We’ve been using the agile framework Scrum to complete software development projects for almost four years now. Many Scrum elements also form the basis of our process model for continuously improving our organization.
The internal label for our process is "Agile Org". In one-month cycles, we think about things we want to change and work on them. The topics vary greatly from improving company strategy and forming more intensive customer relationships to internal issues like creating a good work-life balance.
Collecting and evaluating change requests
Usually, change requests for this process are submitted only if they are cross-team requests and do not affect only one team in the company. Every employee is allowed to submit topics. There are no limitations on content except that it must be relevant to //SEIBERT/MEDIA in some way.
There is a form for submitting topics that we described in a previous article on the agile method of evaluating ideas and decision-making that is available for download. The filled-out paper form (yes, we really use paper for this) is displayed on our Agile Org backlog board in the kitchen where we keep all out current topic ideas.
After we put a new topic up on the board, we think it is a good idea to make sure it gets noticed, so we will do things like post about it in our internal microblog. We often mark new topics with a small label that says “new” so people know the topic has probably not received any feedback.
The feedback form is setup so that for every suggestion, employees can respond with smiley faces (from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”) but can also voice their opinions on the topic’s strengths, opportunities, concerns and potential weaknesses.
As part of “backlog grooming” (a meeting for figuring out the requirements), we look at and flesh out the change requests and feedback so we can start working on them right away. We also start discussing which topics we might want to work on in the following month.
Image 1: After a year full of changes, we take a break from coming up with stories over Christmas, but are already back to collecting topics for the upcoming year. On the right, you can see the board displaying the stories currently in the works. In the center, you can see the collection of upcoming topic ideas. On the left, you can see our supply of forms for new topic requests and our archive of old topic ideas.
Processing change projects
Those who want to get involved with Agile Org use their “slacktime,” which is comparable with Google's “20 percent time” concept. All activities performed during this sprint are also considered slacktime. And of course everyone chooses if and to what extent they want to participate.
The start: sprint planning meeting
Those who plan on working a topic the following month participate in the sprint planning meeting. A sprint refers to the period of time allotted to working the topics. In our case, these are four-week cycles. During this meeting, we talk about the change requests we reviewed while backlog grooming and determine which subjects to deal with in more detail, depending on the number of participants and the scope of the topics. Based on experience, we can handle four to six change topics per sprint.
For each topic, a small team forms that wants to work on the topic for the month. In the second part of the sprint planning meeting, the team figures out the necessary steps for implementing the topic. In the first step, this often includes conducting a small employee survey, holding a meeting, etc. In the following steps, teams outline potential solutions, which are implemented in the final stages. Each step is recorded on a small note.
To conclude the sprint planning meeting, the notes containing the steps are placed on our Agile Org board in the kitchen so everyone can see the work progress.
Two stand-up meetings per week for coordinating work
Twice a week, all employees convene for a short stand-up at the board in our kitchen. Colleagues working on the Agile Org that month should of course try to be present. The meeting, however, is open to all employees.
Taking a maximum of 15 minutes, the teams address these three questions:
- What were our last actions and achievements?
- What are our next steps and who will do what?
- Are there any obstacles to our progress?
A stand-up is a type of short briefing to update everyone on the work progress and inform them of the upcoming steps.
Transparent communication thanks to HipChat and Confluence wiki
As a rule for any Agile Org work, all employees are allowed to access the information, communicate freely and attend the meetings. To ensure transparency, teams communicate between meetings in open company chat rooms using HipChat and document intermediate results in the internal Confluence wiki.
Preparing the presentation
When it’s time to present, teams summarize their results one more time and decide who will do the presenting.
Presenting the results and voting
At the end of an Agile Org cycle, we have a tradition of inviting all employees to a breakfast or dinner where teams present their results. Usually, at least two thirds of employees come to these events. The meeting is called a “review.”
Each topic from the previous Agile Org sprint is presented in a five-minute presentation. Afterward, the team answers any questions that arise.
After the stories are presented, employees vote on the results. They can vote “agree”, “disagree” or “abstain” and the decision is based on a simple majority. The results are made available to all employees.
Finally, the sprint team carries out a retrospective on the past sprint. The next Agile Org cycle begins by grooming the backlog and processing requirements.
Images 2-4: At our Agile Org reviews, we provide sprint results but also serve refreshments.
Agile Org: Far-reaching changes
Using this process, we have conducted massive changes at //SEIBERT/MEDIA over the last two years. For instance, we introduced slacktime, abolished objective agreements and established mentoring teams instead of fixed superiors as part of the Agile Org process. Averaging four to five changes per month, we can implement many important topics for our company every year with the help of all our employees.
Introduce or optimize "Agile"? We are your partner!
Do you have questions about how agile processes work in organizations or software development? Do you want to introduce agility into your company or improve existing processes? At //SEIBERT/MEDIA, we know how to incorporate “now howinto projects. We would be happy to help you establish and optimize agile principles and processes in your company. Feel free to contact us with no obligation. You can find detailed information about our Agile services in our Agile orientation offer with descriptions of our services and example calculations.
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Agile skill matrix: Systematizing team training and controlling the exchange of knowledge