Mar 3 2016

Agile Everywhere

I’ve written a bunch on this blog and in Startup CEO, about Agile Development and the Lean Canvas and Lean Startups in general (see a really old post on Agile Development from 10 years ago when we first adopted it here, and one on Agile Marketing here).  The basic premise of all of this is that there is an old way to build software products and businesses, and a new lighter way loosely based on Toyota’s lean manufacturing principles.  The old way is HEAVY — you spec out a product and build it and hope you got it right; you write a big business plan and start raising money and executing on it and hope your assumptions are correct.  The new way is LIGHTER — you co-create product with customers and develop a Minimum Viable Product so that by the time it’s ready to sell, some customers are already buying it; you create a business plan that is all about systematically testing the underlying assumptions first, then raising money and charging forward after you know what you’re dealing with.

As readers of this blog know, Return Path is a software/services company that cares about building a robust business, and we also have a lot of passion around building our organization and culture.  We’ve always been fairly progressive with our People practices and programs, and we’re also always trying to innovate to make those things more impactful, easier, and more fun.  And that brings us to the subject of this post.

Over the last 2 years, we have been working to make teams more effective (creatively, we called this work “Effective Teams”); we loosely used Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team as the framing for the work we do with teams.  We ensure they develop strong, trusting relationships, have the skills and courage to have healthy conflict, which means they can commit to the decisions they make; they then hold each other accountable and ultimately get better results.   In addition to regular team development activities, our teams now give each other regular feedback including team-based peer-to-peer feedback through a facilitated quarterly session.   We saw improvements in team development which were verified by an increase of 13% of positive results in team effectiveness surveys.

We are now working to ensure that teams are working in a more agile way, and that their stakeholders are involved in the creation and evaluation of team goals.   Through our “Agile Everywhere” initiative, our Effective Teams work is expanding to help teams develop more agile operating systems.  By June 30, teams will be using some of the agile methodologies to:

break work down into smaller pieces

check in frequently on progress

share feedback among team members and stakeholders

tune practices based on feedback

report results publicly and

establish a predictable operating system.

As with most of our People practices, we modeled this on the Executive Committee, and we’ve instituted  things like Daily Stand-ups and Trello Boards for a pretty disparate set of teams.  We’ve found some practices useful, and we’ve adapted some practices to meet our needs.  We are now in process of piloting these practices with 15 teams throughout the company.  Stay tuned!