Let me tell you a story that I have been part of – a  journey in applying agility in a big company. It has been a challenging and rewarding one. But let me start from where I began to witness and enact in.

The start of the journey

A few years back I was a project manager in IT development division. I eagerly applied for the position where I could join fine people in ambitious multinational projects and grow in the role. Soon after I came across an article on “different ways of work” where you use rolling wave planning, timeboxes and cherish direct open communication.

I became curious how would it feel to work in such mode and took a course in ScrumAlliance. The trainer has inspired us to roll up our sleeves and instantly practice it.

The first coming project I was about to take was not best kind for practicing Scrum – it was EU directive driven MiFID project where scope is defined upfront in a rigid rulebook. Yet I  still took the chance to start a  new chapter in my work practice and evaluate its effectiveness in the “battlefield”.

The project had an objective to cover compliance for 3 Baltic countries and Poland in one go. The kick-off event was promising: we got fine developers on board, well fit budget and engaged analyst who we converted to Product Owners. I  kept my PM role with a Scrum Master ambition.

I knew that Scrum Master is always available for development team, making sure they have anything important to fulfill their mission: deliver terrific solution with set quality. I have always enjoyed the people part of project manager’s work, the aspect of openness, support, prompt response and yes we-can attitude of the people who make it spin. I  also remembered and respected the fact that team is as strong as its weakest element. Thus, I was excited to make a “new beginning”.

Fail fast, learn faster

The 1st experience stays the longest. Quite soon we realized with the team we have one backlog run by 4 Product Owners. Only because I  wanted all the stakeholders to have “great customer experience” with theirvery 1st “embracing change” project – I  let the backlog grow and still hear the classic tune: my custom country-specific requirements are Must-haves in 95%.

I  missed important part of the training – you let the scope be flexible but keep it balanced. You need to have good ratio in MoSCoW prioritised backlog (60% on ‘M’ and 20% on ‘C’ layer) and always demand trade-offs when new requirements jump in. Otherwise the work that is ahead of a team will not burn down and the backlog will be uncontrollable. Regular backlog refinement – where new requests are pitched and size of the product backlog is matched with the team capacity and deadline – is a must.

Another eye-opener for our young agile minds was that – although detailed requirements are delivered for us ‘on a plate’ – we have to execute in sprints to gradually (and according to priorities) explore various systems, data source, refactor UI and new reporting engine that could give much better customer experience.The discipline of two-week work cycles – that Scrum puts us in – was hard to follow at the beginning. But after a few sprints we got into a habit of caring (and demanding from POs) for what is most important for project success – well described requirement with clear customer benefit description and acceptance criteria. Another priceless takeaway: mix a  business value-driven backlog with “improvement stories” that team recurrently identifies at the end of a development iteration. In order to have this practice effective and get buy-in (and valuable contribution) from the participants – you had to show you drive them to its completion. Without smashing some impediments, I knew we will soon loose focus on that aspect of agility – continuous improvement.

The classic accountabilities of PM were of course part of my work: financials, communication, proactive risk evaluation and stakeholder management with traditional reporting. I  understood their value. Yet in the same time I was firmly leaning towards servant leader nature of contemporary management. A reviving and truly exciting feeling began to emerge. We started to realize that we participate in something that extends much further than a single assignment. We were part of a significant change in organisational ways of work, promoting and leading by example what will become a predominant practice for developing products for our clients and end-users.

Single Improvements project was an excellent assignment for proving undisputed advantages of Scrum. Team was burning down very dynamic multi-domain backlog that required continuous prioritisation (now done by a single Chief PO) of numerous ‘requests for improvement’ that landed in our backlog any time, addressing both personal and corporate eBanking system with all its local customisations and technology challenges.

Agile WoW grow & expand

Having this delivered I reached out to other agile enthusiast company-wide. We were allworking bottom-up in our own “backyards” but organised in a virtual Agile Community of Practice. This entity made us stronger and more keen to continue injecting agile Ways of Work in different corners of the company. Thankfully I had a great sparingpartner in our local office to uplift our fresh agile competence, not being afraid to share each other agile journey misfortunes and also celebrate.

Working in Execution Leaders unit, I was offered to write an Agile PM guideline where I  mapped Scrum practices onto project delivery process in the company. The goal of publishing it in my organisation was to pave the way for people who want to implement Scrum and still be in sync with sponsor’s and other stakeholders to inform on the progress and have a grip on the budget.

Within couple months it began to be clear that a new era of value-driven development is rising. You cannot pretend any longer that you don’t see an elephant in the room – a vital need to develop iteratively with short feedback loops, daily collaboration of business and techies, the culture of courage and high alignment. As we were developing large solutions, and wanted to keep up the pace of our competition, scaled agile option became an imperative.

An important and challenging programme has been set up in agile mode for the first time. Everyone who participated in its launch was experiencing new ways of work with high business impact. There were both demanding and rewarding moments that – in a group of supporting and persistent agile coaches – helped us build an agile muscle for the company.

Few years later…

Another couple of years have passed. When I look back at my career shift and all the things I  experienced, what is appealing to me in the Agile Coach role is the dynamics of the environment you operate and ability to directly influence organisation and embrace empiricism. With core agile ingredients of trust and openness, you gradually start to see an organisation with modern leadership qualities and decisive teams. And this vision keeps inspiring me in the job I do.