Hiring For Digital – Be Proud and Un-Prejudiced !

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a digital company in possession of some good vacancies must be in want of some staff.

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( I couldn’t help the intro, I’m an unapologetic Jane Austen fan.)

It’s an insanely competitive market to hire good skilled people in digital transformation. We, like our competitors are feeling the pain! It’s well documented that the digital skills gap is causing every digital company a headache.

How Do You Attract Good People?

You create a buzz!

We set about trying to create an enviable workplace culture. I want everyone who comes into our office to either want to work for us or take our practices and approaches and apply them to their own organisations.

We created this by strengthening our digital culture through a collaborative, supportive, mentoring and learning environment that is different to anything they have seen before.  One of our partners, just this week said we have the best environment and facility they have seen in the North East.  

When people come for an interview we need to tell our story and bring alive the experience of working with us.

What attracts Digital Talent?

During our recent hiring activities it’s been interesting to talk to the different candidates about what attracts them to accept a digital job offer including …

  • Opportunity to participate in a wide variety of projects for a world class client base
  • Upskill through training and hands on experience
  • Mentoring from technicians and engineers who can share their knowledge, skills and experience
  • Good personal development opportunities
  • Access to uptodate relevant technologies, tooling and technology
  • Exciting, positive digital culture and environment
  • Market rate salary and benefits (usually last on the last of criteria from feedback during this process).

Finding Workers Is Hard Work

two woman chatting

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It takes a lot of effort and commitment from the team involved in sifting CVs, interviewing, going through the hiring process security clearance and then when they arrive positive on boarding. 

 

As well as the local chapter leads, who were amazing at finding the right candidates, we also had the benefit of our wider talent acquisition team who gave us some great insight and worked tirelessly to identify some amazingly talented people.

We also built some good relationships with a small number of partner companies who helped us identify some talent including Dev Academy, ECR Global, Tek Systems, Hainton and Zenith People and others. 

We played to the strengths of the different partners and allowed them to focus on their areas of speciality e.g. Dev Academy with our entry level, ECR Global with our more senior roles, Zenith People and Hainton with Analytics and specific programming roles and Tek Systems with the more typical Dev Ops and Engineering roles.  

It’s Ok To Show Off (a little bit)

We hosted a number of events during this period to showcase the company, our environment and culture as well as  our work and the opportunities that we could give people including…

  • Speed Hiring
  • Hackathons
  • Stemette events
  • Local Industry Interest Groups
  • Local Industry Leadership Events 

These events are a great way for us to show the art of the possible for the candidates regarding the client base, the type of work we can offer them and a first hand experience of our culture. 

All of our competitors and industry partners are going through some of the same challenges with filling the digital skills gap.  We hosted a joint event with Zenith People and local industry leaders and technology and community influencers around how we can introduce a digital mindset and opening up people’s interest and appeal towards digital roles.  We hope to be able to join with these digital companies in the region for more events as it was clear there is a lot of collaboration and co-operation we can do as a regional industry to promote tech roles.

Recommend and Return

One of the best recruitment techniques is recommendation and referral. In the last 6 months we have hired over 175 new people and a good number of  those came through referrals from the existing team and new team members.

It is a fact that we will lose people along the way, but in some cases we have managed to bring back some of those who have been here before and left to work for competitors (the grass isn’t always greener).  It has been a great confirmation of how we have developed as an enviable place to work when we have people coming back to join us who had previously left.  To hear how different and much improved things are has been very surprising  as we forget just how much we have developed when you are living it every day. 

It’s Not Too Late

Despite hiring over 175 people, we still have some excellent vacancies.  If you’re looking for a digital role in the North East of England or at some of our other key Digital Transformation locations in the country (North West and London or Hook/Aldershot area) feel free to get in touch and send me a message through this page or Linkedin. 

 

Creating A Culture Through Good Leadership And Role Modelling

I am sure that if we all looked back on our career there are people who we have encountered who stay in our psyche for both good and not so good reasons. We look at those who have inspired us as positive role models and take the good lessons from them and remember how amazing they made us feel and apply those actions and traits to our own situations now. Also, unfortunately as a counter, there are some people who teach us how not to do things ! Sometimes these lessons on how not to do something are the most valuable.

A Role Model is a person who someone admires and whose behaviour they try to copy. They serve as an example of the values, attitudes and behaviours of a particular role.

Be Inspirational

There are many theories around organisational culture, but my experience has shown that the culture is driven by the personality of the leaders and how their teams respond. My Linkedin timeline is full of articles and blogs that talk about how people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

One of the biggest reason why a good talent leaves your company is poor management. In a survey of over 7,000 employees – 70% of respondents have said that their manager’s behaviour is responsible for how engaged they feel at work and 50% of respondents reported that they had to quit their job because of ‘bad managers’

Gallup poll Employees Want A Lot More From Their Managers

Personality Led Leadership

We all have personality types and there are lots of theories discussing how our natural leadership style correlates to our personality type e.g. introvert vs extrovert, sensing vs intuition, thinking vs feeling, judging vs perceiving.

There are a lot of characteristics that help you succeed and be relatable as a leader including

  • Have integrity, loyalty and show ethical and moral standards and lead by example.
  • Be honest and transparent and be able to communicate and listen.
  • Be self motivated, positive, encouraging and supportive.
  • Be humble, likable and have some charisma
  • Love what you and the team do and earn the respect of the team

There are some people in my career who have really influenced who I am as a leader. They probably don’t even know it ! It’s easy to identify what good looks like by the way situations make you feel. Here are some of the lessons I have learned from some great role models…

  • Praise and Recognition… If you see something amazing or even slightly good, let people know. Every one feels good when they are recognised for a good act, piece of work, effort or result.
  • Don’t criticise… help people learn lessons. We don’t do a post mortem when things go wrong, but look at how to do things better next time. Never humiliate or shame anyone for making a mistake, especially to their colleagues and peers.
  • Be positive… Positivity is contagious (so is negativity). If you find yourself surrounded by negative people, it can be very difficult to keep a positive outlook. Don’t get sucked into other peoples issues that aren’t yours. Don’t stew over things that are slightly annoying or upsetting and manifest them into something that they are not.
  • Be passionate… If you want to make a difference show passion for what you are doing. Passion is also contagious and encourages others to be brought along on the journey. When you do something half hearted, it shows ! Enthusiasm and passion have resulted in some amazing things, just be careful to not get carried away.
  • Be nice… This is not a sign of weakness. When kindness, compassion and niceness are missing then all we are left with is a toxicity and bitterness. Don’t mistake niceness for being a walk over. You can be firm and fair at the same time.
  • Don’t be scared to disagree… You can push back on bad ideas or actions that don’t make sense. Just remember to be respectful and willing to listen, but make sure you are listened to also.
  • Be Inspired and Inspirational … Sometimes you encounter people that give you the energy to be creative, productive and fully inspired. Try to bring that out of others by encouraging creativity and ideas and considering others point of view.
  • Listen.. Take advice and inspiration from others. The people in my team know so much more than I do about their own role and what they need to be successful. Listen to what they need and enable them to succeed.

