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19 hours ago

How to introduce Agile to non-IT teams

It’s clear that the Agile Methodology is not restricted to software development teams. Countless organizations have improved their flexibility and delivery speed with an Agile mindset, and many have successfully scaled Agile through every department. Agile is already widely used in marketing, education, and even auto manufacturing.

If you’re a non-IT team that wants to adopt the Agile mindset, you will likely encounter some resistance to change. This is good. Criticism of Agile can help your application of its values to improve.  To encourage non-IT teams to embrace Agile, you should first demonstrate the value that an Agile mindset can deliver. 

Don’t prescribe; encourage

The Agile methodology has (unfortunately) been fairly well-saturated with buzzwords and prescriptive practices. As Dipanjan Munshi puts it, “The process whose manifesto declared ‘People over Processes’ has now became a standardized prescriptive process in itself.”

To avoid putting anyone off unduly, don’t introduce Agile as a set of prescriptive processes. Instead, frame it as a cultural practice and a mindset for approaching work. Note that a successful Agile culture will help to increase employee independence, trust, and personal responsibility. In a traditional environment, management ends up being responsible for both failures and successes. In an Agile environment, responsible individuals shoulder this responsibility.  

It’s important for Agile transformations to happen more-or-less organically. Nobody wants to put up with another vague strategy change that’s been mandated by management. This is the the sort of thing that an Agile mindset is supposed to eliminate.

Don't transform; iterate

There are a lot of practices that have formed around Agile; introduce them iteratively, and you’ll be able to the avoid the culture-shock that has stagnated many transformationsTo get started, research Scrum and Kanban. Try to understand which practices might work for you, and why:

Kanban - Kanban uses a board with cards that represent work items. As a work item progresses from idea to completion, it is moved forward through the board's swimlanes. It's great for helping teams adjust to frequently changing priorities. Setting WIP (work in progress) limits helps teams to reduce context switching and avoid getting bogged down by an ever-expanding scope of work.

Scrum - Scrum is great for organizing teams and for making continuous improvements to your work process using Retrospectives. It's fairly heavy on planning (compared to Kanban), and uses fixed iterations to help teams understand and improve their velocity. Most teams utilize a Scrum Master - an individual whose job it is to facilitate meetings, remove impediments, and generally help the team get their work done.

If you're aiming for a large scale shift to Agile, take extra care when planning change. Peter Merel, a long-time Agile consultant and founder of the XSCALE Alliance, advocates the use of steel-thread squads: A small number of progressive people adopt Agile practices and measure their metrics to prove the productivity benefits. The team then divides like a cell and spreads to other teams. This allows for a natural change that doesn’t disrupt the established organization. The transformation is iterative rather than sudden; Agile is adopted using Agile.  

Bridge the gaps between software development and the domain of your teams

Some Agile coaches have noted that it is difficult to link the idea of “delivering working software” to other fields of work. Opposition tends to come in the form of rebuttals such as “We’re too quality-focused to adopt this practice.”  This line of thinking comes from a lack of understanding about the core principles of Agile.  Keep in mind that Agile does not mean sacrificing quality for speed. Rather, it means you should deliver the highest quality you can, without getting bogged down by process or bureaucracy.

The concept of developing “Working software” can easily translate to any field. It simply means the first point where you can deliver real value to your customers. Define the variables of what "working software" and "end user" means to your team. Figure out what what could be considered as one of the basic building blocks of your final deliverable so that you can get feedback at an early stage. 

You also shouldn't feel obligated to use the vernacular of Agile. It was created in an IT world, and might be irrelevant or confusing for your teams. Consider changing the terminology of your tool or process to reflect the vernacular your team already feels comfortable with. For example, a marketing team might rename Features as Campaigns, a sales team might rename User Stories as Leads, etc.  

