange.