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This is a story about my job, which I love.
During the day, I’m a mild-mannered process consultant (read: Lean/Agile evangelist) for Imaginet, a technology consulting firm that provides end-to-end software development services primarily specializing in Microsoft products and technologies. The really cool thing about Imaginet is that we are large enough to be able to help companies with projects that span the full lifecycle of solutions development, or Application Lifecycle Management as it is more well known. And these projects often involve helping organizations adopt, refine or improve their existing ALM processes.
That is the part that I get excited about. As a process consultant and change agent, I get to help companies take their development processes to the next level and build an organizational culture that is capable of continuing that growth.
It was in this context that our current client engaged us. They were going to build a team that was expected to build a mobile transportation solution that would help them manage a fleet of trucks. This client had never had a core competency in software development but realized that in order to realize their vision, they would need to become competent as there was no off-the-shelf solution that would fit their needs. They did have experience with traditionally managed knowledge work projects and really felt that this was not going to lead to a successful project. There were far too many unknowns and risks and they knew they would need to learn and adapt very quickly throughout the project.
So we all decided to adopt an Agile/Lean mindset and build a process that would help us deliver in this challenging situation.
This long preamble is really just setting the stage for me to share with you what I think were the 5 core principles that we used on this project to ensure that the mindset and methodology development worked and became institutionalized. I’m hoping that by showing you how they affected the way that we work and the benefits, you’ll be able to learn from us and see if they could work for you. This 5-part series won’t be as much about the methodology we ended up with as much as it is about how we ensured that the right methodology for the organization and project emerged and that we maximized our chances of success.
Success Factor 1 – Transparency
The first core principle that we followed was to provide as much transparency into everything that we did, the information that we had and the challenges that we faced. We were so focused on this transparency that it actually tended to border on continuous broadcasting.
In an environment where there is a lot of uncertainty and risk, we felt that it was crucial to our success that we get as much information as possible from as many sources as possible and to engage anyone who could help us succeed. And with a project sponsor who was taking a significant risk in building a new competency for his organization, it was important that he see how we were working, the challenges we faced, and that we were always looking to improve the way that we worked.
To that end, we used numerous tactics to provide as much information on how we were working at a glance to anyone who was interested. These tactics included:
- a big team room which encouraged information sharing and broadcasting
- digital storyboard (work management system) that was projected onto a screen at all times and accessible anytime from a browser
- daily stand-up meetings where anyone was invited to attend
- iteration planning and retrospective meetings every 2 weeks, anyone could attend and the outcomes of these meetings were left in plain sight for anyone to see
- team Skype account that would auto-answer (silently I might add) and project onto the screen, with a live video feed and multiple microphones in the room
- Skype accounts and webcams for all team members
- tons of whiteboards and large post-it notes that we write on continuously – every wall in the room (600+ sq. ft room) was covered in information and updated frequently
- large post-it notes on the wall outside the team room to notify anyone walking past in the hall
- email notification of significant events in the development process (e.g. broken builds, server outages)
And it is working!
Our sponsor, who sits across the hall, frequently comes into the room and sees exactly what the team is doing. Our openness has fostered a culture of trust between him and the team that allows both to ask questions, provide inputs, and make decisions for the good of the project together. And one of the really cool aspects of his interactions with us is that he very rarely comes in and asks us how we are doing or where the project is at. He already knows! He usually comes in asking about a specific item we are working on, or asking if he can help with one of our problems.
We never have to defend our methodology because we are constantly sharing it with everyone and allowing them to participate in its improvement. This is one of the hard parts of an Agile adoption project that is easily avoided by aggressively being transparent.
Another benefit of this level of openness is that when we have brought on a new team member, which has happened several times, they are immediately immersed in a LOT of project information. This ranges from work in progress, upcoming stories, improvement work items from the retrospective and any risks or challenges that we are actively facing. We also have numerous big PostIt notes that contain the values and principles that we have chosen to follow as we evolve our methodology. How we perceive value, prioritize and the core vision for the product is all up on the walls all the time.
We have received help from a variety of people within the organization who saw something that we had on our boards that they could help with. These helpful acts ranged from sharing critical bits of information that helped us make a much better decision to actually removing a roadblock or impediment from our current blockages. And without this level of transparency, there is a good chance that these helpful acts would have been delayed if they had even arrived at all.
Transparency has been, and will continue to be, a significant cultural aspect of our team that we feel helps drive our success.
Do you have any transparency tactics you’d like to share? Please do! Comments and thoughts are always encouraged!
p.s. I plan to enhance this post with pictures soon, but I’m under a deadline to get this out (thanks Dylan) so they’ll have to wait! Please check back in the next couple days.
p.p.s. This blog is being inspired by a competition between a bunch of us to see who fails the blogging frequency requirement first! Please check out the blogs of all these other awesome guys and encourage them to keep on blogging too!
- Success Factor 1 – Transparency
- Success Factor 2 – Visualize Your Work
- Coming soon – Success Factor 3 – Co-location
- Coming soon – Success Factor 4 – Invest In Your Tools
- Coming soon – Success Factor 5 – Retrospectives