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 transformations. To 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, DaD, LeSS, 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
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.
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.
Earlier this year, Realm Digital brought their company culture of embracing new technology to life by consolidating their suite of software tools and introducing Targetprocess to manage workflows.
Previously, Realm was using a host of software for their Scrum-based Agile development, including Harvest for time tracking, Mantis for bug tracking, and Float for resource scheduling (to name a few).
They needed a solution that could help them to both improve their Scrum process and unite the different functions of their various other software tools. To ensure that their business processes remained agile and lean, CEO Simon Bestier championed the migration to Targetprocess.
Now that they’re a few months in, their marketing manager sat down with Developer Kyle Mulder and newly appointed Project and Operations Manager Hans Croukamp to see what kind of a difference Targetprocess has made at Realm Digital so far.
Q. Kyle, what has been the most noticeable change in the way we approach projects since Realm moved over to Targetprocess?
Kyle: After switching to Targetprocess, the most noticeable change has been that we now set achievable two week sprints. Thanks to the effort-based point system that Targetprocess uses, we can now see what project teams are capable of accomplishing by checking out a project’s sprint velocity. This enables us to set realistic targets for our sprints, rather than packing them with too much work, resulting in a sprint not being finished.
Q. Do you think the entire Realm team has embraced Targetprocess and all it has to offer?
Kyle: While I’d like to believe that we have fully embraced Targetprocess, I still think there are a lot of hidden features and functionality in the tool that could come in handy to ease our workflows and minimize the amount of other applications we require on a daily basis.
Hans: Targetprocess is vastly different from any other project management software I’ve worked with before. From a project management perspective, I find the different customizable views, dashboards, and reports to be extremely helpful. The buy-in from the team is very positive and the tool greatly assists us by presenting a 360-view on every project. It is quite a powerful tool and can be customized in numerous ways. The more you play around with the tool, the more you find the features and views the platform has to offer.
Q. Which Targetprocess feature, in your opinion, adds the most value, but is underused?
Kyle: From a Developer and Team Lead point of view, the most valuable, yet underused feature, would be using the “relations” functionality with User Stories. The ability to relate multiple stories a big Feature is quite useful.
We also often use Burndown Charts to review a sprint’s progress and get insight into how much effort is remaining to complete a User Story . There is also a sub-tasks functionality, but these provide estimates based on hours, rather than story points, which is less useful for us.
A Burndown Chart in Targetprocess
Hans: The customization of views and boards is probably the feature that I use the most. I can’t necessarily say it is under-utilized, but the more I dig into the views, the more I find value in the details. I can also see the “eureka moment” for colleagues and clients when Targetprocess is used to explain the status of a project.
If I had to highlight something that I do think has tremendous value but that we’re currently not using to the full extent, it would be the ability to see points and work allocation per person/resource.
Q. Hans, is there anything you can think of that can make learning how to use Targetprocess easier?
Hans: Targetprocess is a comprehensive tool with different functionality for different people; Project Managers, Account Managers, Developers, Management, etc. We all use the tool slightly differently.
Although I love the videos on the Targetprocess YouTube channel, it really takes you awhile to understand the tool as a new user. I do believe that breaking the learning process down and approaching it from how each person in their respective role will use the tool can help – rather than to trying to comprehend everything the tool can do at once.
I also think it might be good for them to raise 'Targetprocess champions' – people from different companies who can share their experience with the software. The recorded Webinars also really helped me when I started learning what the tool can do.
This post was submitted by Realm Digital, a global digital strategy and technology partner located in South Africa. The company specializes in digital solutions including web and mobile development. For more information, visit their website at www.realmdigital.co.za.
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If integration with another software tool is absolutely essential to your work, you’ll be happy to hear about our latest partnership. You can now synchronize your Targetprocess account with any tool on Tasktop Sync, including Atlassian JIRA, Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS), GitHub Issues, Zendesk, HPE Quality Center, Bugzilla and more. You can find a full list of possible integrations here.
