After conducting a design audit, it was clear the creative department needed a new way of organizing their work. I led the process of teaching the leadership about the Agile methodology and the Scrum framework. I worked with them to identify how we would need to creatively adapt Scrum to be installed across multiple creative design teams
We needed to make the shift to agile, but we were doing so right as a global pandemic began. This challenge required additional agility and clear communication
I led the process of designing the system, training product owners and scrum masters, and onboarding all the new teams.
Key strategies across the organization were suffering because of missed deadlines or dropped work. Previously work requests had come in from all across the organization without a process to prioritize them. Stakeholders not knowing the status of their project was a significant pain point identified in the design audit. They described it as “a black box they couldn’t see into.”
I sought to resolve these through a focus on prioritization, communication and transparency. This would result in more efficient delivery of work and foster better collaboration across teams and departments. The changes that would be required would also have a significant positive impact on the organizational culture through an increase in communication, transparency and shared ownership of outcomes.
If you’re going to build out an agile system, do it with agility. I took the scrum basics with only a slight adaptation for our context and created an MVP (minimum viable product) by drafting an initial map of the teams and schedule and an outline for our creative scrum process. It was transparent to the whole leadership team allowing them to inspect and adapt it. We went through many iterations, improving the design and educating everyone on the principles and process of Agile and Scrum.
I applied change management and stakeholder management principles to provide clarity and allow feedback from the leadership above and the creatives on these new teams. This involved several meetings and presentations to allow multiple tiers of leadership to understand and speak into the process. I also did a few informal focus groups with creatives to get an idea of how different aspects of Scrum would land to allow me to make needed adjustments before rolling it out.
This change process required me to lead in all directions. I began to lead my new production team to develop and roll out Creative Scrum. I led with my peers on the leadership team, and I led up by educating and gathering feedback and alignment of key leaders. I also reached out to people in other departments who had a similar role to me to see where we could collaborate and build more of a network together.
This whole process occurred in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Which meant all these teams were distributed, and these meetings were virtual. This meant things often went slower than expected and communication needed to be reinforced because of how much “noise” there was from everything going on.
I sought to lead by example, practicing what I was preaching. I pushed for everything to be a visible and transparent as possible, allowing others to inspect what we were building, then making adaptations as needed. This resulted in people feeling like we were building something together rather than it being rolled out on them.
We still needed to do a broader and more formal onboarding process to explain and train everyone on practicing Scrum. Again we tried to start with “minimum viable onboarding” and then iteratively build on it over time. We had to have the patience to let some people discover how Scrum worked, leading to a deeper understanding than us only explaining how it worked
Pivoting how both people and work are organized during a pandemic creates a lot of challenges. It also clearly highlights some of the benefits of an agile approach.
Initially, there was a lot of concern that staff on distributed teams wouldn’t feel connected or effectively do their work. The opposite proved true as the daily standup provided a cadence of connection during a season of isolation.
Change fatigue is natural and is a more significant threat when multiple changes occur concurrently, as they were in 2020. Establishing a process and rhythm for change re-aligned expectations with experience. This reduced the stressful impact of change on the teams.
The new system was rolled out on May 1, 2020. Department-wide retros were held in August and December for feedback and adjustments.
I led a process of identifying all the stakeholders and working with executives to establish a process for prioritizing the work within that executive’s scope and across the organization at large. We began to even align with one another to identify priorities together for further focus and collaboration.
By implementing Scrum, we established a cadence of delivering work. Only three cycles in, multiple teams expressed that they were finishing more work than they ever had before. And that was in the middle of a global pandemic!
By time-boxing the work a team selected, we not only increased focus but allowed for a healthier balance of workload with the team’s capacity. It allowed future work to not be on their plate or in their head until it was time to select it. This focus helped us to “stop starting and start finishing.”
I worked with others in the organization to migrate to a more established project management tool, Asana. We implemented the tool to provide transparency for stakeholders to see if their project was on track and even what we were working on in a given sprint. It also allowed leadership to have a high-level view of all the priorities and projects for the first time.
The biggest lesson learned came in the area of socializing ideas. Scrum can sound intimidating or rigid when first explained. If you start with a document describing the meetings, roles, and artifacts, people can feel overwhelmed and push back. Beginning in conversation, not written documentation, around the values and what we want to see change builds empathy and alignment. The more technical concepts can be sprinkled into these conversations where they fit. When you move to the more formal stage of defining what you’re going to do, the ideas aren’t all new, and the details feel more like a gift than a burden.
While I’ve practiced this at various times, much of this lesson was learned by counterexample. It’s easy when you have a good solution that you and others are excited about moving too quickly. But this can be problematic, especially in a large and hierarchical organization. In this case, by going slower, you can go further.