Sam Phillips Startups, Technology, Agile.

Implementing company-wide agile May 14, 2012

We've been looking recently at how we can use agile techniques not only within the product team, but also across the whole company, and over the last 6 months we've evolved our process. Always opting for a daily standup, we started with having the leaders from each team get together every morning - and later extended the attendance to the entire company. We followed a Scrum-style standup ("What did I do yesterday, what will I do today, what's standing in my way") and loved the way it kick-started our day.

Although we liked the inclusive nature of having the entire company together each morning, these meetings were not sufficiently information-rich to warrant the twenty minutes they would take, so we decided to review again. We wanted a process which would help us stay aligned on what was important, but not be so costly in terms of time that it felt like a burden.

About 6 weeks ago, we rolled out our new process. The biggest change was that we now only focus on *strategic* goals (measurable company-wide aspirations), and to not cover *operational* concerns at all. Every team has daily operational responsibilities - whether it be onboarding new customers, monitoring our inbound leads or keeping servers alive - but the focus of our company-wide agile process is moving the company forward on our bigger targets.

The day-to-day process goes something like this:

Monday Planning Meeting

We generally focus on two or three strategic goals at a time. Every Monday, the owners of those goals present their current status to the whole company, and add post-its representing the tasks we need to complete to move us forward to the card wall that lives in the board room. We also use this opportunity to provide context for the work and to explain any terminology that might not be commonly understood.

The card wall is simple - with horizontal 'streams' for each goal, split vertically into columns for 'Pending', 'In Progress', 'Ready' and 'Done' - straightforward and easy to understand. Multi-disciplinary teams work together on the goals, bringing together marketing, support, product, sales and analytics differently depending on the job in hand.

The sales team also present their weekly target and anticipated revenue, as well as their progress against their monthly target.

It's a high-bandwidth meeting involving the whole company, and usually takes around 15 minutes. For the value we all get from it in terms of shared understanding, alignment and inclusivity on what everybody is working on, it's worth every second.

Daily Standups

The daily standup happens around the card wall. We focus on tasks, not individuals, so rather than going around each person in the group, we go around the board, top to bottom. We update our progress, celebrating any completed work and highlighting any blockers. Even though there are 20+ people there, the whole thing takes about 5 minutes - and it's still a great way to kick off the day.

Friday Retrospective and Knowledge Share

On Friday afternoon we take time to review the week's progress (whilst also reviewing the taste of beer!). The owners of the goals present their status, and update us on the metrics we're using to measure. The sales team report back on their weekly revenues. Across any of these, is progress is not what we've hoped, we look at why and suggest how we might do better next week.

This is then followed by a general retrospective session, usually facilitated by Henry, our co-CEO. This is a great opportunity to talk honestly about what's been happening that week, what we're happy about and what we want to do better at - it's also where we review our process and suggest improvements. Each retrospective we have is better than the last, as we get better at articulating feedback and comparing how we're feeling with the same point the week before.

We often follow the retrospective with a knowledge share, where somebody will give a presentation on a subject relevant to the week - perhaps the output of some analysis, an explanation of a new feature, or a deep-dive into a change in the sales operation. This is our opportunity to learn more about the work that's been going on that might not have otherwise known about - and is my highlight of the week.

Improvements

We're by no means done and are still thinking about what the next steps are. As with a lot of agile processes, one of our biggest challenges is representing our work in a way that gives enough detail without giving too much - a topic that, as with many things, may be solved by focusing on the smallest possible discreet unit of business value.