The Power of Transparency: Embracing Agile Methodology for Successful Project Management
Someone recently asked me what I love the most about my role as a Project Manager (PM) here at SpinDance. Having come from previous work experiences that had a closed door policy with little to no communication, the answer was easy. It’s the transparency. Here at SpinDance, the focus is on an open door, open lines of communication, all hands on deck environment. We truly work as a team. Sales is consistently updating the team on what is in the pipeline. Marketing is always ensuring that our entire team is up to speed on the latest work they are engaged in. Our Product Owners are sharing concerns or calling out potential risks on projects. Our leadership team is keeping us abreast of all the happenings. And as a PM, I am in the midst of planning, budgeting and communicating to all involved parties. The collaborative effort is circular–we aren’t a top down organization and we approach our projects the same way.
The agile process dovetails perfectly into an organization like ours that prioritizes transparency, as it inherently promotes open communication and visibility throughout the development process.
At SpinDance, we lend an Agile approach to all of our projects. There is so much value in our process for our customers: we prioritize people, interactions and building trust, instead of relying on a set of rules or pre-determined process. We pivot, we punt, we deliver. I can guarantee, this will look slightly different on every single project. However, if you’re a repeat client (and there are many of you out there), it will always feel familiar. That’s the beauty of an Agile methodology. Adaptability, changing requirements, open lines of communication and reduced risk are all benefits of Agile. And transparency is a constant driver to a successful delivery.
We set ourselves, and our clients, up for success. We have built a proven process that delivers and our clients will walk through the process with us every step of the way. It is an expectation that engagement is frequent and honest. There will be difficult questions, awkward conversations, budget concerns, and ever changing requirements; but that will not come as a surprise because we are always transparent. Collaboration with our teams is key, from the project kick off to the closure.
From our kick off meetings to our status calls to our project closures, team engagement is the name of the game. We walk our clients through the entire process, from start to finish, armed with a well rounded team of experts to support the client. We focus on our values, deliver every day and celebrate all the wins along the way.
During the project kick-off, we bring the client and our team together. We run through introductions. We talk through the members of our teams and their roles. We review the scope, budget and timelines. The transparency begins here. We ensure that we are all on the same page and have shared goals. We call out milestones, risks and build a plan on how to handle potential issues before we even begin. Then we dig into how we tackle the project at hand. We ensure a successful design or development cycle by having the right people in place. Here’s what our project teams look like.
- Project Manager (PM): The PM wears many hats and is the client’s key point of contact throughout the project. Managing the the budget, communicating project status, facilitating meetings and keeping the team on track to the project timeline are just a few of the key tasks of this role. The PM is an advocate for both our customers and the execution team.
- Product Owner (PO): The PO is focused on delivering the correct product, maintaining a well groomed backlog and ensuring that the most important work is prioritized.
- Scrum Master (SM): The SM can be viewed as the coach of the team. This role arranges and runs the daily stand ups, protects our development team from any outside noise or distractions, and removes any blockers for the team along the way.
- Development Team: Our engineers are multi-functional. They are writing code, assisting in code reviews, estimating stories during backlog grooming, and brainstorming together over technical challenges. The clients also have the opportunity to interact with the development team during bi-weekly sprint reviews where they demo the work completed.
- Customer/Stakeholders: Our client’s involvement in the agile puzzle is critical. We look to our customer for vision on the product, prioritization of features and most importantly, providing feedback.
Our scrum meetings are essential for project success and bring this group together. Here’s a snapshot of those critical for successful engagements.
After the kickoff, the scrum cycle begins which is typically a two week rhythm. Sometimes, because it can be so circular, it is hard to define where it begins and ends. Ideally, Backlog Refinement is the starting point. The intention here is to break down and further define the backlog of work into smaller, more precise items which enables Sprint Planning to be seamless. Backlog refinement is where we ensure alignment on task requirements, identify tasks that no longer serve the goals of the projects, estimate the effort, and prioritze the work items. Our clients collaborate with the PO to help us make the right decisions on the prioritizion of backlog.
Next, we move to Sprint Planning. The goal here is to create a plan of what can be accomplished in the two week sprint cycle. The customer, development team and PO work together to identify a Sprint Goal and select work from the backlog that supports this endeavor. As needed, any additional work can be created or pulled up and estimated to hit milestones. Over the course of the sprint cycle, the Scrum Master will be leading daily stand up meetings, allowing each developer the opportunity to speak into their work from the day before, what they are tackling next and call out any blockers.
We then move into my personal favorite, the Sprint Review. This is where the development team demonstrates all of the work they have accomplished during the sprint cycle. Feedback from our stakeholders is critical in this meeting. We are seeking transparency from all parties in this meeting and encourage our stakeholders to be brutally honest, even if it hurts a little. We want to hear where we missed the mark, what doesn’t make sense and what stakeholders are really excited about. We gather this feedback and add work into the backlog to address any changes. We close this meeting with a brief retrospective with our customers to gather feedback on the process, deliverables and satisfaction level.
The final piece of the scrum puzzle is the Sprint Retrospective, which we hold internally after the Sprint Review. This is the down and dirty time for reflection, honest critiques and making necessary adjustments. The SM facilitates a conversation where all team members share what went well in the sprint and what needs to change. We like to use the Sailboat method to encourage participation in the meeting. Intentionally, the client is not part of this conversation. We want our team to feel that they can freely share any concerns and sometimes they may have some around the client engagement. Our PM and PO hear these out and elevate any issues to the customer to work through.
Though not part of the scrum cycle, there is another important meeting interwoven into our Agile framework. If on a traditional 2 week work cycle, we will have a Status Meeting every other week. This is a time for the PM to update key stakeholders on project metrics, review the budget and timeline, and raise any concerns. The PO also attends to speak to the scope, outstanding requirement questions and future work.
We continue this cycle until we hit our goals. Once development has wrapped, the PM and PO will hold a project closure meeting with the client. Here we will review the highs, the lows, final budget, and key milestones. While this is where our official project ends, it’s really the starting point of long-term engagement. .
As one of our Senior Developers, Michael Olson shared, “Utilizing Agile fosters flexibility, collaboration, and continuous improvement in the development team. It allows us to adapt to changing requirements and deliver value to the customer faster. In general, using Agile has helped us fail fast and mitigate the risk of “unknowns” when developing features for a given platform, which then leads towards faster delivery”.
Agile at SpinDance is rooted in flexibility, frequent delivery, accountability and transparency. We work with our clients in a partnership to meet their project goals knowing that we will iterate to get there. We believe that this process allows us to make the magic happen for our customers and builds trusting relationships on the journey.
About the Author:
Kim Panter is a Project Manager at SpinDance. Kim has been with SpinDance just under a year, bringing with her several years in project management prior to joining the team. Kim has a passion for streamlining processes and wrangling teams. In her spare time, you will find her in the woods, on her yoga mat, creating in the kitchen or planning her next travel adventure.