Summary

Hi, I’m Toni Keesee with Element 74. We engaged with Sketch last year for some training and wanted to share where we were before the training and how we’ve evolved since our time with Sketch.

The “Before”

Element 74 is a digital agency. We specialize in developing websites, software, and digital marketing. Our main segment of business is website development, and prior to the summer of 2017, we were working in a very stuffy, old fashioned way.

When we met with Sketch, we worked in siloed departments with Project Managers on one side of the office and Developers on the other side. Project Managers were the only employees that “owned” our projects and the only ones who got to see the whole picture from start to finish. This was overwhelming for Project Managers and uninspiring for Developers.

All projects were completed in the assembly line “Waterfall” way, so if we were waiting on someone, the project usually came to a halt. We also worked off of “scope of work” documents, which resulted in lots of frustration. We ached for more collaboration, productivity, and creativity.

The Plan

We asked Sketch where we should start, and they suggested an Agile Bootcamp for our entire team so that we could all get a fundamental understanding of how to turn this ship around. John and Calvin came to our home turf in Cape Girardeau, and we shut down our office for two days to invest in changing our workplace for the better.

The Execution

After our training, our leadership team took about five days to strategize a rollout plan for adopting the agile methodology and draw up teams. We got feedback from everyone on our full team during this process.

We started with three teams. Each started with using Post-It kanban boards, but aside from that, each team pulled different tools and facilitation practices into their workflow. Some used pointing. Some wrote great stories. Some chose two-week iterations. Others chose three. Some played planning poker. Some really focused on how to have great retros. And so on. We all questioned each other to see what was working and what wasn’t as our teams were forming. We eventually all switched to using Google’s free Kanbanchi board, and since we’ve all transitioned over to Trello.

Our Immersive Process

We ended up trying a brand new way of building websites, which we coined as the Immersive Process.

In this process, a team of four works on one project at a time, delivering a complete website in as little as a single two-week iteration. Working on one project at a time has allowed us to get projects done faster, which gives customers a quicker return on investment. It also allows us to have more frequent touch points with the client we’re engaged with. We now have a daily call with the client to ask questions, give them updates, and to give them a chance to give their feedback throughout the project. These calls are essentially daily demos with the client.

Although we didn’t go about the experiment of “doing a website using the agile process” in the best way from an organizational standpoint, we did discover that working this way was not only possible but it worked better for us. There was initially a lot of worry that working on one project at a time was only feasible for software projects, but we proved we were able to get a website completed in 2 weeks when working as a collaborative, nonlinear, cross-functional team. The small team working this way were pumped to a level we’d never seen before and so were their clients.

The Challenges

Cross-Team Collaboration

In the very beginning, we shared what tools we were using among teams, but as time went on, we all burrowed down into our individual teams and teams lost sight of each other. We became somewhat myopic and slanted towards looking at our teams over Element 74 as a collective. Teammates became very committed to each other, but lost sight of cross team collaboration and the big picture.

Workload Balance

At this point it’s helpful to understand that each team had anywhere from 10-20 active projects when we reorganized. Feasibly speaking we couldn’t go agile (working on one project at a time) overnight. As one team committed to not taking on new projects, the other team picked up new project after new project from the backlog and became overloaded. Understandably some drama ensued.

Team Autonomy

Looking back, one of the biggest mistakes we made was not having someone responsible for the master backlog and ultimate vision for Element 74. (And at this point some coaching from Sketch could have really saved our butts. If we had engaged with them longer, it may have helped us avoid these pitfalls or at least lessen their magnitude.) In a way, as a leadership team we stopped “leading,” seeing it incorrectly as a direct violation of Team Autonomy.

The “After”

Without this change, and without discovering our Immersive model, we don’t feel like we would have withstood the future market in the web industry. We were providing nice-looking websites, but it’s getting easier and easier to make nice-looking websites with DIY tools. In a couple of years it will be even easier! What sets us apart now is the full strategy, custom options (without a strict scope), and content development that a customer gets with the Immersive project, and, oh yeah, the fact that we do it in two weeks! This change was one we needed, and wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t engaged with Sketch for a two-day Agile Bootcamp. It’s amazing how influential two days can be.

We still have a lot of growing to do. We in no way have everything figured out. I think we’re at the perfect point now to revisit some of the agile tools Sketch exposed us to during our bootcamp. When we initially implemented agile methodology, we tried to use several of the process tools, but found we had to step back and figure out how to think and work with more agility as an organization first. It’s been a huge culture shift. Now that we have a foundation to build upon, we can look at tools like planning poker to see how we can improve and continue to iterate. We’re ready for more Sketch. Bring it on!

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