Matt Phillips is a Senior Project Manager who has spent the last few years helping shape the Agile development process at Lulu.com. He currently heads up the Lulu Project Management Office and has spent several months setting up Agile practices in Lulu’s India office, based in Bangalore. In advance of his executive panel discussion at Rally’s Agile Success Tour in Raleigh, NC, we sat down with Matt to ask him 5 questions about Agile.
1. How have you implemented Agile across your organization?
We’ve rolled Agile out among all of our distributed teams, which are located in Raleigh, NC, the Ukraine and India. The time zones have historically been a challenge, so we had our remote teams spend several weeks in the Raleigh office working through daily Scrums. Now, they’re essentially as included in the process as possible. We use video conferencing for daily Scrums and to schedule iteration planning. All the teams collaborate to define stories, determine velocity, and plan iterations. We use Rally to make projections, track our velocity, and get visibility into the health of our projects. The metrics have become indispensible for judging how we’re doing, making accurate projections, and delivering upon our commitments.
2. What was your #1 reason for adopting Agile development?
Lulu adopted Agile at a point where the company was very much in start-up mode. The ideas were coming at a frenetic pace and the engineering team size was poised to expand. Agile methodologies were a good fit for Lulu’s culture and environment. The concepts of short iterations and regular release cycles paired with Scrum provided a quick time-to-market period for new ideas. At the same time, by adopting Agile methodologies, Lulu gained increased insight into the development team’s progress and performance as the team grew and feature sets became more complex.
3. What has been the biggest benefit of adopting Agile?
The metrics and amazing visibility we have into development projects. This is especially important for a team that’s 9,000 miles away. We have visibility into how they’re progressing on features, what’s coming next in the roadmap, and really flushing out what the product backlog looks like and where we’re headed. Prior to implementing Agile, it was very hard to sync-up (because of the 9 ½ hour time difference), maintain a feedback loop and foster collaboration with teams so far away.
4. What one piece of advice would you give to new Agile teams?
My advice would be to ease into it – kind of like steering a cruise ship, not turning on a dime. Start with familiar concepts and gradually introduce Agile practices over time. We started with familiar ideas like release dates, associated task lists, estimations, and tracking criteria. Then, we used a phased approach to introduce the concepts of iterations, story points and relative sizing, velocity, and ranking. We continue to work toward more granular inputs to smoothly coordinate roles, tools and dependencies within Rally as we go along to continuously perform at higher levels and get better outputs.
5. How can you tell that Agile is successful at Lulu.com?
One of top ways I can tell that Agile is successful in our organization is that people, even outside of engineering, are speaking in story points. That tells me that Agile has really taken hold. Using story points and velocity for our release planning makes it easy to arrive at a date that everyone is comfortable with. On top of that, our track record since adopting Agile shows that we’ve been delivering on our commitments every time.