We get delegates from lots of different companies on our training courses and it’s always illuminating to hear their ‘war stories’. According to our research, 85% of technology companies have now adapted some form of Agile or Scrum. So we always ask product managers about how things have gone.

One of our recent delegates – Paul Dunlop, Product Manager at DC Thomson Family History – had some really interesting anecdotes and I thought it would be useful to share them.

Paul says we use Scrum but…

– You need a stable environment for the Agile/Scrum estimating process to work. We use complexity points as a way of estimating tasks. Predicting how many points a team can handle in a sprint only really works once things have had a chance to settle down. It took us about 6 months to get to that point. In environments where things are in a constant state of flux, you’d struggle to ever get there.

– I’m the Product Owner and the Product Manager and yes it’s a lot of work but it seems to work for us. The big challenge is freeing up enough time to look at the bigger picture and more strategic stuff.

– At the end of each 2-week sprint the whole team gets together for a day-long Retrospective meeting. This sounds like a big commitment in resources but we’ve found it really valuable for two reasons. You need time to create an environment where everyone can share the open and honest feedback needed to make meaningful improvements. Also, Scrum works best when it’s a collaborative effort rather than ‘them’ and ‘us’. This is a great opportunity to build the team spirit.

– Educating and setting expectations with senior management is critical. They need to ‘get’ the trade-off between less certainty on dates and content but more flexibility to cope with last minute changes e.g. responding to a competitor move.

– In some companies I’ve worked for, Agile and Scrum seem to have been adopted by Development because it’s the next big thing. It looks great on the CV. Things would have gone a lot more smoothly if there had been more time spent thinking about what really is the best development approach for us – Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Water-scrum-fall.

It’s interesting to get Paul’s views and they certainly chime with what other delegates have said on our courses. Adapting Agile to address the particular challenges that are important in an organization seems to be the norm. Everyone does Scrum but with their own variations.

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

 

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Yes, 57+ varieties of Agile is very apt!
I find how far it can be fully adopted, or to what extent it is water-scrum-fall, can be influenced by the deployment / release cadence, especially in B2B products, where lead times, and the ‘value stream’, are massively extended.

Interested to learn if Paul from DC, as the product owner, takes part in all the sprint retrospectives? I have worked in environments where that was encouraged (which is great), and others were I was not welcome to attend (Devs only!)

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Barry – I do take part in all sprint retrospectives. For me, it’s incredibly valuable to hear feedback on issues with the work being defined, perhaps issues with acceptance criteria, etc. It’s also critical to understand what issues the delivery team are hitting, so I can better anticipate and communicate potential problems down the line.

As well as that, it’s a chance for me to help the team understand wider business issues, and answer any questions they may have. It all feeds into the concept that it’s one team, not the business, and the development team as separate entities.

It probably helps that I come from a dev background before, so I can understand and contribute to most parts of the conversation.

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