Spoiled by Agile

Spoiled by Agile

Ashley Bailey May 23, 2017

I’m spoiled. Like super-spoiled. I catch a rainbow trout the size of my ice-fishing boot and think it’s rather small. Beautiful – but “nothing of size.” I’ve been ridiculously spoiled because I have caught rainbows over two feet long. (Don’t worry; I release them all back to grow even bigger.) I’m grateful. But, I’m spoiled.

Nice “little” Rainbow, about 12" long

I’ve been spoiled in business as well. For my entire career after college – nearly a decade now – I have been with companies that know and practice agile. I use the term “companies” and not “development teams” because in each case, agile practices have trickled beyond development to the entire organization. I’m not a developer. My background is in product marketing, marketing, and communications, yet I have adopted agile and feel it is part of me — both inside and outside my professional life. (I once planned a cross-country move using Kanban.)

The interesting thing about companies that have adopted agile – or that were born agile – is that they see it not just as a methodology for development, but for both work and life in general, and it permeates throughout the culture.

Folks who are not part of an agile organization seem to have no clue what I am talking about when I ask questions like:

  • What do you mean you don’t have a standing desk?
  • You can’t work from home if you need to…but you work mainly from a laptop connected to the internet… what?
  • You don’t do retrospectives?
  • How do you organize your work?
  • How do you not know what’s going on in other parts of the business? Don’t you have planning meetings?
  • You don’t know what development is working on – don’t you have some type of sprint review?

The dev’s sprint review is open for anyone in the company to attend

Again, the agile concept and work environment can be hard to fathom. People think I must work for Google. I have never worked for Google, but I have worked for some seriously awesome companies – including Wazee Digital. I have never envied those Google employees because, well, I’ve always had it damn good where I work. And, I have never not known agile in my post-college career.

I told you. Spoiled.

At Wazee Digital, we have a game room, Yoga in the Office, and breakfast and snack items always in the kitchen. Music is generally playing in various parts of the office (though there are plenty of quiet areas), and work stations are equipped with standing desks. (I also have an exercise ball for my back and neck). We have happy hours and socials, and while we love it when the office is full and lively, coming in to the office is not a requirement. Any of us may work from wherever we need to be. We have unlimited vacation and flexible hours. Our CEO often wears a hat, and most people wear jeans. The point is, we have a pretty casual, fun, yet highly productive office environment.

Does agile = cool office environment? Not necessarily, though I believe they are like Forrest and Jenny.

Two Peas in a Pod

Is it possible to practice agility and not have things like a game room and adaptable workstations? Certainly … but I suspect it’s not nearly as fun and, I’d argue, not as productive.

On the other hand, might you have a cool office and environment and not be agile? For sure … but I wonder if you are as productive and collaborative as you could be.

I consider my team (Marketing) to be agile.

We use a Kanban board to organize our work and hold weekly backlog refinement sessions. Our work is prioritized, and large projects are broken down into smaller tasks. Given that we rely on both the market and every other part of the business to do our jobs well, we respond to change quickly. We hold regular retrospectives within and outside of our team, and we naturally inspect and adapt. Our team continuously works to improve its process and has no quandaries about changing something if it’s not working. For us, the most important customer is the organization, and we strive to deliver valuable materials quickly and often. While there might be times when we are not all together in the office, face-to-face, in-person communication is our preference. If that’s not possible, then the next best thing is a video call. And we aren’t shy about group-text messages with ample emoji’s. The entire organization works to keep things simple, with the question “Will this scale?” in mind.

My recent emoji's. I'm certain I wasn't flipping a team member off.

If you know agile, then you’ll notice some parallels between the way we work and many of the agile principles.

That’s all fantastic, but what gives me a warm fuzzy feeling are the less tangible elements — a combination of a strong foundation, an agile mindset, and a humble and open leadership team. Things such as embracing innovation, having each other’s backs, and trusting each other enough to hear one another, voice our opinions, and make it known if we are “blocked.” We collaborate and remove blinders while keeping the vision in mind — all while remaining flexible.

By flexible, I don’t mean yoga (though many of us do that as well). I’m talking about the ability to let go of a plan or pivot if something changes, such as when new information comes to light. The ability to look at what was written down (hopefully not too much, as it’s typically best to keep documentation to a minimum) and realize that what we knew at the time wasn’t what we know now — and that it’s OK. That it’s more than OK because now what you will do or build will be stronger, more accurate, and more valuable than what you would have delivered initially. Being flexible is being open. It’s knowing that if you tied on a jig and they aren’t biting or the wind shifts, you may want to try using a spinner. Candidly, it’s not being stubborn.

Proud with my 26" Rainbow

One of the things that I adore most about agile is that even agile isn’t the same as it was in 2001 when the manifesto was born. It has changed and evolved and embodies Kaizen. It has incorporated things like portfolio-level planning, DevOps, quicker iterations, and automation. In an agile business, you are not stuck. You have options. You produce.

And, you’re spoiled. Grateful, but spoiled.