Do you Zap or Sap?

Some years ago, a member of my team mentioned a book they were reading about whether people were ‘zappers or sappers’.

Zappers – encounters with zappers filled you with energy and gave you positivity, make you feel stimulated and enhance creative expression.

Sappers – encounters with sappers sucked the energy and life out of you and made you feel negative. They reduce motivation and make you feel drained.

We can all be both zappers and sappers at any time, but as a leader or team member you need to be very conscious on which one of these traits you bring to the surface. The impact can be huge either way.

I know this is a very simplified way to look at personality styles and the impact they have on you and the reactions they bring, but it is very easy to relate to. I expect we can all think of situations where we have been zapped or sapped or been zappers or sappers! A few years ago I mentioned this book to my own manager at the time, and he very recently spoke to me about how this had stayed with him many years later and that it was inspiring for him to think of things differently.

Even when we try to be good role models, we often have our off days. One of my team recently noticed that when I was stressed and not my normal self this affected the team around me. Note to self… chill out and don’t get too stressed by what I can’t influence! Be a zapper, not a sapper !

Role Models, Mentoring and Coaching

The terms role model, mentor and coach are often used to cover the same or similar areas, however there are differences.

A mentor is someone usually more experienced than you who knows and cares about you and tries to help you succeed. There is a two way relationship with a mentor.

One of the best ways to help others to be better is to be a mentor. Being a mentor is a great opportunity to bring out the best in others and help them progress or overcome difficulties. I’ve mentored many people over the years and have always gotten a lot out of the relationships as well as supporting others through their challenges, development and issues.

Good mentors show empathy, have good listening skills, give encouragement and sound advice. They have good rapport with their mentor and shares their experience and wisdom. The mentor and mentee relationship should be confidential and built on trust.

Mentoring is relationship oriented, long term and development driven.

Coaching is a form of development where the coach supports a learner in achieving a personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.

Coaching is usual focused on a specific task or activity. For example, you can be coached on how to deliver better presentations. The coach should be able to show and guide the person on how to develop their skills. Sometimes they use techniques to get the person being coached to reach the answer to a problem through guiding them through so they can make their own decisions.

Coaching is task oriented, short term and performance driven.

My Inspiration

I have lots of role models, both those who are in the public as well as at work and personal. Here are some of them…

  • Michelle Obama… I received her autobiography for Christmas and was fully inspired by her story of coming from a relatively poor area of Chicago and worked hard to become a successful lawyer, then obviously she met and married Barack and became one of the most influential women in the world. She took her position of influence and used it to wonderful effect whilst at the same time being thoroughly nice!
  • Jane Austen… I just love a good period drama! Austen was so ahead of her time in writing about strong female characters who had personality, strength, courage and passion. Even if her stories were about young women looking to find husbands, the characters brought that era to life. I could lose days to watching re-runs of Pride and Prejudice or reading Persuasion.
  • Martin Luther King… I was privileged to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last year, the site of MLKs assassination. To see the inspiration he brought to millions around the world in standing up for the rights of everyone and how much of a difference he made will stay with me forever. Also, last year I stood on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on the very stone where MLK said his ‘I have a dream’ speech and got to visit his Memorial in Washington where a line from the speech is cut into the stone “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.’
  • Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley… I was very lucky to attend 2 talks given by Dame Shirley in recent years, where she relayed stories of how she came to Britain as a child during the 2nd World War and later started her own IT company giving opportunities to women with children who needed to work from home with flexible hours. This team of predominently female coders (3 male programmers in the first 300 staff) produced some critical IT solutions including Concorde’s black box flight recorder.
  • My Mother… She caught polio when she was 6 months old and spent most of her childhood in hospital having multiple surgeries. She is the most tenacious women I know. Despite her disability, she never lets this stop her, has the most positive outlook on life and always tries to help those who need it never thinking twice about her own disability.
  • My Sons and Daughter… My daughter has the most amazing zest for life than anyone I know. She is bold, daring and can make anyone feel good about themselves. We have so much fun together on our travels. My 2 sons both have been inspiring to me.. one of them had to deal with health issues when he was younger and overcome missing long periods of school and has since achieved great academic results at university. My other son is the most caring and thoughtful person I have met. He will help anyone and is incredibly kind.

Who is your role model?

Boiling The Ocean

There is one phrase that we quote regularly in the Digital Transformation Centre when speaking to clients and that is “Don’t Boil The Ocean“. Usually it is in the context of promoting the use of Agile as a delivery methodology, so we can demonstrate the value of breaking down large scale transformations into smaller problem statements, which can easily be tackled – hence addressing lots of small puddles rather than oceans.

Are You Ready?

The phrase “Don’t Boil The Ocean” has been popping into my head more and more recently around change in general and keeps drawing me back to thinking about the importance of change factors such as scale, maturity and readiness for any change, not just software or digital transformation.

I’ve recently been involved in a corporate wide initiative that impacts all levels of the company. To make this a success we need to avoid using one strategy or approach to manage the change for everyone at the same time. We should look at the different variables in the various levels and ecosystems we are changing e.g global, region, country, campus and immediate team. We also need to consider where each group are on their transformation journey.

At the same time as the corporate wide changes, a number of teams are about to move into my organisation and I’m excited about helping them on their transformation journey and support them using the benefit of mine and my teams experience, methods and frameworks that have proven successful.

Not forgetting my current teams who I can’t leave to stand still and not keep continuously improving and remaining relevant.

In any one day I need to consider all of the different groups above thinking about where they are on their maturity of digital change and taylor the plans and actions to meet each unique area so they get the right support and enablement to be successful.

Every Ocean Is Different

Don’t Boil The Oceans

Going back to our boiling the ocean analogy, not every ocean starts with the same climate, maturity, readiness or ecosystem.

If we think very literalyl… Let’s boil some of the oceans of the world taking the same approach of using a big fire to heat each ocean to 100 degrees…

Arctic Ocean … Starts at -zero degrees. Take much longer to warm up, can’t get to the right place to start the fire due to the build up of ice, then melts the ice caps and causes global warming.  Result…  Total disaster! The environment isn’t ready, causes huge impact to current state and impact runs wider than local environment.  Oops!

Indian Ocean … Starts at 35 degrees. Already pretty hot, doesn’t take long to heat up and wastes time waiting for the fire to be hot enough to start making a difference. Result …  Sees increase in temperature as a waste of time, as it’s already warm and doesn’t need to go through a large part of the heating up, but could do with a the fire starting at a hotter temperature to make any difference.  Why bother ! Disengaged and disinterested ocean.

