Shaping Our Next Agilists at East Tennessee State University

Photo Jan 22, 5 03 09 PMLast night, Bob Damato (Valpak’s Software Engineering Director), Terry Winslow (Agile Project Leader), and I had the pleasure of Skype’ing with a graduate class at East Tennessee State University on real-world Agile. Terry also happens to be an East Tennessee State University alum so that made it extra special.

This is a capstone class for graduate students who are completing a project to build a mobile app using Agile. The students provided a list of questions and Bob, Terry, and I divvied them up and answered them one by one.  It was great opportunity for us to shape and influence our next Agilists by sharing our real-world experiences.

The backdrop you see in the picture is our new Agile boards area where we hold stand-ups each morning.  It consists of 360 degrees of magnetic whiteboards we call “The Park”.  The Park is home to up to 8 Scrum or Kanban boards and also has portable TVs for display of digital boards.


Management Behavior that Will Make or Break a Robust Agile Implementation

Stephanie Davis:

This is seriously one of the best blog posts I’ve read this year. So much truth to this! Bottom up Agile transformations are extremely challenging and prone to failure. The top has a very valuable and necessary role in a successful Agile transformation. I just hope the people at the top of companies on the verge (of an Agile transformation) will read this and heed it.

Originally posted on Project Management in Real Life / Projektledelse i virkeligheden:

A couple of months ago the following statement was made at a conference by a business manager: “We want better projects, so the management of our company has decided that everyone will start working agile from January 2015”.

I was puzzled. Very puzzled. Did he honestly believe that the whole company would wake up one Monday morning in January 2015 realizing that a whole new era had begun, and everyone would leave all their old habits, attitudes and approaches behind and start being agile?

It made me wonder. Several things, actually:

“If the decision is already made, why don’t they start their agile journey today?”

“Do people really think that transforming a business from a traditional to an agile approach to projects will happen just like that?”

“Have they realized that the decision to work agile means that the management will also have to change their ways?”

“Do they know that doing agile is not…

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Another Year Behind Us … Valpak’s 2014 Agile Year-In-Review

Another calendar year has gone by  and we are still truckin’ along in our Agile journey here at Valpak.  Let’s take a quick look back at 2014 …

  • In October of this year, we celebrated our 3rd anniversary of Agile!
  • Stephanie Davis (that’s me) was elected to the Agile Alliance board for the 2015 to 2017 term.  I got to attend Agile 2014 as a board member elect, meet my fellow board members, and (coincidentally) witness the birth of Agile Alliance Brazil.  I got to know my fellow board members so much better when I attended the September board meeting in Chicago. It was in Chicago that I really got to see what the next three years might be like serving on the board of the Agile Alliance.  Super excited for what’s to come!
  • Three more Valpak-ers earned their PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) credential this year, bringing the total to eight across the company.
  • IT piloted a Lab Day concept with 2 Scrum teams to allow for greater focus on sprint days by relegating non-sprint work to a single day between sprints.  The results of the Lab Day pilot will be further evaluated in 2015 and a separate blog post is planned on this topic.
  • I continue to organize Tampa Bay Agile with my partner-in-Agile-crime, Ryan Dorrell and both our companies, AgileThought and Valpak, remain major sponsors.   Since Ryan and I have been involved in Tampa Bay Agile, our membership has grown by 700% and I think we are at just over 700 members about now.  In 2014, we hosted 12 meetups including a kick ass holiday party sponsored by Serena Software.
  • Stephanie Davis (and several other loyal Tampa Bay Agile members including Becky Hartman and Steven Granese) sat on an Agile panel for a West Central Florida IIBA meetup.
  • Organized the first ever Agile Open Florida at the Valpak Manufacturing Center for over 120+ people.  The next Agile Open Florida is planned for Friday, June 19th.
  • Rolled out Target Process to almost 100 employees to replace Pivotal Tracker for our Scrum teams and LeanKit Kanban for Kanban teams.
  • Agile rolled out across the enterprise with the “Agile Enterprise Workshop” and also used to aid prioritization and cohesion efforts amongst the executive and director ranks. And now, Kanban (maybe even a bit more Scrumban) is on the rise with use by many of our our business teams including:
    • Strategic Partnerships
    • Diversity & Inclusion
    • Business Analysis & Reporting
    • Troubled Markets
    • Affiliate / SEO
    • Valpak Manufacturing Center CPI
    • Coupon U Workshops
    • Marketing Research
    • National Sales Support
  • Six Valpak-ers attended the 2nd annual Cox Automotive Agile Open in Atlanta.
  • As far as technical practices are concerned, we made great strides this year in the area of test automation with most of our teams having a strong suite of automated tests in play.
  • We learned that our Agile transformation case study will appear in a textbook titled “The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile” to be released in January 2015 by Wiley.
  • Agile leaders from across the sunshine state cooperated and collaborated to establish AgileFlorida.com, a single source of local groups that are active, upcoming local meetups, and planned statewide events.
  • A Valpak Agile Flyer was created as a pre-read for the Agile tours we provide to other companies and their VIPs.  This year, we provided Agile tours to several companies including:
    • Catalina Marketing
    • New York Life
    • Vology
  • Last but not least, we’ve had the pleasure to network and consult with several companies that are Agile or looking to transform including:
    • AutoTrader
    • Cox Automotive
    • Kelley Blue Book
    • Manheim
    • New York Life
    • Office Depot
    • Arbitration Forums
    • American Express

