Striving to Do Better - an Agile Principle
Which modern approach to project implementation is the right one for us as an agency with meanwhile 30 people and for our clients and their projects? Scrum? Kanban? Others?
"Inspect and Adapt" is one of the core principles of the agile manifesto. And thus we are constantly looking for improvements – this is deeply rooted in our DNA as an agency. Our environment (our customers and their projects, but also support and iterative further development of existing appearances) plays a central role. And in this context we have made a system change – from "hardcore" Scrum for certain projects to Kanban for all four teams.
Time for Change: Scrum No Longer Fits
Scrum as a process model is ideal if a fixed team is working on a product over a longer period of time. During our last "revolution" in 2015, the idea was for us to work with fixed Scrum teams for large projects (100 days or more) wherever possible, and to hand over everything that followed to another, more flexible team.
But the agency world looks different: Even after go-live, a large project doesn't go into a quiet maintenance phase that could simply be handed over – and so, in the course of time, more and more tasks that don't belong to the current project interfere with the permanent Scrum team. Result: The pure Scrum theory with its advantages dilutes more and more, without you being able to do anything about it.
And on the other hand, in support and development, it's difficult to organize a larger number of customers with a larger team - each one simply has too much diversity and too little direct relevance, especially if the project was originally done by another team.
Therefore we decided in the summer of 2019 to reinvent ourselves and to rely on Kanban for all parts of our service provision in currently four independently operating teams.
Kanban: A Fresh Breeze at Bitmotion
The advantages are obvious: Kanban focuses on optimizing the "flow" of the work ahead. There are no fixed "sprint" periods that assume that the work for a sprint (for us two weeks) does not change, and where a sprint should also have a homogeneous object and an superior goal. Clients need more flexibility and can rightly expect this from us as an agency – to depict this in Scrum has always felt very artificial.
Kanban, on the other hand, offers the necessary flexibility out of the box: The current work can be prioritized differently at any time, as long as the flow does not suffer. Between project activities, a simple ticket such as "exchange logo" can be processed without any problems, or the priority can be quickly changed to another project.
One Agency – Four Kanban Teams
Due to our size, we were able to form four teams, three for TYPO3 projects and one for online marketing tasks. These teams have a fixed assignment to a manageable number of clients, i.e. the same people always work for the same clients. The best prerequisite for quality, efficiency and all-round satisfaction, as every team member knows his projects and contact persons very well. In addition, there is also a single project manager for each team, who is at the same time the contact person for these customers.
In everyday life there are always unscheduled, small tasks – from spontaneous requests to more or less urgent problems. For such "support" tasks, the responsibility within the team rotates on a weekly basis, and only when the "supporter" actually has some air does he turn to the planned tasks on the Kanban board. This leads not only to excellent support quality, but also to higher satisfaction, because you have your back free in support and don't have to tear yourself apart.
Promoting Individual Responsibility in Everyday Life
In the course of the transition to Kanban, we have considerably filled another basic principle with life: Individual responsibility for activities at all levels. The team and each individual (and just not the project manager) is responsible with us for the tasks, which are to be finished for customers. From support, to complex projects, to time estimation for new functions.
The identification with the job increases tremendously and this creates satisfaction for each individual and for our customers as well. Of course, this also includes autonomy in the "how", i.e. in the internal team organisation as well as in the use of technology. This is rounded off by cross-team retrospectives, field reports and - where appropriate – common standards.
Scrum vs. Kanban: The Best of Two Worlds
Scrum and Kanban may be both method sets from the agile construction kit, but they are actually difficult to compare. Many of the topics for which Scrum has fixed rules are not addressed by Kanban at all – but this does not necessarily mean that they should not be clarified for oneself. Since we were influenced by the world of Scrum, we even adopted many elements unmodified for ourselves, e.g. the formats "Daily" and "Retrospective", including "Timeboxing".
For all those who are interested in a direct comparison, there are various overview articles on the web, e.g. on atlassian.com.
The Transition: With a Plan Towards Kanban
How do you perform such a revolutionary step? Of course: Together! Thus, we formed a team of developers, project managers, agile coaches and management at an early stage, in order to get closer step by step and prepare all dimensions of the new world.
An off-site workshop was the kick-off event: For one day we met near Hamburg, outside our offices, to confirm our targets, to consolidate our line of thinking and to plan the first milestones as well as concrete next steps (which, by the way, is also a proven procedure for other topics such as "Performance Tuning").
In this environment, all necessary steps (e.g. rules, processes, events, organization, setup of software (Jira), etc.) were subsequently designed, phased in and implemented with the entire Bitmotion team. Of course, also in an agile way.
Our Philosophy: Live and Love The New Work
At the same time as introducing the new structures and processes, we also added or further developed additional elements that round off the modern way of working and living in an agency – especially in the area of New Work, which is not a slogan for us but an essential concept.
· Switching the internal knwoledge exchange to Open Space format (practically a "Bar Camp") on every Friday
· Further developed peer feedback
· New remuneration model
· Substantial investment in our Agile Coaches.
· Comprehensive moderator training for members of all teams and departments
· Even more incentives for advanced training and events
…and Now? The Continuous Improvement Process
In addition to Kanban, there is another principle called Kaizen. This is about the constant and continuous improvement process, about the ongoing systematic scrutiny – nothing is set in stone, not even Scrum: The impulse for the system change described here came exactly from this process, and to be honest: Nobody had expected or even planned this result!
And so we are constantly on the lookout for potential improvements and new paths, both on a large and small scale. Every 14 days, each team takes the time for a detailed retrospective, which is about technology and customers, but above all about working together as people. And, importantly, the identified and jointly agreed improvements are actively planned and realized – just like project tasks – for implementation in the project management tool.
Conclusion: A Good Decision?
Altogether we were not that unhappy before the transition to Kanban, but when we took a closer look we recognized the small things, which altogether gave room upwards. Did we use them? Sustainably?
We will only be able to confirm this after a longer period of time, but for the moment – just a few months after introduction – we are really happy with the result: with the acceptance and spirit, with the dynamics of developing self-organization, and indeed with the result. Therefore: Yes, a complete success!