Sunday, May 22, 2011

A great example of agile style teamwork in a non-software environment

I am regularly asked for examples of where Agile Practices could be used that are not related to software development.

I recently came across this video and just had to share the link to it.

The company encourages all team members to participate, keeps things time-boxed and makes appropriate use of subject matter experts.

It's awesome to see what can be done in 5 days.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M66ZU2PCIcM

Friday, May 13, 2011

Teams are important when doing Agile .. Not just processes !

(This is a motivational story about teams).

Scrum, OpenAgile, Whatever your flavour of Agile, there are rules, procedures and guidelines to follow.

Consider them as Frameworks to work with. Many ideas are different between them, and each Framework has different uses with an organization. There are however, a few things they have in common..Process guidelines, Cycles or Iterations, and an emphasis on Team Based work or Team self-organization.

Over the years I have discovered that whenever Process is involved, there is a huge temptation to talk about processes and cycles and forget about the people who need to follow them. The Team. Without them, none of these things can take place.

I am not talking about "calling" a team a team, but simply just "having" them.

It seems like such a small distinction, but really, the results are very different. Some interesting books on this topic include; "The Orange Revolution" by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. , and The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization" by J. R. Katzenbach, Douglas K. Smith

I started my company back in 1984 and never realized at first, just how important the contributions of more than one person could make to the outcome of a project. Over time I learned that teams are (to me at least), the only way to grow and keep customers happy.

Learning and getting used to the ideas were not easy at first and many mistakes were made, but in the end, I am so glad I stuck it out and kept working on it.

I was recently reminded of a team story I can share where my team truly performed beyond all expectations and wanted to pass it along as a sort of "just believe in it" kind of message to those that are interested.

Here's the story....

In 90's, I ran an Internet Service Provider Business. It came about because of a process I had realized would work for Ocean Transport Companies where EDI data could be transmitted along with normal email and be sent over the internet (the days of $ 800 / month invoices for 2400 Baud Connections to the Internet).

Through the process of meeting new clients, I met the director the Canadian division of a worldwide Shipping company and sold him on the idea. He has offices in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver with partners in those cities and was part of a larger worldwide organization headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium.

Local partnerships were setup in countries where the company did business. At the time, they had approximately 115 offices around the world, in North America, South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Canada was one of those "sub-companies".

The services were working very well in Canada and eventually I was invited to attend a partners meeting in Miami to review the process with managers, owners and stakeholders from North and South America as well as the CEO , who was based in Antwerp, Belgium.

I did a demonstration for the group members there and was presented a great opportunity. The CEO from Antwerp asked me "How long would it take you to get my 750+ employees in Antwerp so they can have internet email as a pilot project for the group ?". My answer to him was that I believed we could pull it off in a few days (which would result in it being completed before our 4 day meeting in Miami).

Now comes the great part... Late that afternoon, I made a phone call to the junior support person and asked "Roy, could you please do me a favour and see if you guys can find a way to get the customers' network in Antwerp onto our system as quickly as you can. "Sure" was the response I got. That was the extent of our conversation.

I could not have asked for a better team!

The next morning while we were arriving at the pool ready to start the day, the CEO from Antwerp came out with a big grin on his face and showed everyone an email he had received overnight to his new internet email account through our service.

It seems that not only did the installation get done overnight, but a large number of the Antwerp staff were already sending and receiving messages through the new service.

I could never have pulled this off on my own and could never have had this happen if the team was not empowered to make decisions.

I am a firm believer that if you give the employees the power to make positive contributions to the company, it's simple.... They will.

Within a few months, I was invited to a two week meeting in Cape Town, South Africa with the owners and managers of all the other International offices and did the same review.

Because of the success of the team and the implementation, we started on a large project to integrate more than 100 offices around the world.

Our team managed the installation, implementation and integration of all these offices together with teams from the client's IT department. The entire system was implemented well below the original budget estimates and in approximately half the original estimated time.

I eventually moved on to other things and am still great friends with the Canadian Director. The company was eventually sold to a larger organization.

As far as I know much of the initial "design" is still in place and being used including their own EDI standard.

Of course, as technology has changed, some of the mechanics of transmission have changed, but the project is still considered a success many years later and is the foundation for most of their current communication environment.

I could never have accomplished this without such a great team who really was concerned about doing the best possible job for the customer.

References :
-The Orange Revolution - Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton
-The Wisdom of Teams - J. R. Katzenbach, Douglas K. Smith
-Open Agile - http://www.openagile.com
-Scrum - http://www.scrumalliance.org