Atlantic Ocean … wide range of temperatures from 13 to 35 as it is so large and covers many different environments Varying degrees of success, as some of it is already hot, some of it is freezing and creates an unfair unequal environment.  Can’t please everyone and could cause resentment with different parts of the ocean.

Approaching Transformational change is exactly the same. If we apply the same technique across the board, we will have different results due to readiness for change, maturity of existing change programme all specific to the different environments or ecosystems (or change programmes).

Ocean TypeMaturity and ReadinessDon’tDo
(Indian Ocean Groups) High Maturity Transformation OrganisationsReady for Change. Already undergoing change. Want to improve not keep moving backIgnore what they have already done. Drown them with retrospective impacts where they see them as a waste of timeLearn lessons from their experience – both successes and failures. Keep them engaged, so they motivate others by being good role models.
(Arctic Ocean Groups) Resistant and Feeling Vulnerable OrganisationsNot ready for Change. Need incremental change at a steady pace. Need to build trust that change is good and things are getting better. Tell them what to do without listening to their point of view. Rush change and have multiple change programmes running at once. Get their perspective of what a successful change looks like to them. Get and give regular feedback. Show progress and give evidence that you are taking notice of their view point.
(Atlantic Ocean Groups) Multiple levels of resistance and maturity to change Mixed levels of readiness and maturity. Hold back those who are already highly change mature. Ignore those who are feeling vulnerable due to the changes. Assume that everyone is the same. Show what good looks like for everyone. Demonstrate that change is a journey and people are at different stops of the journey. Utilise good support and mentoring as well as role modelling from those more mature in the transformation journey.

It’s About People

Whether you are changing technology, process, direction, infact anything the biggest consideration is the People.

Even in the digital transformation space, everything still impacts people whether it’s learning new skills with the dev ops tooling, programming languages, agile delivery methods, application or platform solutions or even changing roles due to automating repetitive tasks so people end up changing their job.

There are many theories around change management out there that give us advice on how to manage and handle change. The table above does show some of the do’s and don’ts based on my experience, but there are some other things that we can do…

  • Good communications are critical and this must be 2 way between those making or introducing the change and those who are impacted by the change
  • Identify your change agents. These are the people who can help support their colleagues on the journey. Usually very positive, encouraging and supportive colleagues. These are needed at all levels of the business.
  • Make change relevant and relatable. Don’t forget the questions “What’s in it for me?” and “So what?”.
  • Realise that change will never stop and now things change at a much faster pace than at any time in our history. We are now in the Fourth Phase of the Industrial Revolution and each phase since the days of steam power and rail to where we are today with artificial intelligence, robotics and fast internet is getting shorter and faster.
We are now in the Fourth Phase of the Industrial Revolution

Changing Your Ways

Change is never easy. Digital organisations need to be incredibly mindful on how we make change happen for ourselves and our people. Sometimes it feels like we, as digital leaders are between a rock and a hard place where we can find change difficult ourselves and at the same time need to enable and support our people through the journey. We need to remember that today’s change, will be tomorrow’s lesson learned and something else will be queuing up waiting to be changed.


Stephenson’s Rocket

Stephenson’s Rocket at Discovery Museum Newcastle 2018

Since I mentioned the industrial revolution, I just wanted to finish on a picture I took of Stephenson’s Rocket – the very first steam locomotive. The Rocket was on display in the Discovery Museum here in Newcastle upon Tyne as part of the Great Exhibition of the North last year.

Taking The Plunge – Moving From Waterfall To Agile

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Many people have the idea that moving to agile methodologies from traditional waterfall will bring chaos where decisions change by the minute and no one knows what is going on.  Infact, it’s quite the opposite – if done correctly.

We have more useful governance using Agile approaches than we had wasteful using Waterfall.

Based on our experience, successful adoption of Agile can be achieved and here are things to consider.

Prep The People

The first success factor of adopting Agile is getting your team onboard.  If your people aren’t prepared to put their doubts to one side then you will be doomed to fail.  Making the mindset change can be very difficult for experienced professionals, but it can be done.

Give all of your team the right training from day one.  Make sure they understand :

  • The responsibilities and expectations of every role within the team including Product Owner, Scrum Master, Engineering team members and understand who the stakeholders are.
  • Have everyone speaking the same language.  Make sure terminology is clearly defined and understood.
  • Be clear about the agile ceremonies including sprint planning, retrospectives, stand ups, show and tells, estimation exercises etc.  Ensure everyone knows the part they play in the ceremonies.
  • Add a backlog item to each sprint for ‘Team Training’ so time is allocated to give the team the chance to develop new skills as they go depending on the learnings from each sprint.

What’s Your Problem?

Have a clear business outcome to solve and break it down into specific achievable problem statements.

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Break down the Problem Statement so you have a good idea of how you will solve the problem – this will help define and develop your backlog epics and user stories.

An Epic is a large block of work that has a common objective.  It could be a feature, request or requirement.

If there are more than 5 user stories for the same project area then you should have an Epic defined and link the user stories to the Epic.

A User Story is a short and simple description of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the new feature…

As a <type of user>, I want <a goal> so that <a reason>.

User Stories can be sized and estimated.  A Story Point value should be assigned to each user story based on it’s complexity and size, so the team can gauge what work will fit within a sprint. For example, a team might be able to clear 50 story points per sprint and if you know the story points allocated to each user story the team will be able to effectively plan the content for that sprint.

Work with your stakeholders to develop your team ‘Definition of Done’ and know what your success factors are.

A Definition of Done is a shared understanding of what it means for work to be complete and can cover either the release, a product increment or a user story.

When a Product Backlog item or an Increment is described as “Done”, everyone must understand what “Done” means.  (Scrum Guide)

Keep your Definition of Done on your scrum board so everyone has a visible reminder of what you are trying to do.  Also, be prepared for the Definition of Done to evolve throughout the life of your project.  Review this as part of the sprint retrospective ceremony.

Your product backlog items will be “Ready” to be included in sprint planning.  The Definition of Ready is linked to having  good user stories that are actionable and understanding what it means for them to be “Done”.  Sometimes it’s not possible to have all of the information up front for user stories to be deemed as “Ready”, but it will give you a good chance to have a successful sprint.

Think About Your Framework

Once you’ve decided to adopt Agile, it doesn’t stop there.  The next question should be what type of Agile framework should you use for the best fit for what you are trying to deliver.

Kanban, Scrum, SAFe, Nexus, Pragmatic Agile are all good options, but don’t all fit with every scenario.  Pick the best framework for your team and project.

Scrum is very good if you have an end vision to achieve and know what you will be committing to at the end of a sprint.  It recognises that things change and product requirements, technology and risk can be volatile based on what the team learns throughout the project.  Scrum allows the teams to respond to change and be self organised without losing focus on the outcome.

