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Taking Agile to the Next Level

Sarah Hill

Transforming your organization into one that manages development in accordance with the Agile Manifesto values and principles can be an arduous task. In fact, the utopia of the ideal Agile organization might feel impossible for your organization to achieve. We get it; we’ve often felt that way ourselves.

At Eze Software, we have more than 50 development teams across 5 programs that roll into a single portfolio; four of those programs represent our core suite of products and must collaborate with each other to deliver cross-product features and functionality, and all five of our programs involve personnel across the globe. Adopting Agile has not been easy or without its bumps along the way, but we have successfully implemented Agile at the team level: each of our 50 plus teams have either adopted Scrum or Kanban.

While this was a great achievement, we are not ready to call ourselves done. Is there even such a notion of “done” when you’re trying to improve your organization? That’s right, we are managing the rollout of Agile just like you would the development of software functionality: in an agile way. All this comes with support throughout the organization: from the very top down to our teams.

Which framework are we using? None of them and all of them! As many of you have probably found, none of the frameworks out there hit the nail fully on the head, so we decided to take bits and pieces from each one, developing best practices that work for us and can take our adoption of Agile to the next level.

So, where are we now, and what are we doing?

In 2016, we formed a portfolio and program management (PPM) team responsible for the oversight of each program, ensuring each remains aligned with our best practices. Over time, the PPM team has also looked to improve stakeholder communication, create standardized metrics and reports, ensure consistency, and look for opportunities to optimize processes so that teams can better focus on the task at hand: developing valuable software.

Having management at both the portfolio and program levels has given us the ability to track work at every level, from corporate strategy down to team-level tasks and back. We always have visibility into priorities, the progress being made towards those priorities, and when something is at risk. Currently we are working to further develop our suite of metrics and team health meters across the portfolio so we can more effectively celebrate and communicate our achievements and better manage risks for each program.

Project Managers or Scrum Masters?

It is a big debate, but in our organization, we utilize both. Our product owners and program managers work in concert to ensure the teams within the program are working on the highest value work within any given release. The Scrum Masters work with the teams, being the amazing servant leaders that they are, to help us continue to be successful.

While we have grown our Scrum Master community throughout our Agile transformation, we still have a long way to go before all of our teams have a dedicated Scrum Master (hint: click here to apply). In the meantime, we’ve asked someone from each of our teams without a dedicated Scrum Master to volunteer to dedicate a percentage of their time to act as their team’s Scrum Master. We also have an Agile Manager that coaches teams on Agile principles and reinforces our best practices.

Mastering the Trade

We regularly send employees to trainings and conferences and seek out certification programs to ensure that our Program Managers, Product Owners, and Scrum Masters are continuously growing their skills and we are aligned with industry trends and technologies. For example, all of our product owners, program managers, and Scrum Masters have attended pragmatic marketing training. Most have become Agile Certified Product Owners, Scrum Masters, or both, and several of our program managers are on their way to achieving their Lean 6-Sigma Black Belt.

In-house, we have global Scrum Master summits, where one or more Scrum Masters lead an Agile lean coffee, information sharing or training session on an Agile topic they are passionate about. We also have established a ‘Scrum’bassador’ program, where we pair a seasoned, dedicated Scrum Master with a team member that is currently acting as a volunteer Scrum Master for their team. The ‘Scrum’bassador’ program provides mentorship and guidance for our less experience Scrum Masters.

Making It Work

In any organization sharing information is key. Understanding what the priorities are, how your work rolls up into them, and whether they’re going to be achieved on time, on budget, and with high quality is important information to share. We do this through the management at the program and portfolio levels. We have regular tactical meetings with teams and stakeholders to provide the status of the release, escalate program level dependencies and risks, and discuss progress toward release and company goals. We also use scrum of scrums for teams to collaborate and coordinate work with each other.

Other information that is equally important to share is: who is struggling, who has tackled a tough challenge that you’re now facing, who has something exciting to announce or share, ideas for improvement, and even concerns. We share these and many other useful topics through various Slack channels. We use private Slack channels for our Scrum Masters to freely post ideas, ask for help and collaborate on new ideas and initiatives. We have public Slack channels for general Agile communication and best practices. And all teams use slack to communicate with each other through dedicated team channels. We also have program channels where we post useful information such as updates on release planning, notes from tactical, third party upgrades, DR tests, and other program specific news.

Tying It All Together

We’ve talked about where we started, where we are now, and some key attributes around what is bringing us success that we feel you can all relate to. There is one more attribute we think is vital—and that is fun. All business all the time is boring, and we feel fun helps get the creative juices flowing, which is why we introduced Fun Friday, where we meet for lunch and play games—all different kinds of games that we can later take back to our teams to use for Agile events (aka ceremonies), such as retrospectives, daily scrums, refinements, etc.

So now you know all of our secrets on rolling out Agile at Eze Software. That’s ok; we’re proud of our success and hope that our ideas can help you be successful too, but keep in mind that we are constantly evaluating and evolving our processes. We never want to plant our flag in the ground and call ourselves a success; there is always room for improvement and as such we will continue to introduce process improvements on a continuous basis. Just like our teams, we deliver, retrospect, and adjust.