Another awesome year for us!  Here’s to livin’ the Agile life into 2015 as we continue our journey.


World Quality Month at Valpak

In recognition of World Quality Month and as it pertains to Agile (of course), I’m posting for you a write-up from Valpak’s QA Manager that was published in our weekly internal newsletter, “Monday Memo”.

See how quality is making IT better

We continue to celebrate World Quality Month in November, the inspiration of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). Here’s another example of how quality is making our company better. This one comes to us from Carl Paret (Quality Assurance Manager) in our IT Department:

Ever since IT’s formal adoption of Agile methodology as its software development model three years ago, there has been a recalibration of how all involved should view quality. Similar to what Juneau Colleur described in her segment last week in Monday Memo on quality at the VMC, we too had to find a way to embed quality into our processes.

The notion that quality should be owned by everyone — not solely by individuals whose functional titles bear the word “quality” — is a concept that continues to be evangelized. Stephanie Davis (Director of Agile Leadership) and Jim Gaines (Business Analyst III) led the effort of having Business Analysts and Agile Project Leaders get better versed about concepts of Agile Acceptance Testing — where the team seeks to identify gaps at the time the work scope is being defined.

Under the direction of Bob Damato (Director of Software Engineering), Development Managers have their Developers adopt well-established, test-first development practices. Under this paradigm, they include code-level tests as they add or modify code modules so as to get quick feedback if changes they introduce cause unexpected failures elsewhere in the system. Meanwhile, the IT Quality Assurance team is increasing its use of automation testing tools to help execute tests faster and more reliably given our short iterative cycles.

As with the rest of our Agile journey, this evolution of quality is a work in progress, undergoing refinements as we learn from misses, and embracing what is proving successful. This, in the long-term, should only make us better and allow us to delight the customers for whom these applications are created.


Happy 3-Year Agile Anniversary, Valpak!

Three years ago this month, Valpak fundamentally changed the way we work, beginning in our IT organization and spreading out across the rest of the enterprise this year.  We have learned what it means to be an Agile enterprise by embracing the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto in everything we do here at work and for some of us in our personal lives too.  We also practice what we preach by applying Scrum and Kanban practices to teams, departments, and projects across the enterprise.

It’s been a busy third year for Agile at Valpak.


Announcing Mrs. Davis

For those of you that know me by more than iamagile or allpowerfulstephanie, my name it is a changin’ … I am now “Stephanie Davis” as a result of marrying the super, extraordinary Sean Davis.  Thank you and goodbye.


Testimonial Time: “Agile and I Know It!”