SAFe, Nexus or other scalable frameworks support large delivery of enterprise size software and systems.  It allows for the collaboration, alignment and synchronisation of multiple agile teams.  It views deliveries from different layers including portfolio, programme and individual teams.  It takes advantage of continuous delivery pipelines or an Agile release train.

Kanban allows you to tackle fluid requests and a continuous flow of work.  Understanding the availability capacity of work within the teams is key so as not to overload the team so they become unproductive.  Balancing demand and capacity by setting work in progress limits is the key to making Kanban effective.  Keeping the workflow moving and avoiding bottlenecks is also one of the main focuses within Kanban.

Almost all agile frameworks are well complimented with dev ops, automation and tooling as well as bringing built in quality throughout the project by having multi skilled scrum teams doing pair programming, test driving development and automated testing.

Tooling and Metrics

There is a world of Agile tooling available to teams today and identifying the best one for your delivery should be a priority for any Agile team.

Often the tooling is dependent on the framework that you choose e.g. Kanban frameworks are well suited to using ‘To Do list’ type tooling like Trello or Teams Boards.

More scrum focused deliveries are a good fit for VSTS and Jira where you can take advantage of the metrics around story points, burn down and velocity.

There are some good retrospective tools freely available including Retrium, goReflect etc. which help to document what was learned in the sprint.

Comparing Agile metrics with Waterfall metrics on time, quality, productivity are often one of the best ways to prove to management that moving to Agile has delivered improvements.  However, metrics alone shouldn’t be used by management to come to conclusions on the effectiveness and success of the team.  Metrics need to have context!

The most common metrics used in Agile are …

  • Velocity – this is the amount of story points that were moved to Done during the sprint.  Velocity usually improves as teams progress through sprints and as it matures can help with estimating the amount of work (story points) that can be delivered by a team.
  • Burndown – shows how quickly the team are burning through the user stories.  It shows the total effort against the amount of work delivered.
  • Recidivism – is the ratio of user stories that come back to development.  This might be due to quality failure or changing requirements.
  • First-time Pass Rate – is the % of test cases that pass the first time they are run.  Using test automation should help with regression testing of old features to make sure they have not broke with the latest changes.
  • Defect Count By Sprint – is the number of defects identified during the sprint.
  • Defect Count by Story Points – This is less binary than the defects by sprint count as it looks at the ratio of defects to story points in a sprint.  With sprints that don’t have many story points just counting defects would not give a true reflection on the quality of the delivery.
  • Story Completion Ratio – This is the number of stories completed in a sprint compared the number of stories that were planned.
  • Story Count Completion Ratio – Looks at what story points were delivered compared to the estimate.
  • Blocked Items Count and % – These can be used to understand the number of stories that are blocked and the %.

A Good Product Owner

The Product Owner is the most important role to ensure a successful delivery – FACT.

 The Product Owner is responsible for maximising the value of the product resulting from the work of the scrum team – Scrum Guide 

The most basic definition of a Product Owner is “someone who knows stuff and is empowered to make a decision”.

The Product Owner should fully understand the business and the problem the team are working to fix.   This allows them to make good decisions for the benefit of the project.   They are the link between the client and the scrum team.  They understand the priorities and are involved and available to the team to support, plan, clarify and decide.  A good product owner is involved in sprint planning, reviews and retrospectives.  They can where possible be part of the stand ups too.

Don’t underestimate the value of a good Product Owner.  They can be the critical success factor of an Agile delivery.  If you don’t have a Product Owner who is knowledgeable, empowered and willing and able to spend quality time with the team, the risk of not achieving a successful delivery is increased.

If you haven’t got a good Product Owner – Get One !

Stand Up and Don’t Stand Still

It’s a fact that you spend a lot of time on your feet with Agile.

It isn’t just the daily stand ups that get you up and about, you need to get out of your seat and talk to people.  Collaboration and transparency need to be active in Agile teams.  If you have a blame free culture where your team are not afraid to fail, but take it as a learning opportunity then collaboration and transparency will become part of the team’s DNA.  Don’t stew over a problem on your own, share it with your team and you can collectively overcome the problem.  The sooner you share, the sooner it’s fixed.

Don’t forget to share with the stakeholders too.  There’s nothing worse than waiting until the end of the sprint to let them know that things aren’t going well.  Bring them into the problem – they would rather help fix it than not meet their goal.

Use the sprint retrospective process to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what you can improve going forward.  The retrospective is an opportunity to discuss  things without blame, criticism or accusation.  These are and should be very positive.  Take it as a team building opportunity.  Think wider than just the sprint.  What improvements can be introduced to the way of working, comms, tooling, collaboration, mentoring, training…  It is a time for the team to collectively improve.

Take The Plunge

Don’t be scared to move to Agile.  Things won’t be perfect, but you have the power to continuously fix things and make them better.   Agile gives you the power to be flexible, but still have a solid framework to support and govern a delivery.  Once you are working in an effective Agile way, it just seems like common sense and you’ll ask yourself why you didn’t take the plunge sooner.

 

 

Creating A Digital Identity And The Digital Skills Gap

Everyone talks about the digital skills gap. For me it’s a real problem that my team face every day. Trying to grow the workforce in a digital business when some people do not  know who you are and what you do adds an additional layer of difficulty. Competing with other companies to retain our current people and attract new talent is a very frustrating environment for a resourcing lead.

Establishing a relevant corporate and work identity is only one element of getting over the talent attraction minefield. It is becoming more and more relevant as digital leaders to establish a personal digital identity too and show that not only the company is somewhere people want to work, but you are someone people want to work with.

Post Merger Identity

After 18 months of being a new company formed from 2 of the IT service and infrastructure giants, a lot of the potential talent still don’t know our name and our true brand.

I’ve been to many recruitment events and people look at you behind your nice and shiny branded stand and don’t recognise us. People start the discussion with ”What do you do and who are you?”. Our responses are always ”We used to be…”. Then we see the spark of recognition in people’s faces when we mention our previous globally recognised brand – then you can start to have a conversation.

Corporately the CEOs and CIOs know who we are, however still think of us as we used to be.

News flash to the IT talent and the CEOs / CIOs…

We are very different today than we were 18 months ago, both in what we do and who we are.

We are an exciting, dynamic and amazing team of people learning and improving every day and taking our people and clients on an incredible transformation journey.

The digital world does not stay still and we are not only moving with it, but we are giving it a good push on it’s way.

Retaining Staff – Loyalty Is All About The Culture

All IT digital companies are in competition for IT talent…. FACT!

With the right skills like Dev Ops, Agile, Automation, Cloud, Robotics an engineer or agile delivery lead can be king or queen in the jobs market.

