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What it means to be Agile at Thrillworks

By Conor Geaney

If you’re not talking about Agile, likely you’ll get left behind. What is it and why does it matter to your business regardless of the industry it's in?

The Agile methodology is a set of principles which in execution, is a management framework where the process and the work is iteratively completed in small parts with feedback from continuous reviews to allow the release of a minimum viable product (MVP). Each iteration is improved upon in comparison to its predecessor, through a highly collaborative organization structure that values human communication between internal and external stakeholders for quick adaptation to change that produces working results.

The end state product can still adapt to changes as needed in the face of evolving business and customer requirements. Its four values, born out of software development, are highly applicable to any organization. Embracing nimbleness and fostering collaboration among all stakeholders are essentially the tenets in Agile that enable the best possible work by focusing on the human aspect in the process.

The gradual shift began to take place in companies that were not necessarily categorized as software and tech but relied heavily on those things to operate their core business and organizational structure through an Agile lens. This includes full-service agencies, such as Thrillworks.

How we operate on Agile

As an end-to-end agency we rely heavily on tech and software, embracing Agile to enhance how we work as well as to exceed our clients’ expectations by:

1. Using software as tools to create work of value for our clients and enable collaborative work among all stakeholders in any project

2. Working under Agile as the organizational framework that governs our processes, workflows, and gauge the actual work and process behind the work:

  • A project is broken down into smaller pieces of work and done in sprints, typically a 1-to-2-week turnaround to allow evaluation and enable fast, necessary changes as needed to each version of the product so that each subsequent one reflects improvements
  • The process of work is evaluated by efficiency as well as looking at the quality of work itself (e.g. the result of each sprint’s work)

Priding ourselves on our “never not” motto, we began adopting Agile two years ago because we’re never not improving. Prior to being Agile, Thrillworks, like many organizations, was delivering work in a Waterfall manner. Gathering requirements from clients at the start of the project and not communicating with them until work was completed, showed us that there must be a better way to show up for them and produce quality work. Moving into Agile is a work in progress, and we’re learning ourselves each day, but we knew that the need for regular communication with our clients was a start. In our transition, we’ve learned that instead of finishing entire projects that took months, we were able to complete work in smaller chunks through shorter engagements of weeks. At the centre of Agile, personalization comes into play and it guides the way we work among all stakeholders, both our teams and with the client, and the messages that our clients’ various brands intend to deliver to their audiences.

"Build, measure, learn” is the principle any Agile organization lives by and is part of every step in the way of doing things and the work itself. For example, when we build a website for a client, the criteria for success of each version is measured against its predecessor. The focus that guides our thinking as we build, measure, and learn never changes - it is always that of how the product would benefit the end user.

  • Do I trust this brand?
  • Can I easily find information and make an informed purchase decision?

These are questions we ask ourselves. Upon feedback of each website release, we learn, and we improve on the product.

On that note, there are multiple ways of performing Agile, and the most common being Scrum. Taken together, Agile is the philosophy and Scrum an Agile methodology. That explains why sometimes we hear “Agile-Scrum” or “Agile” and “Scrum” being used interchangeably.

At the heart of Scrum is sprints and with that came the change of project delivery overseen by Scrum masters, who can be understood as project leads. Work is done the same in that every team member works in his/her areas of expertise, but work is done differently through collaboration in the disciplines of strategy, creative, and technology. Simultaneously, each part of the project is pushed forward by the Agile Delivery Lead (Scrum master).

The beauty of Agile is putting humans first

The enablement of multi-way communication among the team and the client allows pivoting the established roadmap as needed. To put it in context, we’d like to share the work we’re doing with our client, PC Financial.

A user story is key in Agile, the smallest unit of work expressed from the software end user’s perspective to allow the teams building the product to understand the persona it is built for. One part of our digital work with PC Financial was to migrate one of its retail websites, The Mobile Shop, to a headless content management system (CMS) in replacement of their traditional one.

The user story was: As a PC user, I want to see the accurate availability of each mobile phone model for all models and under all carriers so that when customers are browsing the website, they see real-time availability to help make informed decisions.

PC Financial asked for the headless CMS to be flexible enough to manage the inventory of all mobile phones, each of which had a threshold in the backend of the website. In the backend, updates on the inventory of a device when it was less than, equal to, or greater than the threshold at the corresponding store or in the case where the user had yet to select a physical store to pick up the phone they’d like to reserve, should be easily done. In addition, the system should also allow easy overriding of the thresholds for each mobile device under all carriers if needed. Potential buyers’ decision of buying – or not – could be easily swayed by the factor of availability. Right off the bat, if the phone is available to be picked up at their selected store, the chances of them inquiring about it to customer support and then reserving it would be greater than if the phone was not in stock.

In this collaborative work setting, PC Financial’s team members were seen as “product owners” who can accept or reject the user story, just like Thrillworks’ internal team members can. A rejected story will be refined until acceptance. The flexibility of Agile is that while a story has been written out for a sprint, if during a project, it doesn’t fit in a sprint, it would be reprioritized to another sprint where it fits. If a story becomes obsolete, no longer serving its intended purpose, it can be discarded.

Internally, Agile allows us to have fun with what we do. One of the most interesting hacks we've done, complementary to Agile, is the replacement of a term we shy away from. Using Slack, anyone typing “handoff” in a particular channel would get an immediate response from the Slackbot with, “Did you mean discussion?” while the original term is immediately overlaid with a strikethrough. This change took place because in an Agile framework, we embrace a collaborative culture and have the flexibility in software coding to allow it, so why not, as one of our developers had done, put it into practice?

To do world-class work, we continue to embrace the Agile principles: people over processes, working software over comprehensive documentation, collaboration of customers and all stakeholders over contract negotiation, and responding to change quickly and flexibly over following a rigid plan.

We’re never not available for a chat! If you’re interested, drop us a line to see how we can partner with you to take your business to the next level.

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