An Agile Light Bulb Moment: Forming Projects Around Teams

It’s great when you have a light bulb moment.  It’s even better when you inspire a light bulb moment in others.

The other day, I had the pleasure of speaking with several managers from another Tampa Bay company about Valpak’s Agile transformation.  I use the word “pleasure” thoughtfully because I genuinely enjoy talking to others about the Agile transformation taking place here at Valpak.  It’s a great story and I love to share it!   Anyhow, apparently how I explained our project initiation process resulted in a light bulb moment for them, or at least that’s what the guy said.  They are moving towards Agile and seeking advice and experiences from other companies having recently transformed.    So, let me explain what I explained to them and you can decide if it’s a light bulb moment.

From whence we came …

Used to be that when a project was initiated, a team would be formed around the project.  In most cases, the team members were already assigned to multiple projects 30% here, 50% there, and so on just waiting for their phase (analysis, design, development, QA, etc.) to start in the waterfall process.  Team members were not necessarily dedicated, just committed.  So, with project plans changing as they do, a team member would typically end up being pulled in multiple directions, reporting to multiple masters, across many projects all at the same time.  From a people perspective, this is not a fun place to be (remember, “multitasking” is the new 4-letter word).  The result was low morale from all the project whiplash going on.

… to where we are now.

Today, under our Agile structure of 8 Scrums and 2 Kanbans, we have naturally experienced a shift in our project initiation process.  Now, when a project is requested, we evaluate the request based on the existing Scrum and Kanban teams and we form the project around the teams.  Sometimes this means breaking up the project to fit the vision and/or skill of the teams.  So, as opposed to forming a team around a project, we are now forming a project around teams.

Let’s take a look at a real world example.  Most recently, we enhanced our website with photo galleries on some of the business profile pages.  This project was ultimately broken down into multiple stories across three teams:

  • One team to upload the photos into our order entry system,
  • One team to store the photos in our content management system, and
  • One team to display the photos on the web page.

While coordination and collaboration across teams can not (and should not) be under-estimated, this beats a team of 30 people working over 6 months in a waterfall process any day.  By forming the project around the teams, team members are able to remain focused and dedicated to their product vision, thus resolving the project whiplash and leading to improved morale.

You may ask, “What if a project is requested that doesn’t fit the vision and/or skill of any of the Scrum or Kanban teams?”  Easy!  It becomes an investment decision.  Is the company willing to invest in a new Scrum and/or Kanban in order to fulfill the request?  This could mean hiring new people to staff new teams and/or pulling people from existing teams to form a new team.  Either way, it’s a leadership decision as to whether to invest in the new idea or impact the investment in an old idea.  In fact, we’ve actually had this happen.  We didn’t start out with 8 Scrums and 2 Kanbans.  Investment decisions were made over time that led us to where we are today.  It’s all about adapting.  It’s indeed Agile!

About Stephanie Davis

Stephanie is now VP of Product Excellence at LeadingAgile focused on the growth, development, and delivery of some amazing agile products.  Recently, she spent the past two years as Executive Director - Enterprise Agility Office at Catalina leading another top-to-bottom, inside-out agile transformation.  Prior to that, Stephanie was Senior Director of Enterprise Agility at Valpak. She was with Valpak for 13 years, most of which were focused on leading their agile transformation to what became a world renowned success story published in case studies and demonstrated to over 50 different companies through the years via agile tours.  Prior to Valpak, Stephanie held past positions in the project management domain with AT&T and IBM. Stephanie's academic credentials include a BS in Marketing from the University of South Florida and an MBA in International Business from the University of Bristol in England. She also maintains the Project Management Professional (PMP), Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credentials. Stephanie is big on tech community involvement!  Most recently, she served as an elected board member to the Agile Alliance, a non-profit organization with global membership, committed to advancing agile development values, principles, and practices. In addition, she serves her local community as an organizer for Tampa Bay Agile, the largest and most active tech Meetup in the area, and the annual Agile Open Florida event. In 2016, Stephanie was awarded Tampa Bay Tech’s Technology Leader of the Year and the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s BusinessWoman of the Year (Tech) and Emerging Technology Leader of the Year. View all posts by Stephanie Davis

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