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Pilot Teams and the Development of Agile Philosophy at Return Path

A post that describes our transformation process

Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg has written extensively about Agile on his blog and recently wrote a post about Return Path’s Agile transformation—Agile Everywhere. Since we’ve been asked share more about our Agile Everywhere initiative, I’m expanding on Matt’s original post by writing a blog series that describes our transformation process. 

Core team

We realized early on that we needed to work deeply with a few teams to best understand how agile practices would work at Return Path. We knew from our previous Effective Teams (peer feedback) work that different types of teams needed different operating systems to work effectively. Our first test was with our own core team of four: half of us from the People (HR) team and half from our Program Management team. Although our first few sprints were awkward, with each retrospective we iterated on our operating system and eventually found a rhythm that worked for us.

Pilot teams

At the same time, we selected 12 teams across the organization with different locations, functions, and team types (functional teams, cross-functional teams, leadership teams, and project teams). Each member of our core team acted as an agile coach for the pilot teams. We helped the teams determine how they were going to integrate agile practices into their current operating system and supported them during their retrospectives as they experimented with new ways of working and evaluating their past sprints.

Learnings

After a couple months of experimentation, we had a lot of learnings from our own team and the pilot teams. Some teams saw immediate benefits—they were able to adjust their operating system and enhance their productivity quickly. Others had a few false starts and iterated before they came to something that worked well for them. In a couple of teams, the implementation of agile practices highlighted some challenges with the team itself—unclear goals or misalignment on why the team existed. All these experiences enhanced our understanding of what we needed to do next, and helped us formulate what it really means to be agile at Return Path.

The Return Path agile philosophy

That’s why you’ll notice that for the most part, when I refer to agile in this blog post it is with a lower case “a.” This is because Return Path teams follow agile practices in a way that works for them. Sales teams don’t use agile practices in the same way as engineering or marketing teams. Each team was encouraged to follow a build → measure → learn process to determine what works for them and allow their operating system to evolve as they learn.  

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