As the technology teams moved from Waterfall to Agile, the experience design team in the Agency still worked 8-12 weeks ahead of the development teams. The designs were the “requirements” for the developers who wrote stories for their backlog based on those designs. As the developers worked on implementing the designs and ran into technology roadblocks, they modified the design to fit the technology or time constraints. The designers were frustrated because the implementation was far from their vision. The developers were frustrated because they were asked to implement elaborate designs without enough time to do it right.
At this time a cross-functional team was formed to create a platform for mobile development consisting of a product owner, project manager, experience designer, graphic designer, developers, and testers. They worked collaboratively, iteratively, and incrementally to resolve tradeoffs between design and implementation. The design team visited actual customers and watched how they used the existing desktop site on their mobile devices. Taking an MVP approach, working software was delivered early and often. It was validated with customer feedback. The team members were all proud of what they delivered. Getting things done at warp speed without sacrificing quality was very satisfying.
Based on this experience, the checkout team requested that design and analytics employees join their core team. Designers collaborated with developers to conduct research a sprint ahead and deliver designs in-sprint, reducing cycle time to between three and six weeks. They introduced personae into their stories, keeping the customer in mind throughout the sprint. The team was proud of the experience they delivered to the customers by providing a checkout flow that was optimized for mobile devices. There were team-building activities driven by face-to-face communication that increased trust. The team was delivering early and often with frequent feedback loops, transitioning from handoffs between functions to frequent deliveries with daily feedback and iteration.
Next, designers were embedded into the “option selection team” and applied the same model of close collaboration with designers on the development team. The team used low fidelity prototypes and very minimal implementations to validate designs with external customers in the US and the UK. Based on this feedback they adapted the designs to help achieve a better business outcome. The new experience made it much easier for customers to purchase the right combinations of options, reducing calls to Customer Service and increasing customer satisfaction.
We clearly demonstrated that embedding UX designers into development teams resulted in better business outcomes. The customers could more easily navigate the site and purchase the items that best met their needs. The designers and developers worked more collaboratively which reduced the frustration. The business was able to deliver higher value, faster, with better quality.
The Agile Coach’s Story: David
Before joining Vistaprint I managed software development organizations and coached Scrum teams. During this period I met Lyssa Adkins, read her book (Adkins 2010), participated in her coaching circle and took one of the classes offered by her group. The coach that was emerging from within me forced my manager side to recognize that I too was a “recovering command and control-aholic.” These experiences prepared me to become an independent Agile coach. Engagements with some large companies led me from coaching software development teams to aligning User Experience teams with the many Scrum teams that they supported throughout their enterprise.
This led to an opportunity to coach The Agency at Vistaprint. Their technology teams had successfully migrated from a heavyweight waterfall process with lead times measured in years to an Agile development process (mainly based on Scrum) with releases into production every three weeks. Lead times for creative requests were still typically 8-12 weeks. I was asked to focus on this problem, starting with the North American email team. The Agency team consisted of a project manager (who assigned tasks to designers and writers before the projects started), an account manager (who “owned” the relationship with the clients), an art director (who approved all of the work before it was shared with the client), and four designers. This team was supported by a copywriter, a proofreader, and an offshore team of four production artists who were responsible for image processing and generating HTML. Following the agency model, the creative team’s goal was to satisfy “the client”, i.e. the Channel Marketing email team that sat in another wing of our building.
I started by meeting with the Agency Vice President. She was tired of being blamed for advertising campaigns being late. Next, I met with the Vice President of Channel Marketing. She was tired of being blamed for using too much of the Agency resources. They were the first two entries in my stakeholder map, a simple Excel spreadsheet that eventually listed every person connected with the email value stream – their name, title, responsibility, concerns and some attributes (e.g. degree of support/resistance to Agile, impact, influence). As I interviewed people on the team, people that were dependent on the team, and people that the team was dependent on, the stakeholder map grew and grew. I asked about what they do, their pain points, suggestions for improvements, etc. I started observing their daily standups in front of their big visible, but rudimentary Kanban board.
My next step was to charter the team as an Agile team. But, who was really “on the team?” In addition to the core team mentioned above, the copywriter was part of a shared resource team. However, he was effectively dedicated to the email team. Other copywriters were only assigned the overflow work. He was “on the team”, the other writers were not. Also, the clients were not really external clients who could easily take their business to another agency. They were fellow employees – part of the work stream delivering value to the external customers. They became partners, joined the chartering process and attended standups and retrospectives.
As part of the chartering workshop, I introduced the team to VFQ (Value, Flow, Quality – an Agile education framework from Emergn (VFQ) and the Agile Manifesto (AM) values and the principles. I watched people struggle with the overwhelming focus on working software and wondered how we could reduce the resistance generated by that concept without abandoning the underlying messages. We overcame that resistance by introducing the Agile Marketing Manifesto (AMM) which does not mention software. It values marketing programs and incorporates Lean Startup thinking (Reis 2011) while maintaining the spirit of the original Agile Manifesto. I also facilitated breakout groups that focused on quick experiments that they could run to address the biggest issues that were slowing them down. I was amazed to see them designing good solutions to hard problems, particularly the ones related to their own work habits and processes.
I continued working with this team on a daily basis. I provided mentoring and coaching to the art director/manager, account manager, and project manager. We designed an Education Vision – a set of three workshops (two hours each) chosen from 18 different topics ranging from the Agile Values and Principles to Value, Flow, and Quality and, more specifically, Scrum and Kanban. I introduced retrospectives that set the stage by focusing on Norm Kerth’s Prime Directive (Kerth 2001).
As the team demonstrated visible progress (significantly reduced lead and cycle times without sacrificing quality or business outcomes), I broadened my focus to the rest of the Agency. In conjunction with the leadership team we created a cohort of 10 managers and directors. I co-facilitated an Agile Practitioner Pathway (APP) for this cohort. This APP was a 12-week program with one full day of interactive training followed by weeks of reading, homework assignments and seven workshops (two hours each). We gradually converted a room full of skeptics into leaders who were willing to look for ways to become Agile. This change in mindset happened over the course of the program. We taught them some key Agile principles and practices, including:
- The Agile Values and Principles from the Manifesto
- Break batches into smaller chunks in order to deliver early and often
- Optimize flow by reducing WIP
- Improve quality with fast feedback
- Focus on delivering value to the customer
- Become servant leaders to motivate teams
The true believers became Agile champions. They convinced VP of the Agency to double down on Agile. Some of them took our training materials and transformed the next team. I had unleashed the ability for this advertising agency to sustain its own transformation.