This means that if you or any of your teams are using a separate tool or software infrastructure for their work – perhaps for quality assurance, product support, ALM, or PPM – you can use Tasktop Sync to automatically synchronize data between the multiple solutions. Teams can work with the tool of their choice, without having to waste time manually transferring and standardizing information.
How will this help Targetprocess users?
Let's start with an example: You and your company have just made the switch to Targetprocess, but QA has requested another year with their current tool. You can use Tasktop Sync to link entities in Targetprocess with whatever artifact is used to represent bugs in your QA team's tool.
This kind of synchronization allows Targetprocess to show the real-time status and priority of work items, and can also help your teams maintain flow and traceability. Keep in mind that this is just a singular example; Tasktop Sync can do far more than just synchronizing cards. You can link an entire software infrastructure to Targetprocess, if need be.
- Seamlessly & bi-directionally integrate with other PPM, Agile planning, requirements management, test management, and service desk tools
- Save time by eliminating the need for import-export of data and manual standardization of information between tools
- Synchronize artifacts across the lifecycle
- Reduce time to market with better flow and traceability between tools
- Get real-time data for faster and more informed decisions
- Keep all teams on the same page, even if they work from different tools
How to setup integration with other tools via Tasktop Sync
To get started with Tasktop Sync, go to the Tasktop website and fill out this form. For an annual fee (the amount of which depends on your requirements), they will sync your Targetprocess account with the tools or infrastructure you require (if the software is included on Tasktop Sync’s integration list). You can view Tasktop’s installation guide here.
More information on Tasktop
Tasktop is a market leader in the Software Lifecycle Integration market. Unlike other common integration providers, there is no charge each time an integration is used, making this solution ideal for users who require in-depth infrastructure synchronization or are frequently switching between tools. The service helps to improve end-to-end traceability for companies that use multiple tools for collaboration or infrastructure.
Notable Tasktop Features:
- System administrators can integrate software tools through a graphical interface that lets them create, maintain and monitor integrations – with no programming.
- Differences among data types, text formatting, and even very complex relationships among artifacts are handled right out of the box.
- ALM tool users never see Tasktop Sync and don’t leave their tool of choice; artifacts are synced automatically without manual intervention.
- New releases from tool vendors are supported almost immediately. Tasktop’s test lab catches API changes as soon as a SaaS release is rolled out.
- Tasktop’s change detection algorithm does not overburden endpoint systems; performance is not gated by the number of artifacts synched.
- Tasktop can handle simultaneous updates and conflicts resulting from differences in workflow rules among endpoint systems.
- Operates even when endpoints are disconnected or offline.
- Can be used with on-premise, on-demand or hybrid infrastructures
- Tasktop’s integrations are bi-directional, easy to deploy and configure.
For more information, please do not hesitate to send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post your questions and comments below.
SPRINT METAL is an industrial company based in Germany that specializes in producing fine and ultra-fine metal wire. The fine wire industry is characterized by formidable requirements for flexibility, but SPRINT METAL has operated successfully in this competitive market for 25 years. They follow a Kaizen culture, and their commitment to continuous improvement has enabled them to improve employee engagement and achieve democracy and transparency across the whole organization.
Kaizen is not just about improving business processes; its true function is comprehensive improvement at every level. In a successful Kaizen environment, employees receive as much value as the company. Team members are able to develop their skills and be an important part of the system, rather than a cog in the machine. The free exchange of information is promoted, and anyone can contribute new ideas for improvement. Safety requirements and the overall well-being of employees are also given careful attention.
A coil of fine wire at SPRINT METAL
Following these principles, SPRINT METAL tries to foster an environment of open communication at their factory. Employees from all levels of the hierarchy are encouraged to send feedback and ideas up the ladder. Department heads use Targetprocess’s Bug Tracking functionality (with Bugs renamed as Messages) to manage such communication so that all internal messages (production error tickets, requests, suggestions, ideas for improvement, etc.) receive documented attention.
