Home » Spreading the News 2: Agile to Agilers

Spreading the News 2: Agile to Agilers

In August of 2013, Dealer.com began its all-in transformation to agile from partial waterfall, partial ScrumBut. In Part 1 of the story, we discussed the initial presentations made to project management groups more inclined toward traditional waterfall methodologies.  In Part 2, we look at our interactions with the agile/Scrum community in Southern California.

AgileSoCal is an Orange County tech group made up of engineers and managers interested in utilizing various agile methodologies.  As such, the presentation to this group was built upon the PMI basic framework but went into depth on the specifics of Dealer.com’s agile implementation. Topics added to the PMI presentation covered:

  • Specifics about our Scrum implementation: We went into detail for each of the Scrum rituals:
    Dealer.com Scrum board and Mario
    Dealer.com Scrum board and Mario

    Sprint Planning, Stand Up, Backlog Grooming, Retrospectives, and Sprint Review.  Perhaps most interesting was discussing the evolution of those rituals, showing how we initially did each of them and then detailing all the modifications we’d made since starting.  This not only highlighted the changes, but how supportive Dealer.com is in allowing us to customize how we do Scrum.  Agile at Dealer.com exemplifies the concepts of Shu-Ha-Ri (Follow the rule, break the rule, be the rule) that characterize healthy Scrum implementations.

  • More about product and portfolio planning using SAFe.  Attendees were quite interested in the amount of work and leadership/developer interaction and cooperation went into quarterly planning
  • Discussion about metrics – what we measure and benefits of and issues with them

Technical Recruiters: Rather than a technical presentation, the discussion about Scrum was a Q&A used as an internal “Agile Learning Hour” for a large team of technical recruiters.  The goal as noted in their in-house invitation was “to help us better understand the differences between traditional project management for software development and the agile/Scrum approach”.  They were getting job postings for ScrumMasters and Product Owners and had no idea what they meant. They had candidates with traditional job titles like Project Manager, Product Manager, Business Analysts, etc. and had no idea where they would fit in an agile company. The range of issues they were interested in were evident in the list of intended questions to be covered that they distributed prior to the meeting:

a.     Agile 101.

i.     What’s the “elevator pitch” for agile?  Is agile a project management methodology or a software development life cycle approach?  Or both?

ii.    What are the main differences between an agile project and a typical waterfall project?

iii.   What is Scrum?  How does it fit into agile?

b.     Roles.

i.     How does an Agile Coach fit into the picture (and when/why would a company need one?)  Can a strong agile PM function in a Coach role, or are these two totally separate roles?

ii.    What special skills or experience would a candidate need to be successful on an agile project for typical roles (PM, BA, Developer, QA, Sys Engineer, etc.?)

c.     Candidate Background.

i.     What’s the value of the certifications, such as Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and PMI’s agile Certified Practitioner (ACP)?  How do the two compare?

ii.    How do some of the agile “buzzwords” map to artifacts that our non-agile candidates might already be experienced with (e.g., does “user stories” = “user requirements”, etc.)?

d.     Toolsets.

i.     What tools are key for agile?  (JIRA, Rally?) How difficult is it for “waterfall” PMs and BAs to transition to these tools if they understand agile in general?

After presentations that focused on the nuts and bolts of implementing Scrum, it was refreshing to step back and consider the bigger picture of just how agile fits into project/product delivery.

Scrum Day Orange County:  Scrum Day Orange County (OC)  provides nearly 100 hard-core Scrum practitioners with a program of presentations and panels dealing with all aspects of Scrum.  Dealer.com was represented in two of the sessions.  The first was an updated (“new and improved”) version of our first 1.5 years of agility.  As with the AgileSoCal presentation, the emphasis was more on the evolution of our implementation and the reasons for our changes rather than on the process itself. The second was an invitation we received late in the agenda-building process, putting us on a panel discussing how SAFe affects product- and portfolio-level planning. The audience seemed most interested in the amount of work leadership put into quarterly planning as well as the level of impact the development team members had in fashioning that plan.

Reflections:

The word that first pops into my mind when reflecting on the experiences in the above activities is “therapeutic”.

At AgileSoCal, it was enjoyable being asked about specifics of our practices by professionals who’ve been practicing Scrum far longer than most of us at Dealer.com.  It was rewarding when those professionals recognized our level of agile maturity and invited us to present our SAFe experience; most attendees at Scrum Day OC work at companies where they have not even attempted product and portfolio agile planning.

And it was therapeutic, in preparing the various presentations, to look at where we started and how far we have progressed.  This was most evident when preparing the slides detailing the different Scrum rituals we use (Sprint planning, Stand ups, Sprint grooming, Sprint Reviews, Sprint retrospectives), what we did at first and, most telling, the degree to which each evolved.  Invariably, each slide had many more bullet points on the changes we made then on the initial implementation. The audiences responded not only to some of the neat tweaks we’ve made to the standard processes, but to the level of freedom Scrum teams at Dealer.com have to customize what we do and how we do it.  This invariably led to comments on the level of commitment leadership at Dealer.com has in the whole agile implementation.  More than once, I would hear variations of the theme “Sure, if my management was as “all in” as yours, we’d probably be successful at agile too”

What’s Next – year 2

At a summer AgileSoCal meeting, I was asked if I’d do a year 2 follow up – sort of “The 2nd Annual State of Scrum at Dealer.com”.  With the growing interest in (and difficulties in implementing) scaled Scrum solutions, there is an interest in a more detailed look at how Dealer.com implements the product tier of our SAFe implementation, focusing on our quarterly planning.  In the next Blog entry, we’ll talk about our presentations on scaling/SAFe as well as discussing trends we see in the agile world.  We’ll also look at our support of the existing West Los Angeles Scrum & Agile Meetup as well as efforts in spearheading a reboot of a more senior agilist meetup.