Podcast: Agile Development and some surprising upshots with Jason Wills

Agile Project management techniques, lean principles, learning and iterating are things that I’ve become quite passionate about over the last years.

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Seeing the results that “Going Agile” can bring to an organisation in terms of delivering value to the end user and business value over and beyond traditional methods gets me happy. It makes me think of the other applications for agile outside of software development – ways to really challenge organisations to take it to other teams like marketing and even into the sales and the recruitment process as well.
I even think in minimal viable product terms when I look at websites, marketing materials and even my renovation list at home.

I’ve been down in Christchurch today. Our fighting city in New Zealand that’s grinding its way to recovery from two city flattening earthquakes. A town of survivors, reminded of loss each day. A town that needs to iterate fast to get back on its feet and adopt new practices. We talk of digital disruption, we’ll this town has every disruption, from its core, to its psyche, it’s direction, transportation, infrastructure and lives turned upside down.

Many would say the town council needs to adopt some lines from the agile manifesto “working content over documentation” and “Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential”. Getting themselves up to speed again and functioning in a new normal shall we say.

Despite the hardships the city faces, Jason Wills the CIO of Harcourts introduced me to an excited team. Enthusiastic, that’s focused on improvement and learning. A team that is excited about bringing value to our end users. A team that has adapted Agile project management quickly. Despite being only in their second year of agile the team sizes epics with great accuracy (chunks of work taken into a cycle of development) and knows what they can accomplish in a sprint cycle (the time frames they work in).

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Jason and I had a fantastic day and thought we’d summarise some of the key points in a podchat – yes autocorrect I’m making a new word – for you.

Some of the pieces that most surprised me were:

  • Our commitment to agile, going all in with a coach and training
  • The rate of agile adoption in New Zealand amongst CIOs
  • The surprising side effects of agile adoption
  • The breakdown of knowledge silos
  • The resolution of business continuity issues through the sharing if knowledge
  • How it has lead to greater transparency
  • How the artefacts of scrum, like the scrum board with post it notes depicting workflow, have really helped business prioritisation
  • And yes, even some agile marketing slips into the mix which I’m amplifying as we role out our strategy.

I’ll let Jason continue the journey but please let me know what you think of this podcast format and if you’d like to hear more. I’m keen to start talking about incremental improvements, business value and that crossover between online and offline.

I’ve been talking to another of our Harcourts leaders Gilbert Enoka, the mental skills coach for New Zealand’s greatest sporting team the mighty All Blacks rugby squad. Hopefully he’ll share some tips and insights in a coming podcast too!

Strategy vs. tactical implementation in digital marketing

We face a fine line right now between Minimal Viable Product or Post and launching something with no sequel.

For those close to the software and technology sectors Eric’s Lean Startup and Agile principles push us to launch a product that will bring SIGNIFICANT value to the user but under the premise of minimal viable product. Make it “good enough”.

Costs, ROI and resources are ever more scrutinised. Despite this the #agilemarketing hashtag and the cause is still grass roots in volume despite the Klout scores of those involved and its ability to provide measurable returns.

I am scrum trained and an agile proponent as a product owner. Yet I can’t help but feel that there is a scalability issue vs. overall business strategy. Unless agile is embedded throughout the organisation.

Agile is a project management method that is hard to beat at a tatictal level. A Kanban or agile approach to “what needs fixing” on an existing website can be very effective and a base for building an understanding of agile within the organisation.

Yet try to explain this or fit it into an annual marketing plan or 5 year strategy and well…

In a way some of the basic principals of agile can be refreshing to an organisation battling priorities.

  1. Your backlog (list of things to do) is prioritised and you do the most valuable things first, not by who shouts loudest with the most seniority. Things that add value to the end user. It is however good to note that clients are not the only user. Your product or digital marketing has many users: clients, prospective employees and current employees. Fixing your CMS so that internal users can post content could be a high priority for example.
  2. The INVEST acronym defining a good story (the agile term for a set volume of work) means you’re investing in the right manor.
    • You break tasks in to Independent bites, you don’t end up waiting for someone else before you see the project complete.
    • You Negotiate, to understand how difficult those who have to do the task feel it is, conflicting values mean there’s more to it than meet the eye, and is raises flags.
    • Tasks must deliver Value to the end user or why do them at all!
    • Your tasks must be Estimable. To that end you should not attempt tasks who’s dimensions of success and scale are not well defined. E.G. “Make the website pop”
    • Small or sized, means tasks or “stories” are small enough to fit on a post-it. Refining a “register now” button to make it black is far easier than “fix our events site” as a task
    • finally the stories are Testable. Each one can be independently tested. Meaning we can see what ROI did we get from changing the register now button to green from red. This was possible because we defined success (and acceptance criteria) for the task before it was started

Starting out with Kanban, or Agile, and building your team into the process is the first step. With success and ROI your case builds and the groundswell develops. Those who’ve adopted agile see it as common sense, yet they all understand that common sense is rarely common or sensical.

But it’s with perseverance that the rest of the organisation will follow.