Agility in a different light

September 17, 2015 posted by Kevin

Tags: Agile, Kanban, Team, Process, Scrum, Intern,

If you’ve ever worked in a start-up, then you know the experience is quite different from the ones you could have in the corporate world. A start-up generally offers you a faster-paced and flexible working environment that let you experiment with your actions.

You definitely feel like you actually create an impact on the company which is quite rewarding. Responsibilities might be a little heavier when compared to a corporate because of smaller teams.

In this context, your role and set of skills are really decisive. Smaller teams also imply more free communication which is essential if you want to organise tasks among team members and keep track of everything that’s going on in the company. Project management in general organisation can be tricky so how can we achieve efficiency in these two areas? There are undoubtedly many ways to do that but the answer is yours to choose.


Any approach you like

One of the most popular methodology adopted by start-ups to assess the direction of internal projects and manage tasks and communication is the agile methodology. It is typically used in software development but it can be applied to a more general level of project management. Agile methods are closely related to Scrum which is kind of an agile implementation.

Scrum emphasizes self-organising and cross-functional team, feedbacks as well as fast-paced iterations process to build products. Using Scrum in your start-up to deal with product development allows you to have a clear view about how the company is currently doing, what it aims for and how well the trajectory to reach future goals is defined.

Here at DataShaka, we rely heavily on Scrum and agile methodologies. As I’ve been part of the team for almost two months, I now have a clear picture of how these methods are applied to the team and software development. This post is about my personal experience as a “start-up outsider” with Scrum so I’m going to take you through all the different elements and meetings that I used or took part in since I started my internship.


Keep talking









If you’re a fan of industrial music, then you might know that song from Nine Inch Nails titled “Every Day is Exactly the Same”. Well this definitely does not apply to a work day at DataShaka. But we could easily rework the title to be closer to reality, as in “Every Day Starts Exactly the Same”.

Indeed every day starts with the usual Scrum meeting. Starting at 9h15 sharp, it involves every member of the team and focuses on individual tasks that have been accomplished on a day to day basis. Everyone talks about personal achievements during the previous day and what is expected to be done the current day.

This meeting is also the right place to raise specific issues, which are later placed in what is called the “car park”. Car parking goes through all the issues raised by any team member and they are discussed quickly so we know how to deal with it. The Scrum meeting never exceeds more than 15 min. It’s quick, concise and efficient so that you know what your achievements for the day are and you can also keep track of what everyone has been doing. So at 9h30 you don’t have any excuse to do nothing or procrastinate.


Is there any board out there?

Remember that fancy interactive board that Tom Cruise used in Minority Report? If you don’t, it’s still not too late to watch it (or read the book). For those of you that do, well we’d love to have that kind of technology at DataShaka but it’s not going to be any time soon. Instead we have a fancy physical board full of different coloured cards.

The Kanban board is one of the main point of reference for the team because it holds every single task that has to be done. How this board works is that every time someone is working on a task, a card with a specific action is put on the board. The colour of the card, the colour of the writing and the place where you put the card are equally important. You then move the cards depending of its status (WIP, Ready, Done…). I won’t lie, it was kind of hard to know how it worked at the beginning and I was lost with all the cards and colours. But in the end, it’s a helpful tool to keep track on tasks.

In order to manage tasks in a more granular way, the team uses Trello. It is a web app composed of several boards on which you can add, modify or remove cards, just like on the Kanban board. But its purpose is different. Trello is better used for very specific actions and sharing information about these actions with people outside the company (clients, partners…).


A great day for reflection

I’ve never been a fan of greatest hits and compilation albums for one reason, you don’t get to know the band’s music deep inside. Every song is part of an album that should be listened to in its entirety. Who knows, one song that you disliked in the past might become you favourite. That’s the beauty of music. So forget about compilation albums, they’re a terrible way of doing a retrospective.

Hopefully, retrospectives in general are more useful when applied to something else but compilation albums. At DataShaka for example we hold a retrospective for developers every two weeks. Retrospectives take the format of a 1h30 meeting during which the dev team discuss several chosen subjects (solve issues, performance, programming…) for 45 minutes. The next 45 minutes are dedicated to discussing every dev’s current state of mind. Everyone bring high and low points regarding what has been going on personally during the past 2 weeks. Then every other dev provides some useful feedback about each point.

Another similar thing that applies to everyone is the one-on-one walk. Basically you choose someone from the team with whom you walk for 30 minutes in the neighbourhood and share everything that is on your mind. This walk is done every week and you can really talk about anything you like, it’s very informal. This walk has been particularly profitable to me as in intern because I can talk about learnings and issues related to my lack of knowledge as far as internal tools are involved. Not to mention that I get to walk in Soho, which is a definitely a charming neighbourhood (not in the way you think though ^_^).


Let there be more guilds

  If you happen to enjoy playing some of those massive open-world role playing games then you know that feeling when your alter-ego finally reaches the top position inside a guild by kicking the dirty, corrupted highest ranked member who was preventing you from having that fancy castle.

At DataShaka, you can also join one or several guilds (though it probably will not involve magic or fighting). A guild is basically a group of people that are working on related tasks that fit a specific subject. For example, the Internal Data guild deals with data-driven experience, the Solution guild focuses on architecture (for developers) and the Thought Leadership guild makes sure that the company is seen as valuable by other external organisations.

The concepts of guild, tribes and squads are mostly inspired from Spotify. A more generic term would to qualify these words would be agile scaling. Every Friday at DataShaka, a guild talk is scheduled, it’s called the “Company Hour”. During this one-hour meeting, a member of the guild presents the main subjects that have to be discussed by the whole team. I personally wasn’t really involved with guilds because clients, strategy and long term goals were the main subjects discussed. But they definitely are serious meetings and it’s been valuable for me to attend them.


Take up thy bread and walk

Back in France we have this particular type of bread called baguette. It tastes like no other and you can have it for any meal. The baguette is part of the French tradition and it is considered one of the main symbols of French culture. That’s why people all around the word make fun of us while picturing French people doing every imaginable task with a baguette. It’s fair enough but in the end, everyone coming to France loves to have a bite at our wonderful baguette.

At DataShaka we have another kind of bread. B.R.E.A.D. that stands for Bond, Reduce Risk, Estimate Effort, Arm yourself, Draw. Still isn’t clear? Well it wasn’t for me the first time either. Bread meetings are dev-oriented meetings that focuses on a specific set of actions. Bond is about getting together and discuss the subject. Because it is generally a challenging subject, developers want to reduce every possible risk surrounding the subject.

For example we want to automate the account setup for a new client. What are the risks for the platform? Maybe it could break the pipelines. Then comes the estimation phase. How long is this going to take? Is it hard? What unexpected events could have an impact on continuity? Finally, it’s time to take actions. To do that we use the Kanban board. The subject is referred to as a storyline and every action taken is written on a card. All the cards form the storyline. Once all the cards are done, we can close the storyline and move on to a new one.


So there it is, our story about Agile and Scrum methodologies comes to an end and it’s time to close that storyline. Felt like there was too many cards in this one. Meetings at DataShaka surely give rhythm to your day but sometimes it indeed feels like there are too just too many of them. This means that you’re having a hard time focusing on your tasks for long periods.

But it is a compromise that has to be made in a way because the agile way brings so much to people in terms of motivation, efficiency and clarity of mind. But above all it makes you face your responsibilities, problems and difficulties in a clever way. In other words, deal with it. Then listen to some Pink Floyd, have a cigar and you’re gonna go far.

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