When I walk to the standup (yeah), this is what I see (ok)
Everybody stops and they staring at me
I got passion in my veins and I ain’t afraid to show it, show it, show it, show it

I’m Agile and I know it
I’m Agile and I know it

[Adapted from LMFAO “Sexy And I Know It”]

Remember how I told you about our Agile Enterprise efforts back in May?  Well, since then Agile has been spreading like a plague all over the enterprise.  I’ve compiled for you a collection of testimonials, if you will, from across the enterprise.  Keep in mind that none of these testimonials come from within IT where we first started Agile in October 2011.  These are all business-side folks beginning to apply Agile values, principles, and practices within their work lives and in some cases beyond.

 Our Strategic Partnerships team …

“Our team started with a Kanban  board and has progressed to Target Process for our pilot and syndication projects. Sydney also uses a personal Kanban board. We have  utilized the principles for other projects. For example Killian used a Kanban board for multiple teams to use to plan the Keep It Weird workshops for Coupon U.  Also the Diversity & Inclusion council has adopted the electronic version to keep track of committee projects.”

Our Marketing Research team …

“From Marketing Research, which includes the combined teams of the Category Research Center (CRC), GIS, List Data Services and Research Services:

  • Each team has a huddle daily or bi-weekly  to review roles/responsibilities for current and upcoming work efforts.
  • Three out of four teams have a  board that outlines current/upcoming projects and who has been assigned that they review during their huddle and update as needed throughout the week.”

Our Security team …

“Not only have we used the Kanban Boards as a way to give the Record Coordinators a way to organize and track their department’s progress during the Records & Information Management project, but we also created a spreadsheet that contains the same 8 steps, which tracks the overall project by department.  It is our Kanban Project Board.  This has made understanding next steps, next departments to start and overall project progress very easy… The Kanban boards, while a simple tool, are very visual and really do help track the progress of tasks and projects.

… I will admit that I shared this outside the company also.  I am the President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Safety Council, and in a recent meeting with their Executive Director, I recommended they use Kanban boards for tracking the status of their strategic plans and all of its associated tasks.  Once I explained to her how this worked, she was very interested and we both felt this would improve engagement and awareness for her entire team.  It provides high visibility and can be used in conjunction with their regular update meetings provided by the various teams (similar to Scrum teams), which would be held at the Kanban Board.  Taking it to the community!”

Our National Sales team …

“The Sales Support Team gathers at the What’s Happening Right Now Kanban Board each day at 9:15 to discuss what is being worked on that day, and any impediments that may be slowing up progress.  Each Account Manager has been assigned a different color card. Each card represents a campaign that is being worked on.  Cards detail Client Name, Campaign Dates, Elements of the Campaign as well as Vertical.  Cards move horizontally across the board via the following lanes : Pre-campaign Activities, Contracting, Ready to Mail (or Deploy), Mailing/Deployed, and Post-Sale/Historical Reporting.

The team has been using the board since the beginning of June, and it has helped to open up the lines of communication not only between individuals on the team, but with others not on the team, but who may be wondering what the status of a current job may be.”

Our Manufacturing organization …

“The Operational Analyst team at the Valpak Manufacturing Center is using a Kanban board to prioritize, track and manage workload. We set the board up after collaborating with Cara on best practices and used some of her suggestions and made other enhancements specific to what we wanted. We used to use a list of tasks that needed to be done and would review it each month for progress. Progress was slow on some tasks and other items came up over the course of a month that were started and completed with very little planning. Once we completed the Kanban board and backlog cards, even using some volunteer kids from Take Your Son/Daughter To Work Day to help out, we had to analyze all the tasks on the backlog and prioritize them. The board made it easy to see the interaction between some of the tasks and dictated which ones rose to the top of the list. We’ve been using it for 4 months now and have found that is it helping the team stay focused on a few, important tasks at one time that get driven to completion faster than in the past. We still have items that come up unexpectedly, but now expedite those on the Kanban board for better tracking. Overall the Kanban board approach has worked well for our team giving visibility of the work coming up to the team and anyone else who wants to see it.”

“… the Collation team, as you mentioned, has switched to the Kanban for their CPI team which is on 2nd shift.  The 1st introduced it and then transferred it to them. In addition, the folding project that is underway is utilizing the Kanban (electronic) method also.  It is going well and they have adapted it to fit their needs.  Additional discussion are taking place on how other families may be able to incorporate it in their CPI teams.”


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