Synchronize, but don’t get bogged down by ceremony

When you have multiple teams practicing Agile, you run the risk of creating what has come to be called "Agile silos." These are teams which are practicing Agile internally, but lack cross-team or cross-departmental coordination. This is not a good recipe. There needs to be some sort of unifying vision to help turn these different teams into a collaborative ecosystem. There are multiple frameworks to help you plan this out, including SAFe, DaDLeSS, and LeadingAgile

So, it's important to synchronize your teams, but you also have to be careful to not get bogged by ceremony and bureaucracy. A central pillar of Agile is replacing processes with interactions. Adopting the ceremonies of Agile without understanding their purpose is a huge red flag. Don't constrain your teams by trying to over-synchronize them with processes that they don't need. 

“Humans are of very low value as cogs in a machine doing identical things in interchangeable ways. That's for robots. Humans are most valuable when they have high autonomy, and able to play to their unique strengths and histories, particular sensitivities, op-tempos, and patterns of privileged information. The idea of "wisdom of the crowds" in fact rests on humans having diverse, unique private knowledge bases. The madness of crowds kicks in with synchronization and imitation.”  -Premature Synchronization is the Root of All Evil

Final thoughts

One of the biggest pitfalls you can fall into is looking at Agile as a cure-all panacea that will help you do more work in less time. This is not what Agile is about. It's about breaking out of the rigid structures that constrain individuals from completing their work in the best possible way. 

Dilbert on Agile

Learn the various techniques and strategies that Agilists have accumulated over the years, and pick the mixture that works best for you. Above all, don't lose sight of the values in the original Agile Manifesto, and you will reap the benefits that the Agile mindset can provide.

2 days ago

We’ve moved from UserVoice to Service Desk for Idea Management

Our new Service Desk application can be used to manage almost any kind of Request. One of its most common use cases is Idea Management, which allows you to gather feedback and prioritize features in your product based on your customers’ needs.

For the past several years, we’ve been using UserVoice for Idea Management. Now that our own Service Desk provides the same functionality and more, it’s time to move on. Last week we carefully moved about 10,000 users and 2,800 ideas to https://helpdesk.targetprocess.com to make sure your feedback is not lost.

This means that the forum at https://tp3.uservoice.com is now deprecated. You are welcome to share your ideas at https://helpdesk.targetprocess.com.

migration_complete
The other thing we want to highlight is that you can also use the Service Desk + Targetprocess combo to collect and manage ideas for your own projects. Service Desk has all the usual features such as voting and comments, it allows you to easily link ideas to particular work items in Targetprocess, and it’s free. Also, as our own Product Owner observed, it's much more convenient to manage incoming ideas when you have all the power of Targetprocess to back you up.

Service Desk can be enabled from the Settings page in Targetprocess. Take a look at our guide if you need help getting started, or send us a message at support@targetprocess.com.

Tip: You can create Custom Request Types to expand your use of the Service Desk for almost any kind of application. If you’re not using Service Desk for customer support, just remove the Issue and Question request types and rename them to something that corresponds to your needs.

 

In addition to all that, we have just released a widget that can be handy if you have your own system and don’t need the full Service Desk application, or if you just want users to submit requests without leaving your website.

widget_plan

We understand that you might need some flexibility from the default settings, so we made the widget customizable. You can hide elements like top requests, description, and attachments, define default request types and privacy, and change the form's subject text. It is already available for you and you can embed it anywhere – all you need to do is to provide a link to your Service Desk with the correspondent parameters. See our guide for more information.

3 weeks ago

Targetprocess Mobile for iOS Release 3.2: Entity view redesign

We finally did it! A new release for our iOS app is now available in the App Store.

Entity view

We’ve changed the way that entity details views are displayed on Apple devices. These views are now much better adjusted to iPhone and iPad screens, so it’s much more convenient to use Targetprocess on your phone or tablet:

card-view

Custom Fields on entity view

You can now view and edit an entity's Custom Fields from its details view:
custom-fields

Some other useful improvements include:

  • The ability to open links from Description and Comments
  • A "share" action for Attachments
  • A progress bar for Release, Iteration, Team Iteration, and Project entity views
  • A state selector for Projects
  • Multiple teams selector on entity details views.
  • Projects list on Release views

If you have anything you want to share with us, use the Feedback form in the app's 'Me' tab, or shoot us a message at mobile@targetprocess.com.

