What Agile case study inspired your belief that Agile was the way forward?

09 Aug 2023

The backstory

This story begins in a financial institution where we were diligently employing eXtreme Programming (XP) principles to build a solid product. We were using all the engineering practices of XP and we then had to build a newer product. We were following most of the rules of Scrum, but hit an obstacle during our second Scrum Sprint.

During the Sprint review, I had the unenviable task of standing before our senior stakeholder, looking them straight in the eye, and confessing that we had nothing to show you because we didn’t get to “done”.

Their response? A stern warning that, if we failed to deliver again, the product would be shut down, considering the significant costs associated with running our team and executing each three-week Sprint.

That’s a fair response and exactly what you’d expect a good stakeholder to say. They need to hold your feet to the fire and ask: “What are you lot up to? What am I burning money of if you’re not shipping me stuff?”

The Agile epiphany

Our frank and robust retrospective following this setback led us to challenge each other and devise strategies to ensure that we delivered a “done” increment each and every Sprint.

The epiphany occurred a few Sprints later. During the Sprint review, our stakeholder asked whether we could put our built feature live. To which we responded that we had a fully packaged build, tested and signed off, ready to go live each night. The only hiccup would be some red tape needing their authorisation.

The stakeholder then dropped a bombshell: this single feature we’d built would save them roughly £70 000 a month. And it was at that point when the value of Agile practices dawned on me:

  • Focusing on value
  • The power of transparency of a “done” increment

Also, the transformative impact of having the courage to admit that we had nothing to share because we were not “done”. These revelations were pivotal in establishing the stakeholders’ total confidence so that when we declared a product was complete, they trusted us that it was indeed ready to go live.

The power of small cycles and rapid iterations

A little later, a chance meeting with a colleague from another team during a change board meeting – it took all morning usually as it was a very large organization – led to another insightful discovery. They asked how we managed to expedite our product releases while they were still entangled in bureaucratic processes. Our secret? We released every three weeks.

Our consistent history of delivering, fully tested deployment rollbacks, and our close cooperation with operations staff during each release all contributed to our success. This was in stark contrast, the other team released every nine months – a timeline that led to my rather cheeky remark that one could have a baby faster than they could deliver their product to the customer.

This encounter reaffirmed my belief in the power of Agile’s principles, regardless of the framework:

  • Getting stuff done in small cycles and rapid iterations
  • Innovating constantly
  • Connecting with the customer frequently
  • Seeking feedback and making improvements

It’s so simple: Get stuff done, get it to your customer, get some feedback, do other stuff. It still surprises me that something as pragmatic and straightforward as this is so profound and scary to some.

In the human desire for certainty, it’s not the conversation that that reduces our risk, but rather, constant delivery.

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