Discover the techniques that have allowed us to triple our efficiency in implementation projects and how to apply them in your company
There is a lot of talk about the advantages of agile methods and practices nowadays, especially in technology, software development and, of course, startups environments.
However, there is also a lot of confusion about what agility actually is and a certain myth that it only works for software development.
So, how about going beyond the buzzword and understanding how to bring its benefits to your service team?
The challenges of traditional management
In the 1980s, agile methods (still without that name) began to emerge in an organic way to deal with the challenges arising from traditional management.
Until then, the management of software projects was strongly based on the waterfall model (waterfall, in English). That is, each functional group did its share of the work from start to finish before moving the baton to the next area. Depending on the complexity of the project, this process was repeated over and over again.
At first glance, this logic makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
First, the planning. Then development. Then the tests. And so on.
It turns out that “in practice, the theory is different”. It didn’t take long for software development professionals to start noticing that this model generates excessive misalignments, bureaucracy, rework, delays, budget overruns, etc.
In short: this model generates a lot of waste and little credibility.
That’s when Jeff Sutherland (co-creator of Scrum, one of the best known agile frameworks in the world) and other agility masters started to create what we now know as agile methods.
Agile Manifesto: The Official Beginning
In 2001, a group of faithful adepts of these practices published the Agile Manifesto, which formalized this management model and made the term “agile methodology” catch on for good.
The Manifesto brings 4 principles that guide this model:
“We’re finding better ways to develop software, doing it ourselves and helping others to do the same. Through this work, we started to value:
- Individuals and interactions more than processes and tools
- Software at work more than comprehensive documentation
- Collaboration with the client more than negotiating contracts
- Responding to Changes More Than Following a Plan
That is, even if there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. ”
Agile frameworks: the way to practice
The principles set out in the manifesto make up a mindset, a guide to conduct. However, we need to adopt behaviors, processes and tools in line with these principles so that we can really realize these benefits in our daily lives. These are agile practices!
There are different frameworks (Scrum, Lean, Kanban, XP, SAFe etc.) that propose different practices (which can even be combined) and the purpose of this article is not to defend or go deeper into any of them.
The message here is that there is a proven way to increase your operation’s adaptability, reduce your waste and improve your efficiency!
Agility beyond software
As it conquered the world of software development, this philosophy naturally began to attract attention from other areas. A lot of people wanted to understand what it was about, whether it really worked that well and, most importantly, how to enjoy the same benefits in different contexts.
Remember that up there we commented that agility is, above all, a mindset? So the answer is simple: we can apply and benefit from this mindset in virtually any context, as long as we are clear about the fundamentals that govern it.
Nowadays, agility is spreading and consolidating in the most different areas, such as marketing, sales and, of course, customer service. And that’s what Blue World City is going to talk about!
Fast service: a practical and real example here at RD
Agile premises are interesting and attractive, but you may still be wondering if and how this works in practice.
So, before we approach the “how”, how about checking some real results that we achieved with agile practices in implementation projects for partners here at Resultados Digitais?
Implementation Projects for RD Partners
I am an implementation consultant for partners here at RD. The case I’m going to show reflects the experience we’ve had with agile practices in the team I work on.
What are implementation projects for partners?
These are results acceleration projects to support partners and customers to achieve their first successes with Inbound Marketing and RD Station Marketing.
For this, we have consultants who work strategically to adapt our methodology to the context of each client and help our partners to use our tool in project execution.
Basically, the role of the implementation consultant consists of the following points:
- Project management: as in every project, we work with scope, deadlines and deliveries;
- System implementation: we are the technical reference of the tool for our partners;
- Digital Marketing Consulting: we have mastered the methodology to help you define the best strategy for your clients;
- Service: despite all this, we are people dealing with people.
Each consultant has a portfolio of ongoing projects and, to ensure that they are in constant development, we need to have good management of this portfolio, both individually and collectively.
How we measure our projects
As Peter Drucker would say, “what gets measured, gets managed”. We can only manage what we can measure — especially speaking of project management!
More specifically, we measure and monitor our projects from 3 perspectives:
- Fulfilment of scope and performance of key actions within RD Station: shows if we have fulfilled the project’s deliverables and lead the client to its desired success;
- Project completion timeframe: shows whether we are making good use of our resources and the speed with which we are bringing the client to their desired success;
- Partner experience during implementation: We cannot deliver the above results at the expense of customer experience. This experience needs to be positive, after all we are talking about generating success for our partners and customers!
Our experience with agility in implementation projects
We already knew agile methodologies in our area, after all it is a very widespread mindset in RD. However, we “skated” when applying it to our context, as we had difficulty doing this in a consistent and structured way.
In early 2018, we decided to turn this key for good and use Scrum as a reference.
For those familiar with the framework, I basically became the Scrum Master of the team (although we don’t have this formalized position). In other words, one of my main functions is to ensure that agile processes are followed and continue to evolve.
We started to develop this work in January knowing that the implementation of new routines involves a process of change.
As we follow the PAR, our projects have an original schedule of 60 days, but we know that unforeseen events can happen and we eventually negotiate term extensions.
Due to these factors, the metrics of our projects have the nature of lagging indicators (indicators with delay, in free translation), that is, they take time to manifest.
Logically, our first most significant result followed this nature of delay, but it appeared in the month of April, as expected. What surprised us was that we concluded all projects with delivery scheduled for that month on the 11th, a historic record for the area!
Since then, we continue to have significant and growing results (with a few more records).
- Improved predictability in project completion;
- Productivity jump: The rate of projects successfully completed on the original schedule rose from about 30% to a record 79%;
- Improvement in the experience of our partners: average consulting evaluation scores reaching 9.8 and 9.9 in the area in consecutive months.
What these results show is that we have become more efficient, consistent and even improve our partners’ experience in this process!