Click here to download the iOS app.

1 month ago

How to implement Agile marketing

Agile methods are being increasingly adopted by marketing departments who recognize the need to become more dynamic and responsive in today’s fluid digital landscape. Unfortunately, as is usually the case with Agile, the subject matter available online for this topic is already inundated with buzzwords and vague claims that Agile will help you improve your productivity, without many details on the practical aspects of implementation.

Agile has never been a cure-all panacea, and viewing it in this manner is destructive. However, if you can manage to dodge the endless stream of buzzwords and half-baked content marketing, you might find that agile is exactly the solution you need. Or, maybe you won’t. You won’t know until you try, but even a failed transformation will encourage new ideas and help your team to grow.  

Dodge the Buzzwords

Jurassic Park lazily reimagined with buzzwords.

Disclaimer: not all online materials regarding agile marketing are filled with buzzwords and shallow content. Check out these articles from PWC, Flite Agile Marketing, and David Baddock for some additional perspectives.  

Implementation Strategies:

Scrum it up:

  • Hold daily Scrum meetings so that your team can share what they did yesterday, what they’ll do today, and discuss any blockers they may have.
  • Experiment with working in sprints (2-4 week iterations of highly-focused work). But, if your marketing team is small, make sure you don’t neglect work items outside the scope of your sprint. You have a lot of ground to cover.
  • Establish sprint reviews to discuss what was accomplished during the latest iteration with colleagues and stakeholders. Explain your current campaigns, review metrics, and secure internal feedback.
  • Establish regular retrospectives where your marketing team can talk among themselves about how the last iteration went, discuss team morale, review the current agenda, and make plans to improve.

Kanbanize your work:

  • Establish a Kanban board with a backlog of work and custom swimlanes (to-do, planned, in-progress, rejected, done, etc.) that reflect your process. Make sure your board is readily available online for any remote workers. Transparency and open communication are vital.
  • Experiment with using WIP (work-in-progress) limits to maintain quality and focus. Multi-tasking is a myth.  
  • Every time you move a card further into the workflow, circle back and try to think about the item from the point of view of your target demographic.
  • Consider making it required for team members to leave a comment on work items every time they advance it further into the workflow. This is not for the purpose of documenting work for management. It should be an introspective practice to help each team member stop and reflect on the item. Marketers tend to be in a rush, which leaves room for mistakes.
  • Use visual encoding to make your board easier to comprehend. Color code according by responsible person, task category (social media, blog posts, SEO), or level of work (Task, User Story, Epic).
  • Planning your work to deliver “just-in-time” can help you to avoid the pitfalls of Parkinson’s Law (i.e. work expands to fill the amount of time allotted to complete it).
  • On the same token, when you make estimates, make sure you give yourself some extra time for securing feedback from colleagues.
  • Don’t let “almost done” work items pile up. Prioritize the items that deliver real value, produce an MVP (minimum viable product), share it with team members for feedback, refine the work, and finish the task.

Definition of Done

Test, measure, repeat:

  • Focus on small iterations and actionable new ideas over “big-splash” campaigns and unrealistic goals.
  • Actively test new strategies, stick with what works, and repeat the process
  • Fail faster. Don’t be afraid to drop a tactic that’s not working, no matter how much effort has already been put in.  
  • Never miss a chance to gather metrics on your campaigns. Using tools like Google’s URL Builder can help you measure what links are driving the most traffic to your website. Google Analytics (or some form of it) is an absolute must.
  • Data’s useless if it you can’t understand it. Make sure you take the time to properly analyze it. Consider using a data visualization software, such as Vizydrop (our free side-product, also integrated with Targetprocess) or Tableau (a great SaaS product with 14 day free trial).  