We sit in some amazing locations across the UK and the globe, but so do other similar companies.  We also have more varied competitors now…

  • Our historic competitors  – the large scale and mega IT companies
  • Small and Medium IT software houses – (let’s be friends and work together – call me!)
  • Public Sector – DWP, BPDTS, HMRC – pushing up the market salary rates (why is my tax pound being used to pay such over the top market rates?)
  • Internal IT – insourcing is real when development is less about lines of code and more about graphical interface tooling and ‘ready to go’ IT

Culture vs Cash

We have invested a lot of effort in creating a place where people want to work and most of that was done by listening to the team and what would make the difference to them including training, mentoring, learning from experienced people, freedom to innovate, health and wellbeing time, new and interesting assignments, recognition from their colleagues etc.  Interestingly the one condition that is usually mentioned last is salary.  This only becomes top of the agenda when people are attracted to a competitor for more money.  Even when they get offered highly salaries elsewhere they usually don’t want to leave us and we need to fix that.

Attracting Staff – Is All About Being Different and Surprising

My team have been working on creating an enviable workplace culture for the last couple of years and if we can get people through the door and into the building we know they will want to join us.

Our goal is to make people want to work with us or inspiring them to make their work culture and environment like ours.

The difficulty lies in getting people through the door to see how good it is here.

Attracting new talent is really difficult with so much competition… FACT!

The digital resourcing manager needs to be creative in today’s competitive environment. We cannot wait for people to knock on our door announcing they have arrived.  We need to find them, show them what we are about and guide them through their journey to their Career and Dream Job.  There are lots of different streams of workforce now to hire from  including …

  • Traditional experienced permanent hires
  • Early career apprentices, interns and graduates
  • Dedicated digital training/hiring companies
  • Tapping into the Autistic workforce – they can be amazing in an IT work environment with small adaptations to support them in their role
  • Ex armed forces looking for their next career
  • Part retired experienced hires – who are a little bored in their retirement and want to get back into work – they have so much to bring to the workforce especially upskilling and mentoring the early career hires
  • People with potential from non standard backgrounds who have passion and learnability – we have brought into our company people from many diverse backgrounds including a nursery nurse, chefs, carers, catering etc. who have been amazing

Without a good career brand reputation it is difficult to break people’s preconceived ideas.  I recently asked the team to consider sharing their reviews of working for us on Glassdoor – being honest and truthful and representing what we are today.  We did actually get some good reviews.  One of the team later saw a comment on an online article about our company saying “They had noticed we were getting some positive reviews and the management must have forced their staff to post or they were fake comments”.  We didn’t!  The reviews were positive, but truthful and constructive.

Creating Your Own Digital Identity

Everyone is surrounded by brands and we all have our favourites including Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Lego, Amazon, local business, regional brands etc.  In the digital world People are also brands and what they put out in the ether on their social media presence is increasingly important.

We have done some research with the  leadingedgeforum.com on the 21st Century Human and having a Digital Mindset, Skillset and Identity.  Take a look at their site for more information on their fascinating work.

To be a credible digital leader you need to show your team and clients that you understand their problems and can help them.  Speaking the same digital language is the first step.  Understanding the terminology to be able to have a meaningful authentic conversation is so important.  As leaders we might not have all of the minute detail, but you do need to be able to ‘get it’ and enable the team so they ‘totally get it’.

In the digital world you can’t afford for your team to be in catch up mode, you need to keep reinventing to be relevant and rather than being told what to do, you need to decide what needs to be done ahead of time to hold onto any competitive advantage.

Final Thoughts …

The Digital world is so much part of our DNA now.  It is central to us all from the moment we wake up (I bet almost everyone uses their phone or digital assistant as their morning alarms), all through the day with, online banking, online shopping, booking a holiday, TV, entertainment, social contact and communication, relaxation, exercise tracking, digital assistants etc to our falling asleep reading a Kindle or listening to an Audible book at bedtime or using a mindfulness app to meditate and read you to sleep.

The largest part of our waking digital day we spend at work and we a have a responsibility to our teams to make that time as enjoyable, meaningful, full of learning and development and productive as possible so we can retain and attract the right people.

Pragmatic Agile

I was recently talking to an Agile Coach who was visiting the Digital Transformation Centre, about how we apply agile techniques to our projects.  I mentioned to him how we were far from being scrum purists, but instead we were quite pragmatic about what techniques and approaches we applied to the different types of deliveries using a common sense approach including …

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Mega Kanban
  • Uber Scrum
  • Safe
  • Nexus
  • Scrum of scrums

When I mentioned our Pragmatic approach, he said ”you do realise that Pragmatic Agile is an actual approach”.  Of course I didn’t, I just thought it was us applying common sense and trying to use the best techniques that fitted what we were trying to achieve.

Once back at my deks, the first thing I did was Google Pragmatic Agile and true enough it really was a thing!

There are many definitions of Pragmatic Agile all over the internet, there is even a Pragmatic Agile group – who knew?

Finding The Best Fit

We have such a wide variety of work within our portfolio. All for different clients doing a wide range of activities.

Some of our work is more dynamic where we receive ongoing requests – Kanban fits perfect for this. Using tools like Trello or Microsoft Planner and a good old fashioned white wall and post-it notes.

Our software development or dev ops platforms projects are often better suited to scrum, where we can effectively plan a sprint and manage the backlog at the start of the sprint and have a clear Definition of Ready and Definition of Done. We tend to use Jira or VSTS displayed on the TV screens in each delivery bay as our tool of choice – as well as complementing with the white wall.

Overall governance is covered by our Scrum of Scrums which allows us to have an overall view of what is going on in each stream of work across all of the Centre. We all meet every morning at 9.30 including myself, the Centre delivery lead, all scrum masters and the operations team. This is one of the most valuable half hours of the day. It allows for total transparency across all of the teams. We focus on blockers and try to resolve these by talking and collaborating to find the best solution. More often than not, someone has already experienced the problem before and we can share our knowledge and experience. With this approach we can make decisions on resourcing, technology, approach and often it’s a great opportunity for the scrum masters to bring things to the table that just need talking through. It’s also a good way for everyone to know what visitors we have in the Centre that day and any new work, training or events that are going on.

We have a squad of around 16 Bionix Robotics Process Automation engineers who have within their own teams around 12 projects ongoing at any one time. To handle this they have a Mega Kanban 3 times per week which is similar to the scrum of scrums, but focuses on the many different areas and clients that come to them with their specific RPA and automation problems.

Every 2 months we host an Uber Scrum where I basically cascade and share interesting and useful info to everyone. These sessions allow full openness of two way discussions across everyone in the team and gives anyone an opportunity to raise any questions, bring some ideas out on the table and feel part of something bigger than their own scrum teams or squads.

Industrialisation – sounds very serious!

One of our latest apps to cloud transformation projects is going to be large scale using 3 scrum teams in the UK over 2 locations and up to 10 teams offshore in India. We need to make this seamless and consistent and are currently looking at the best scalable agile fit with either Safe or Nexus. We have had a similar scale project previously where we took (again) a common sense approach and took elements from different methodologies that worked for us. It is going to be interesting how this works out!