With this system, top-level management can give instructions, department managers can document errors, and team members at the operational level can send suggestions or requests up the hierarchy. SPRINT METAL has also created special views to facilitate internal meetings. Meeting results are logged as comments on the meeting entity (which is also represented as a Bug).
The benefits of open communication:
The careful attention that internal communications receive helps to enable the culture of trust dictated by the Kaizen approach. Before SPRINT METAL adopted Targetprocess, meeting minutes and employee messages would often get lost in mountains of paper and nonuniform Excel sheets. Now, everything is available from one central location, and no employee messages or important meeting minutes can be forgotten.
In addition to the transparency boost this system provides, team members also feel listened-to because any suggestions, requests, or other messages they submit receive noticeable attention. Participation in any actions or initiatives is also highly visible; this encourages team members from every level of the hierarchy to take a greater participatory role in process improvements and high-level operations.
This high visibility ensures that contributions from individuals don’t just get swept under the rug; team members actually receive recognition for their suggestions. This is monumentally important for nurturing skill development and team confidence. It’s notoriously difficult to keep up morale in a factory setting, but employees at SPRINT METAL seem to be happy with the way things are. And, if anyone does have a problem with their worklife, they can easily make their concerns known to management.
Facilitating collaboration with software:
Because many employees work with factory equipment and do not use computers in their daily work, operational workers submit their requests and suggestions manually through handwritten notes, text messages, or their preferred medium. Department managers then place these messages into the appropriate project within Targetprocess. The 11 pillars of work at SPRINT METAL make up the different projects, so messages are grouped by whichever pillar (project or category) they are most related to:
The 11 pillars of work at SPRINT METAL: Autonomous maintenance, expert maintenance, progress, health and safety, installation of new equipment, cost, customer service, personal development, production, quality assurance, and environmental considerations (with a project for overlapping topics).
Team members that don’t have access to Targetprocess can still check on the status of messages by logging into SPRINT METAL’s internal system, where all relevant views have been made available to employees. A monitor has been also set up in the factory to display completed requests.
There are many different views for Targetprocess users at SPRINT METAL to see messages and actions, including:
- An overview of all messages in the system - these can be grouped by category, status, and priority
- A team-level view of messages for each department
- An individual-level view for users to see messages by responsible person or by author
- Views for new messages - these are used weekly by the board to process messages
- Views for done messages - these are used for reporting and analysis
- Views to see actions for each work pillar (project) - these are used by the people responsible for each respective project
Customizing the tool:
SPRINT METAL has altered the standard workflow taxonomy and customized the cards in Targetprocess to reflect their communication-centric process. Custom Fields are used to measure things like visibility, effectiveness, and what medium was used to submit the message.
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Some Custom Fields used by SPRINT METAL
Visual encoding is used to facilitate prioritization of all incoming messages. If an item has a high business value (such as emergency maintenance), it is usually assigned a planned end date. If a card moves past the planned end date without being closed, it turns red. To make quick analysis of views easier, new messages are colored green, and ‘done’ messages are colored blue.
A typical setup of visual encoding at SPRINT METAL (translated from German)
SPRINT METAL practices a Kaizen culture characterized by openness and transparency. Their process for internal communications allows for flexibility in the management hierarchy, from the bottom-up and top-down. Employees at all levels have the opportunity to develop their skills and make visible contributions to operations. Their process and culture allows them to meet the ambitious market requirements of the fine-wire industry.
SPRINT METAL’s use of Targetprocess has enabled them to improve standardization, transparency, democracy, and employee participation. Bug Tracking is used to track incoming messages (tickets, requests, ideas, etc.), actions taken, and internal meetings.
In the future, SPRINT METAL would like to improve their process for messaging so they can reduce similar messages coming from different employees. This will allow them to put a greater focus on the quality (rather than quantity) of their responses. They would also like to see more options for advanced reporting in Targetprocess -- something which is on our roadmap for 2016.