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Agile project management methods are still on the rise. Even beyond the IT and software development users of agile methods are convinced of the benefits of this approach. No surprise that the Summit “Nordic Project Zone” (25-27th November 2013 in Copenhagen) is offering an Agile stream. Can Do is a sponsor of the event and presents an interview with Marcel Stekelenburg, Project Manager & Quality Assurance Manager of the Dutch eBay subsidiary Marktplaats.nl. Within the framework of the Nordic Project Zone Marcel will give the presentation “Agile projects in real life – beyond IT”.
Nordic Project Zone (NPZ): So, let’s get started. First of all, what are the benefits of a business converting to an Agile approach?
Marcel Stekelenburg: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind, which is appealing for business, is shorter time to market. So, when you have an idea as a business in the more traditional way of working you pitch the idea, you work out a business case, you make a functional design, a technical design, and in the end you start the project and then if you’re lucky a few months later, it’s there. So that is like the old way or more traditional way, which can work in many companies. It depends on the type of company. But as for our company, we really see it in a different way so we want to have shorter time to market and to do that we start with smaller projects and see how it goes and then adjust accordingly. And that adjustment is also because business can have new insights but also the rules can be changed and then when you are in a large project of a few months, it’s difficult to change that. You can compare that to an oil tanker or something, and we are more like small boats that can change course quickly.
NPZ: What then are some of the challenges that companies face when they try to shift from a waterfall method, for example, to Agile?
Marcel Stekelenburg: Yes, so it has a lot to do with communication, which is like an open door… A mind shift for people, also an open door! But when you really look into what is going to change for the company is that you have shorter feedback loops. So that goes in technology, because you implement something, you get feedback from Quality Assurance Department, but you can also get quicker feedback from product owners and product managers, who then can directly see what you have created in a few weeks time and then they can give feedback. But giving the feedback, from a business point of view, is also a change that you need to implement in your company, throughout the company. So people have to get used to that and also getting feedback is not always easy for everyone, so you have to get an open culture of giving and receiving feedback. To me that’s a very important part of the challenge for a company.
NPZ: So what are the key enablers to ensure success?
Marcel Stekelenburg: You can almost write a book about that! But personally I have only one, so let’s share how it works. You start small. Typically a lot of companies start with technology. There’s this Agile manifesto which originally started with software developers, but you can implement throughout the company as well. So typically, the Agile change starts in technology. And in my experience, when you show that it works, give something to the business in a quick way, then business gets interested in this way of working. Then, like an oil stain approach, you can implement it or you get other departments interested as well so they can adopt that model.
NPZ: So show the benefits first, and then people are more receptive to a different process.
Marcel Stekelenburg:Yes, rather than give a presentation on it, and then [say] OK, now we’re going to do it… Well that probably isn’t too helpful. Just show them how it works, and then people get it.
NPZ: As Agile creeps into the business more and more, how do the agile principles need to be translated or transformed to apply to the business environment rather than the specific IT or development environment?
Marcel Stekelenburg: When you look at the Agile manifesto, there are four main statements. But only one of the four is about software delivery. The others, you can apply to any department outside IT or technology. So for instance, you have individuals, and interactions are more important than processes and tools. Well, as we already discussed, you can implement that easily into other departments as well. And responding to change is more important than following a plan. It’s also related to what I mentioned before: you start small and with that you can respond to change. Not only within technology but also within the business because of the shorter feedback loops I was talking about.
NPZ: So it’s very much focused on people, teams, leadership, exactly as you say. Can you give us an example of where this has been applied at your organization, Marktplaats, within Ebay.
Marcel Stekelenburg: Yes, I think the best example is that when we started, we had technology and QA working together closely, and then we got into a nice pace, which was higher than a business could deliver stories or requests to us. So then we incorporated product owners in the team, so we have a cross-functional team as you call it, that consists of developers, QA, and very importantly, the product owner, who can directly steer the team in the direction the business wants us. So, the product owner has of course a direct relation to product management and the Business Unit and so, more about strategy. And the product owner is really, let’s say, on the ground.
NPZ: Great, and what was the impact of that? How did it change the way that people work or the results of the work?
Marcel Stekelenburg: That’s a good question! The business felt even more that they were in control. So until that, they were like OK we give something to technology, then we wait and we get something. And now they are like, if they want, every hour they can be updated on the status and of course they can also change things because they know what is going on.