I do have concerns over Safe Agile as this brings back some of the layers and processes that look to be more waterfall than our current pragmatic approach to agile, but I understand with work of a certain size we need some level of governance and oversight. Watch this space!

Manifesto

If we look back to the reason why Agile methods were first introduced, the Manifesto fir Agile deliveries (to me) is very much in keeping with a pragmatic and common sense approach…

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Whatever approach to Agile is being used you must always review the approach regularly, for example as part of the regular delivery retrospective ceremonies or a specific approach retrospective to learn from what you have been doing and ask yourselves …

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go very well?
  • What can you do better?
  • Any ideas for improvements?

Agile Guilding

Within the Centre our scrum masters have a self managing guild where they can share experiences, train each other, provide coaching and mentoring and most importantly give a safe place where they can collectively solve problems.

Anyone can take a problem to a guild and with the collective experience and ideas from the scrum masters they can help solve a multitude of problems including approach, agile tooling, metrics, resourcing, in fact anything that needs some attention and thought.

In summary, don’t get too bogged down by only being a scrum purist. Figure out what works based on your experience and knowledge for the different projects. Not everything fits into one box. That’s not to say you need to cherry pick or have a miss match for each piece of work, but don’t be afraid to make change and do things better. Constantly learn and improve !

What Is Digital?

If I had been given a pound for every time I’ve been asked ”what is digital?”, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford the latest iPhone, but I might be able to afford a decent case.

I’m lucky to work in a digital team, but where does that leave my non-digital colleagues? Someone made a good point recently that just because they are not the digital team doesn’t mean they are analogue! Very true. When did any of us deliver an analogue solution in our career?

So, What Exactly Is Digital?

There is much debate in the industry about what digital actually is.

For some it’s all about a new style of technology, scripting language or tooling. For others it’s about how we work and the processes and techniques. For some it’s about how business is conducted, in particular using online channels to buy and sell.

All of these and more are correct. For me, it’s all about

  • the type of work we do,
  • doing things differently and
  • creating an environment and culture to enable everyone to be their best.

A Different Type Of Work Takes A Different Type Of Person

The technologies we use now are certainly different to a few years ago. When I started in IT, Cobol was still the language of choice and Java was just starting to make a difference. We have evolved so much in the last 20 years.

Most of our work is cloud hosted and it’s a rare occasion that on premise is the first choice. Dev Ops, Agile, automation, robotics, platforms, containers, microservices amongst other buzz words are talked about and worked on in the team.

Open source software and tooling are positively encouraged and names like Gherkin, Cucumber, Chef, Puppet, Ansible, Chocolatey, Balsamic, Hadoop, Python, UX and Service Design can be overhead in discussions around the teams.

We have been so fortunate to realise early on, that things were changing and we recognised the need to evolve and re-invent our programmers into multi-skilled engineers, where tooling rather than native code is king.

Previously the type of person who would have made a good programmer might not be the ideal candidate today as an engineer. I’ve had many CVs on my desk that would have ticked every box a few years ago, but now the first thing we look at is will they fit into the team and do they have a high level of learnability.

The autocratic management style that was so familiar a few short years ago, can no longer be found in my team. I see myself as an enabler of the teams rather than managing them. As Steve Jobs said (not exactly verbatim, but you get the picture) ”We don’t hire clever people to tell them what to do, we expect them to tell us what to do”. When the team make suggestions, I take them seriously and try to make things happen for them whether that is training, having a relationship with a technology partner, getting licenses for a particular tool or giving them time to work on some innovation outside of their regular work.

The New Team Mindset

One of the first things we did as part of our cultural shift was to remove the hierarchies. We rationalised the roles within the teams. Everything is delivered using an Agile approach. We now have scrum masters and team members which includes everyone from apprentice engineers to architects.

Our people and their team have a number of attributes and characteristics…

  • No hierarchy – badges are left at the door
  • Everyone is equal
  • Everyone mentors and coaches each other
  • Transparency is a given – we don’t want secrets or hidden agendas
  • We don’t fail, we learn lessons
  • We share our blockers and issues and resolve them together
  • We solve problems
  • We have time to innovate, learn and develop
  • We remember and nurture our passion for IT
  • We celebrate and recognise achievements and successes
  • We have fun!

Speedboats over Supertankers

Working in a mega corporation the deals that previously were common were the multi billion 15 year outsourcing deals. This does seem to be changing and rather than the huge mega deal, clients seem very interested in breaking down their big challenges into smaller discreet problems. From which we develop a minimum viable product or do some digital experimentation. Using agile techniques of constant feedback loops means we can very easily change direction where we need to. Starting small or ”not boiling the ocean” has allowed us to reinvent our reputation as an innovative, digital partner to our clients. Where we have started small with maybe 2 or 3 people, inevitably turns into 2 or 3 scrum team’s solving more and more problems.

Digital Is Binary

There are many definitions of what digital is. Everything from cutting edge technologies, online business transactions, even legacy mainframe application development using agile, dev ops and automation.

One thing that can’t be debated, every digital application whether it is written in Cobol or any of today’s tools, it is still only 1s and 0s.

The Essence Of A Digital Culture Part 2

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In this second part of the blog, I want to explore how we have created a high performing, multi skilled team where training, collaborative working, innovation and  mentoring have become real enablers for our people and for our projects.

No More Silos

It is a standard concept in Agile teams to have T shaped resources that have a deep specialism as well as more breadth to a person’s skills e.g. an engineer can also have automation and testing skills.  This allows for relatively small scrum teams to be able to deliver whatever is needed within the confines of their own team without having to find skills from other areas.  When more traditional siloed teams are used, it often results in a bun fight for people’s time and managers or accounts wrapping their arms around resources.  This is no good for project delivery or for individuals who don’t get the opportunity to develop and upskill or multi skill.

Taking our people from ‘I’ shaped to ‘T’ shaped was one of the first steps in having a higher performing team.  However, we very quickly realised we needed more from our people and could give them more in return.

A number of the team are influencers and leaders and these people need to have more stronger strings to their bows.  So, we started to develop our ‘X’ shaped people.  These are our natural leaders, both business or technical who are the influencers and agents of change in our team.  The ‘X’ shapers talk to key client decision makers, influence technical and delivery direction and are the thought leaders amongst their peers.

We recognised we were taking our people on a journey from ‘I to T to X’.

ITX Picture

To develop the path for an individuals journey, everyone in the team was mapped as either an I, T or X as their starting points on their individual development plan.

To support the development of X shaped people, we have a range of soft skills and leadership training and coaching covering Influencing skills, being an agent of change, coaching and mentoring, communication, prioritisation and  solutioning.

