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State before Agile Everywhere

& key components of success

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

Prior to Agile Everywhere, we spent a lot of energy being intentional about teamwork. We started an initiative called “effective teams” where we helped teams give each other open and honest feedback through live peer feedback sessions, and be more empowered through an emphasis on self-management. While we developed ‘happy’ teams that were driven by effective feedback loops and great relationships, there was still something missing–accountability and performance.

That’s where agile practices come in! Matt was familiar with Agile and seen how well it worked in our engineering and product teams and thought the non-technical teams could benefit as well. Although most RPers hadn’t practiced, let alone heard of, agile practices, we believe we were able to accelerate our transformation primarily due to having these key ingredients:

  1. Strong executive buy-in – Matt (CEO) was a huge proponent. He’d seen how well these practices worked in project and engineering teams and also tried out some practices with his executive team. He believed that the principles could be applied to any kind of team and would make teams and the organization more effective. There were also a few agile champions on the exec team, and with some agile training and proof of its effectiveness, the majority of the executive team were supporters.

  2. A clear vision – Matt challenged us in January 2016 to get “90% of teams hitting 80% of their sprint goals by December 2016”. Pretty clear mission. He also made this goal one of our top three goals for the year, with the same significance and emphasis as our company performance metrics. Every organization–from Sales to Finance–was tasked with implementing agile practices in 2016.

  3. Agile-friendly company values – Return Path values and culture align almost flawlessly with agile practices. A few examples are transparency, collaboration, learning, flexibility, frequent feedback. ‘Agile’ was actually a core value already!

  4. A passionate project team and strong stakeholders – the four people I mentioned earlier – two from our People team and two from our Program Management team – were tasked with leading the change, and we all loved working together and were excited about the challenge. We also had a great key stakeholder team of three executives who we leveraged to help us evaluate our progress and make changes to our goals and practices. They also helped us remove roadblocks.

  5. Resident agile experts – we had some really experienced agile coaches in our product and engineering teams. These experts were essential in helping coach our team of four and the non-technical teams as they started trying to implement agile into their operating systems. One of these agile experts became our team’s agile coach and also helped us develop our agile facilitator training.

These five initial ingredients proved to be essential and helped us to hit the ground running in first quarter of 2016. In the next post, I’ll dive deeper into how we took an ambitious goal and made it a reality. 

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