Simple, we get trained. Recently, a few Delib employees were trained by agile guru Paul Goddard of Agilify, along with some of our friends from Aardman and Mobile Pie, as well as some Team Rubber colleagues.
Agile is a set of practices which aim to make teams deliver better work, faster, and in doing so make our clients happier. In the past year, Delib has grown rapidly, and has incorporated people with no prior agile experience. Many businesses use older, more established methodologies, because this is what they are used to. But are industrial revolution era practices really applicable to small, nimble digital media companies?
One of the core agile principles is continuous delivery of valuable software. This means that we don’t work for a year and then give our customers a large number of new features while crossing our fingers that they like them. Instead, we deliver “pioneer” features to some customers, and get feedback regularly before releasing them to our whole user base.
Paul illustrated the benefits of this with a seemingly simple exercise – taking a bunch of spaghetti, some rope and some sellotape, who can build the highest structure which can hold a marshmallow on top? The winning team was the one which tested whether their tower could hold the marshmallow after every change, and the losers built a huge tower which promptly fell down right at the end when the marshmallow was placed on top.
We’ve returned roaring with enthusiasm, and ready to deliver our clients even more top-notch software and services. Our customers’ satisfaction will continue to be our highest priority day in, day out, and not the marshmallow under which our towers collapse at a crucial moment.
Blue Light Camp is an annual unconference, run by a handful of passionate people. The event provides an opportunity for professionals working in emergency (‘blue light’) services, as well as others in the government and technology sectors to get together, network and share best practices for making these services better.
As my fourth unconference to date, and my second Blue Light Camp I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to stand up and pitch an event. For anyone unfamiliar with the unconference format, the agenda is determined on the day of the event, by participants ‘pitching’ a topic for a session to the rest of the audience. Sessions are then assigned to rooms on a grid system and participants can move freely between different rooms.
Topics discussed during Blue Light Camp ranged from using social media in a crisis situation to making the most of time banking. Having recently attended a client retrospective with the Cabinet Office on one of the best agile projects we’ve ever run, I pitched the general topic of ‘how can government and emergency services adopt agile practices and how can we educate people about the terminology?’
My first unconference session
As some of the attendees were keen to learn, but unfamiliar with agile and the terminology behind it, I kept the topics quite broad. Three themes emerged as part of the conversation:
1. Is agile ‘just an IT methodology’ or can some of the principals be used to promote better communication?
As a bit of a language geek I thought it would be worth highlighting that the word ‘agility’ comes from agere, the Latin for ‘to do’. It means nimbleness, activity, dexterity, readiness. Based on this, the consensus of the group was that the reflection and communication methods used within agile could be powerful tools for harnessing ICT-enabled business change.
For example, at Delib, we run daily stand-ups. Session attendees were either familiar with this process or could relate to it as a good way of facilitating cross-departmental working. The challenge of course is how to effectively use stand-ups across a large organisation, as different departments may wish to work in different ways. GDS have blogged about the challenges of adopting the daily stand-up as their team has grown.
One participant felt that this cross-team communication could be a natural fit for many public sector organisations. One attendee commented that an agile project can be driven to fail by those involved not hearing the message ‘this is going to fail,’ highlighting the importance of solving problems before they happen.
2. Does agile on the whole save money? How can we demonstrate the benefit of agile to procurement teams?
Whether or not agile on the whole saves money depends on the project involved. One session attendee told us she managed a site brand refresh where there was an emphasis on agile in the procurement process. This was not based on any personal preference of agile but on the financial information presented as part of the briefs, which highlighted an opportunity for cost savings.
Agile sounds sensible but what are the barriers? During a session at UK Govcamp 2013, the question of terminology was raised. As a ScrumMaster myself, I have found there is a lot of confusion over the terminology used. It could be argued that agile methodology does not represent traditional project management roles.
3. Can agile be used in order to re-evaluate cultural change?
Cultural change is often one of the slowest moving aspects of any organisation. Could agile be a catalyst for this where appropriate? The nature of agile is that it is built on a foundation of trust. If the culture of an organisation is based on opacity and an overall air of secrecy, agile will fail. However, it could be a great fit in an open, transparent organisation.
During my recent visit to our Australian team, I did some research on how agile can scale across time zones. I came across some really interesting core ideas. This idea (from People, Processes and Tools) of interlinking people, processes and tools seems particularly simple but relevant:
Blue Light Camp is a brilliant opportunity to evaluate the most effective use of social media and digital technologies in the emergency services. Aside from discussing agile, I attended some interesting social media-focused sessions. At GovCamp 2013, I was interested to see what had changed since the previous conference and one of the key messages for me was how the dynamic of social media has evolved. Where it used to be around sharing information generally, now it’s more about developing in-depth, often global conversations. Social media also brings challenges such as building trust and content validation.
One of the key messages for me from Blue Light Camp was how we can combine emerging technologies to effectively deal with problem solving situations, whilst ensuring we maintain the goal of having a safer society.