Technical Training Team Triangle – AKA  The T4

The next dimension to multi skilling is also about addressing some very common problems …

  • Removing single points of failure
  • Attrition and retention of individuals with strong skills who were regularly being headhunted
  • No clear career paths for our new to corporation roles of scrum master, product owner, coach, Dev Ops engineer and automation engineer
  • Ever changing IT
  • No time to innovate
  • No fun and forgetting the passion for IT

t4

Scrum Team Alignment :

We cut down and across our labour pyramid when pulling together our scrum teams.  This enables us to identify not only the next layer of top talent, but the next 4 layers.  This model facilitates mentoring and coaching across all layers of a team.  The coaching and mentoring doesn’t just head down the pyramid from the experts at the top, but heads in all directions especially where we have some of our early career people bringing new perspectives, experiences and a passion for learning and sharing new ideas or technologies.  We like to promote an environment where everybody learns something new every day.

There can be a fine balance between delivering on our project commitments and providing good development opportunities for our teams.  To make sure nothing dropped with our deliveries, we provided partial assignments for our team members.  They were still at least 50% assigned on their original project  (we provided a partial backfill to keep delivery on track), but we also gave them another assignment on a project that was using new technologies and approaches which meant when their current role was completed, they were 100% ready to move onto the next role.

Innovation

To restore the passion for technology and bring some fun back to the teams, we gave them the time and freedom to innovate.  Listening to their ideas for innovating either for our client’s benefit or our internal benefit reinvigorated the team’s passion.  They were excited to produce some amazing results and get their hands on world class tools that previously might not have been used in our work.  The results were amazing!  People were looking forward to coming into work!  We did this with very little cash investment – we provided 3 Raspberry Pi’s and some RFID tokens and a reader – the rest came from the team’s inspiration.

Mentoring

One innovation project that is currently active is to get the teams to develop a mentoring app, similar to Tinder where both mentors and mentees enter their skills profile and there is a data matching process which makes suggestions for mentors covering both technical and personal / career mentoring.

The team are learning so much from this exercise.  I am acting as the Product Owner and we have assigned a Scrum Master and Engineering Team.  So far, they have captured the requirements and produced a wire frame using Balsamic software – it looks amazing.   We are planning an innovation evening where the team can take this to the coding stage which promotes some fun social collaboration in the team – I provide the pizzas and they produce the magic!

I recently spoke to a group of early career engineers at one of our resourcing partners who were just coming to the end of their digital training programme and asked them  what was important to them in deciding to join a company.  Every single person whom I spoke with said the same thing … they were looking for a company where they had the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by more experienced staff.  Salary and job perks were surprisingly much lower down their criteria for their future employer.  This reinforced how we were enabling the collaborative mentoring culture within our scrum teams.  We might not always  be offering the highest salaries in this competitive market, but we were providing the mentoring and opportunity to apply learnings and technical training alongside some very experienced techies.

Training

For quite some time our employee engagement feedback was either there was no training or there was no time for training.  The training budgets hadn’t been distributed and we couldn’t wait, so we started to get creative…

We contacted many of our technology partners including Redhat, Amazon, Microsoft, CA Technology, Github amongst others and most of them gave us access to their free training, free software and with some free onsite expertise and detailed technology training.  Our corporation also has a deep pool of trainings available to anyone in the company and we invested some time to figure out what was good and applicable.  We also tapped into so much free training online including the power of a good YouTube video!

We also took advantage of the UK Apprentice levy and have 23 of our team on a Digital Technology Degree programme.  This acts as a great retention incentive for our people.  We are truly investing in our people with this and giving them an amazing development path.   We are now looking at the Apprentice Master Degree programmes now to try and take this even further.

For anyone new to digital either new to company or new to the team, we produced a curriculum called the “Digi-Dojo”.  This is digital enablement training which allows everyone to speak the same digital language, introduces concepts around Agile, Kanban, Cloud Computing, Automation amongst other hot topics and gives anyone a great foundation before looking at their more detailed career paths and training plans.

The Enviable Workplace Culture

There are many factors in creating an effective digital culture.  If you get this right you can deliver some incredible projects, have a highly engaged team where people love coming to work and are developing at the same time.

My aim is creating an enviable workplace where anyone who sees what we do, wants to work here.

It is incredible to see this happen – when you see people come alive and energetic to doing things differently.   I recently gave a tour of our centre to a number of engineers from a different part of the business – they were literally based in the building next door and had never been in our space.  By the end of the tour, their energy and enthusiasm was obvious to see.  As soon as they got back to their desks, I started receiving emails from them asking when they could move their things over and get a desk with us.  They commented on how they understood the theory of digital and agile before they visited us, but now it was made real to them and they were now completely on board with the changes that were needed in their part of the business.

In the next part of the Essence of Digital blog, I’ll cover collaboration and digital leadership.

The Essence Of A Digital Culture Part 1

 

We were incredibly lucky to host a Buildathon earlier this year in our Digital Transformation Centre.  One of our visitors (a global senior exec in the company) described our Centre as walking into a ‘Digital Disneyland’.

I took this as a great compliment !

We have been working over the last few years to really understand what it  means to have a digital culture and I think we’re very close to having nailed it.

It hasn’t been easy to get where we are today, especially when we have been part of a much bigger corporate machine, but there are a few key things that have made it possible.  I’ll explore a couple of ideas and principles we used to build amsuccessful Essence of  a Digital Culture…

Think Small, But Be Big …

Despite being part of one of the biggest IT companies in the globe, we started to think and behave as though we were a start up.  We were very insular, looking within the team to really figure out what we were trying to be. Even though we are part of a mega corporation, in today’s Digital IT market our competitors are more than likely to be a small software house than one of our traditional rivals as we started to think and behave like a start up.

This approach helped us go for some of the work that in the past our sales organisation would have turned their noses up to.  We didn’t mind going for a small 6 week project as we knew that when our clients saw what we could do they would want some more.  We needed to build our reputation as a digital company as our traditional market was in large scale infrastructure programmes and mega deals. One of our first projects started as 2 people looking at some blockers and now we have grown to 4 scrum teams for that client and have been delivering on new and exciting opportunities for them ever since.  They now consider us their partner in developing their digital road map and have absolute confidence in what we can do to support the transformation of their business.

Listen To The Teams

Although we had been operating under Agile and Dev Ops for a few years, we really started to crack the Digital Culture when we started to listen to our teams.

We held a deep dive focus group session and basically asked a number of our more vocal and opinionated team “what can I do for them to make them more effective in their role, happier at work and feel engaged within the team?”

There were the obvious salary, bonus responses, but we also obtained a wealth of valuable information from those sessions covering everything from training, tooling, creating an inspiring environment, innovation, technical and business partners, social and community, leadership and communications.

I took the output, categorised it into work streams with various actions in each work stream backlog relating to the feedback in the teams and created a programme called ‘Making The Digital Transformation Centre Real’.