Facilitate collaboration and feedback:

  • Establish an internal communication channel for feedback and suggestions. Use this channel to encourage employee engagement on important social media posts to increase post reach and demonstrate brand community to your audience.
  • Make it easy for colleagues to contribute their thoughts to your brand. Get in the habit of asking for blog posts from other departments. Initiate conversations with quiet team members to get their perspective.
  • Establish a practice of bringing in one member from another team every week to contribute their ideas to your campaigns. You’d be surprised how many good ideas people keep to themselves, and it’s enormously helpful to get insight from a domain outside of your own.
  • Add a feedback widget to your online content. A simple “Was this article helpful?” can go a long way to securing metrics on what was most effective, and what areas need improvement.
  • As a marketer, you shouldn’t be managing social media, but rather facilitating it. Do what you can to make social media an organic process that everyone contributes to. Consider holding an internal workshop to establish guidelines.
  • If possible, integrate your social media channels with your internal communication tool. Create a public channel where all posts will appear so that everyone in the company can contribute.

Take and manage risks:

  • Establish a rotating Risk Management role. Assign one person per month to dedicate some of their time to actively seeking out new risks (threats and opportunities). Have this individual act as a devil’s advocate (see “10th man rule”) during meetings. This role can reduce the potential for groupthink and help your team stay responsive without damaging their focus. It will also help your team members grow their personal perspective.
  • Give your team the freedom to try new things. You’ll never get ahead of the competition by sticking with strategies you read on LinkedIn. Don’t copy innovation; be the innovation. If you fail, it’s no big deal; at least you learned.
  • Experiment on social media. A post that goes through two management gateways before being approved probably won't push anyone's buttons or make you stand out. Copying the style of competitors is similarly safe, but will leave your brand looking average at best. Don't be afraid to try new social channels and tinker with your brand voice.

Stop working so hard:

  • You can’t expect your audience to enjoy your content if you don’t even enjoy creating it. Make sure your team is happy with their jobs, and comfortable with the domain.  
  • At Targetprocess, we use Orange Time (optional time to work on self-education and side projects) to encourage employees to stay engaged at work and learn how to do their jobs better.
  • Eliminate Muri (excessively hard work) from your routine. If there are some necessary tasks which your team finds excessively difficult, try approaching the work from a different angle, or use Orange Time to learn how to better facilitate the tasks.
  • Measure your working habits, and try new personal strategies. I personally lose focus during the last hour of the work day. I no longer try to do difficult tasks during this window. Instead, I use this time for education, drafting tomorrow’s social media posts, and connecting with colleagues.

How to change your culture

Agile is not about what tool you use or what framework you adhere to; it’s almost wholly about your mindset and culture. Agile transformations need to happen both in the minds of your team members and in the actions of your management hierarchy. Changing the way people think is a monumental task, but there are some themes you can use to encourage this mental shift.

Focus on delivering value:

Many marketers have an unhealthy obsession with lead generation. Website traffic is driven by constant visibility via content marketing, social media, and good-old-fashioned spam. Of course, lead generation is vital for any business, but developing tunnel vision for this activity is dangerous. These lead-generation methods will not lose their relevance anytime soon, but the motivation behind executing them should revolve around delivering value.

Take some inspiration from journalism: deliver valuable information to your audience and empower them to make the best possible decision in order to make them feel like valued members of your brand community. Demonstrate the value of your product by delivering some of that value through your campaigns.

 

Encourage freedom, responsibility, and trust:

If your company has a solid culture of trust, giving employees more freedom will enable them to be more responsible.  For example: you might not like the fact that your employees use Facebook at work, but you probably won’t get upset when they respond to a late night message on your company’s social channels.

As Michael Dubakov said in his his recent article on the future of Targetprocess: "A culture of trust in your company will slowly return a person’s trust in themselves, encouraging them to experiment and make mistakes."

If you can trust your team to be responsible, give them the freedom to work in the way that works best for them. Without this trust, freedom has the potential to backfire, so make sure you’re honest with yourself about the state of your company culture.

Dilbert Understands

 

Pitfalls to avoid

  • Lack of trust between team members
  • Lack of shared vision
  • Lack of transparency and communication
  • Securing metrics but not using them
  • Disregarding feedback and metrics in favor of your "gut instinct"
  • Assuming that your management tool or process will guide the transformation for you

These are just my personal thoughts on how to bring an Agile mindset to your marketing and public relations campaigns. If you have any strategies of your own, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

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