One of our core delivery values at Equal Experts is to narrow our focus, but widen our context.
In other words, while we aim to deliver business value early and often, we don’t let ourselves lose sight of the wider context in which we’re working. As set out in our values, “it’s all too easy to work hard to improve something locally, when the overall effect on the organisation is negligible (or even counterproductive).”
Gaining that context requires a delivery team to rely on feedback and wider awareness. It’s a case of constantly monitoring the situation, and being ready and prepared to tweak a delivery and pivot when required.
Feedback will come in various forms:
- Customers’ delight (or not) when using a product;
- Unit tests passing or failing;
- Performance tests indicating areas for improvement;
Wider awareness of the landscape comes from this, but also from the ongoing relationship we share with our clients. Close collaboration enables us to maintain a clear understanding of the future direction of a product (and provide consultation on that direction).
What does this mean in practice?
In reality, the complexity and scale that’s typical of modern IT programmes means that staying aware of all the wider context is not straightforward. But it can be done.
I believe that making use of visualisation techniques is a great way to both keep your team informed (without losing focus), and of communicating with the wider business.
Over this blog series I’ll be sharing some ways I’ve visualised stories, roadmaps, blockers and risks over the course of a client engagement. The engagement in question required us to build a delivery team across three locations, with a team consisting of 1/3 internal staff (including nine juniors), 1/3 contractors (from multiple suppliers), and 1/3 EE consultants.
Together, this team had to take ownership of over 60 large legacy web applications, with millions of users and heavy use. Collectively, we took responsibility to carefully take ownership of these products from the previous team (including ensuring they were handed over in a stable state); ensure their operability into the future; and evolve them, both to improve user experience and meet changing business needs.
The more senior members of the team also took on the responsibility to train and mentor the junior members.
Visualisation – the key to keeping track
We found that visualising various different aspects of the initiative was incredibly useful.
These visualisations really helped to support the wide range of required focus, and in helping us avoid painful context shifting, ensured the team stayed sane. They also ensured we had the right people focused on the right things – and that we had enough people to get the work done.
The following helped the team focus on short terms goals, and work visibly toward longer term success:
- A story mapped product backlog (per product) that helped ensure short term goals were working toward longer term success;
- Roadmaps that pre-empted managing multiple contexts, and helped plan for key business events;
- Visualisations of blockers, that created a culture of swarming and focus on throughput;
- Visualisation of environment stability blockers, that helped keep focus on constant delivery into production;
- Visualisation of forecast risks; that helped mitigate and avoid bottlenecks.
In subsequent posts, I’ll be looking at these visualisations in more detail (including what we tried and what we learned). I hope you’ll find them useful!