Each action was given a RAG rating and reported on at each of the bi-monthly Centre Uber Scrum (large team cascades).  All of our successes, progresses and blockers were made visible to all of the team and they could see, very clearly that we were listening to them.

We had some quick and cost free wins …

  • set up a Kudos board
  • set up an ideas board
  • contact our teams preferred technology /tooling companies for free software and training – thus creating real technology partners verses the corporate strategic partners we didn’t have any contact with
  • develop and publish a comms plan and have regular ‘uber scrum’ meetings
  • give the team freedom to use best in class and often free software and tooling
  • run knowledge sharing lunch time sessions developed by our own in house experts
  • create a practical mentoring environment
  • engage with subject matter experts in our local ecosystem to support our lack of niche expertise
  • engage within the local community to support STEM activities in local schools, get involved in charity events, develop a relationship with all of the local colleges and universities in the area

We also made some small investments to allow innovation ideas that came from the team to be developed.  We spent around £500 on some Raspberry Pi’s, RFID readers and some virtual reality headsets.  The teams turned this into some amazing innovative projects which have either supported activities in the Centre or our clients.

We had transformed from a very unclear future into an environment where ideas were encouraged and supported and best of all, the team had some amazing ideas!

After 6 months of doing this we held a pulse survey of engagement indicators and found that over 85% of our team were either ‘happy or very happy at work’.

At this point it felt like we had found the team’s Mojo and we didn’t want to lose it, so our engagement activities turned into Project Mojo.

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We are still running Project Mojo, issuing 6 monthly surveys, having Uber Scrums and running Mojo Workshops to keep the momentum going.

There are other aspects to our digital culture which I’ll go into more detail in subsequent blogs including collaboration, guilds, training amongst others.

We are still learning and continuing to get better every day.  Sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s another learning opportunity.  I don’t know if it’s quite on the level of the Magic of Disney, but there is definitely a buzz, excitement and enthusiasm that I’ve never felt before in the air.

There are other aspects to our digital culture which I’ll go into more detail in subsequent blogs, including collaboration, guilds, mentoring, training amongst others and also, how we are looking to take what we have achieved and scale that out across the wider organisations.

 

 

Everyone Needs Their Own Lightbulb Moment

I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been asked by sceptical clients and colleagues about using Agile and Dev Ops methods in software delivery.  This is usually followed by …

“We can’t use that because …”

“That won’t work for us because …”

“Our teams don’t want to change because …”

“Agile doesn’t really work”

… I think you can see a pattern.

In response, I usually find it is best to recount my team’s story of how we were very sceptical of change and happy with our waterfall status quo before we started using Agile and Dev Ops methods, but making the change and giving it a go was when the real fun started.  If you’re sitting comfortably, here goes with our story …

Like most IT Professionals over a certain age with a background of complex legacy public sector traditional waterfall projects that lasted more than 6 months, usually resulting in going over budget whilst running into impossibly tight testing windows where the requirements would change (usually late in the project) and defects were expensive to fix alongside a mounting technical debt, we thought we knew how to do things right.  The project managers blamed everyone, the business analysts blamed the client, the designers and architects blamed the business analysts, the developers blamed the testers.  Just writing that down now makes me embarrassed to admit our arrogance.

In our minds there was nothing that we didn’t know about IT delivery.  With vast experience amongst us all (we once counted the IT experience in our team of 40+ people to be just over 1000 combined years!)  we all thought we knew what we were doing.

Then we were asked to deliver the impossible.  Everyone agreed we needed to do things differently and re-write our well-thumbed rule book.  So we made a plan with timelines and milestones and phases … in other words the same as before.  Then someone suggested that we try Agile.  Terms like scrum, sprint, standup, backlog, Kanban were thrown around and we all sighed, looked around at each other smugly, but agreed to give it a try – under our breathe we secretly thought it would never work.  We reluctantly agreed that as we were going to fail doing this in our legacy way, we might as well try Agile.

We trained scrum masters, set up white boards, agreed with our client who would be our product owners, trained our engineers in some Dev Ops tooling, introduced some automation and then it happened … OUR LIGHTBULB MOMENT.  We managed to achieve the impossible!

Collaboration with the client was seamless and they even integrated themselves into our scrum teams.  Our staff were learning new techniques and ways of working that broke down the barriers between ‘them and us’.  We removed the blame culture between the separate teams as our scrum teams were made up of designers, analysts, developers and testers – we were all in the same (scrum) team now.  All parties were working together with common goals, learning our lessons every sprint and taking ownership of our own areas of delivery whilst at the same time supporting our team wherever we could.  We recognised when we failed, but we failed fast and we failed together – so we fixed it without the need to produce and approve reams of paperwork to get changes agreed (working software over documentation for the Agile Manifesto purists).  We had the client product owner within our scrum teams and we were making decisions when they needed to be made.  Priorities actually made sense for once.

This was a few years ago now and we are still learning each and every day.  We now talk about how “it’s all common sense really and it’s just what we do”.  We have learned to be pragmatic with Agile.  We do what works for each and every project.  Sometimes we lean towards more purist Agile and other times we take what we need from a number of different schools of thought and adapt to fit the work.  The constant feedback loop is crucial to our success so we can learn and improve at every iteration.

We have happy staff – who have amazing relevant digital skills, who receive ongoing mentoring, training and development in Digital, Agile and Dev Ops.  Our team are now highly multi-skilled.

We have happy clients – who feel part of the process and don’t feel like we are trying to sell them something, but are trying to help them fix their business problems through amazing IT.

This has resulted in a very healthy pipeline of work as our reputation has grown and we are leading the way in how to effectively delivery digital solutions as well as a highly engaged workforce who actually enjoy coming to work.

The advice we usually give to our sceptical friends is …

  • Start small, maybe with one project – don’t try to boil the ocean.
  • Identify a problem and create a one problem statement, so you really understand what you are trying to solve and fix.
  • Use Agile techniques appropriate for your delivery – be pragmatic.
  • Up-skill and Multi-skill your teams, so they can work effectively.  Give them the autonomy to decide the best in class software and tools to use (unless the client has constraints we can’t move) – give your scrum team members a voice.
  • Make the scrum team own their delivery and equip the scrum master to be able to take away the blockers and have leadership who can support the scrum masters and team members.
  • Have a good product owner – we define this in it’s basic form as someone who knows stuff and can make a decision.
  • Have open, honest and transparent collaboration.  The quicker you acknowledge the problem, the quicker it can be resolved.
  • Create an environment of no blame.  If (when) there are failures and mistakes – learn from them and making them a learning opportunity, rather than turn them into an inquest over a failure.
  • Willingly and openly give and receive feedback – listen to your teams – who knows better than those who are doing the work?  I can’t emphasise enough – LISTEN TO YOUR TEAMS !!!!

This isn’t an exhaustive list, we have found it works for us and it might bring you a lightbulb moment too.

man and woman doing high five

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