Fast service in practice
As you may have already noticed, I am an adept and advocate of agile practices and I can attest firsthand that they work for the reality of service teams.
So let’s see how your team can adopt these practices and achieve similar results?
Mindset: turn the key of your operation
The term may confuse those who are just starting out on the subject, but, contrary to what many people imagine, being agile is not simply about delivering tasks as quickly as possible.
The focus of agility is actually on delivering value consistently. And, for this, it is necessary to have a great capacity to adapt to changes.
Did you notice that the agile mindset is all about customer success?
Before we go deeper, where is your focus: delivering tasks or delivering value?
As a customer, how many times have you had to fill out an unnecessary form? Or fill in more than once? Or being thrown from one attendant to another with no advance in solving your need?
As a professional, how many times have you had to complete an unnecessary procedure? How many times have you turned in a task or report that was never used? How many times have you completed an activity only to find it had to be completely redone?
Well, completing tasks does not necessarily mean delivering value.
As a value proposition is unique to each business, I leave some reflections below.
What is value to your customer?
What is the problem your company solves for him? More specifically, how does your service team help you resolve this issue? What does he expect from each interaction with your company?
If you don’t understand your customer’s goals and pains, how do you expect to deliver something of value to them through an appropriate experience?
What is value to you?
Why does your company want this customer? What is the purpose of your service model? Why does it make sense to put people to serve you and what do you expect for each service? How does customer service impact your business goals and metrics?
If you don’t have this clarity, how do you expect your operation to impact your business in a positive and efficient way and not just be there “meeting the schedule” or inflating your area?
Team: Who do you need to deliver value?
For software teams, delivering value means delivering a functional piece of software that meets a customer need. Therefore, teams must be cross-functional, there are already needs for prioritization, design, programming, testing, etc.
In addition, the team needs to be streamlined, as this facilitates alignment and cooperation between members, minimizing problems with bureaucracy and information gaps. The ideal is to have teams between 3 and 9 people.
In agile service, diversity continues to be necessary in the team, as it increases the capacity of situations that the team will be able to deal with. We can see this diversity as a mix of:
- Profiles: it is necessary to balance analytical skills, interpersonal skills etc. – DISC is a great tool to help with this!
- Hard skills: you need to combine technical knowledge, methodologies, processes and the like related to your value proposition – not necessarily all people will have the same level of mastery of everything that surrounds your solution, but your team needs to be able to solve practical problems of the your customers;
- Soft skills (rapport, negotiation, didactics etc.): as in the item above, you may have people who excel in one or another soft skill and this can be very useful to adapt the way to deal with different customer profiles and problems!
A tested framework to get you started now!
Planning: metrics and sprints
We saw earlier that being agile is consistently delivering value with great adaptability to change.
These are the metrics that will allow us to measure our value deliveries. What metrics in your operation reflect value delivery to your customer and your business? Projects completed on time? Your customer’s satisfaction?
The metrics will also guide the planned deliveries for the famous sprints.
Sprints are short work cycles, which will allow for iterative and incremental deliveries and, consequently, the ability to change. In other words, we will seek a composite result in the long term, but we will always be adjusting our strategy along the way.
What interval makes sense for you to plan (and execute!) your value deliveries?
Here in the RD implementation area, the consultants’ deliverables are successfully completed projects. To plan when we will deliver each project, we use weeklong sprints.
Monitoring: scoreboards, tables and dashboards
Once you understand what metrics are important and how to plan your deliveries in sprints, it’s time to track that progress to ensure planned execution, adapting when necessary.
Your team needs visual and transparent tracking capable of providing immediate status on key metrics for everyone.
For this, we use scoreboards, charts and dashboards, each at its level of detail.
Score: the strategic
What are the big numbers that sum up your value delivery? For us, projects are successfully completed. Our scoreboard is simply a count of completed projects.
Frame: the tactical
We use the famous kanban to bring specific projects to the team’s knowledge. It helps us look for solutions to more complex cases and keep them on our radar.
A very popular and useful kanban format is organized into 3 columns:
- Do: tasks to be done
- Doing: tasks in progress
- Completed: completed tasks
This table lists the tasks that must be completed to move the project forward and they follow the flow described above.
This is a great starting point, but more important than the frame format is to understand that it is flexible and should be useful to you. We use a very specific frame format for our operation that reflects project status.
Dashboard: the operational
Our dashboards bring a much greater level of detail to our operation and, therefore, we use software solutions such as spreadsheets and cloud tools.
Here we also have customization for each team member to manage individually.
Meetings: planning, alignment and continuous improvement
To ensure team alignment and application of the practices we are discussing, it is important to hold some ceremonies periodically. We use the following flow of meetings:
- Sprint planning: monthly, at the turn of the month
- (Re)planning the current sprint: every Monday
- Daily meetings: Tuesday to Thursday
- Sprint Review: Friday
- Monthly review: monthly, at the turn of the month
For practical purposes, we usually combine retrospective and planning into an extended meeting, but it’s important to note that these are times with different goals.
As I mentioned earlier, implementing new routines and practices is a process of change that must be carried out carefully to ensure the commitment of the entire team (management and operation), the creation of new habits and, of course, and the achievement of results.
Therefore, I have separated 3 final tips to close this article:
- Set someone up to ensure that agile practices are implemented and followed — it’s worth checking who has the most interest and affinity with the topic;
- Understand that this is a process that must be cultivated and that the results may take a while to show up, especially if your operation involves lagging indicators —go firm;
- Be open to changes and guarantee autonomy (with responsibility, of course) for your team to make them – no one better than your team to know your operation;
And then? How about bringing the benefits of agile practices to your service operation? Take the opportunity to sign up for the RD Marketing Management Week! Just fill in the details to watch the webinars for free.