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How We Made Our Team Lean

MVF has grown a tremendous amount over the past six years. Scaling from five founders to over 300 employees has placed huge pressures on systems, teams and individuals. We’ve been constantly stretched dealing with changing priorities, integrating new team members, maintaining existing systems and continuing to delivering value.

It’s thanks to our in-house product and technology teams that we’ve managed to facilitate, and even accelerate that expansion. So how did we manage it?

The quick answer is: by embracing lean and agile working methodologies.

All software development experts now agree that the implementation of lean or agile software development processes are the way to go. But, having helped transform businesses before, there are a few common challenges affecting implementation that I’ve come to see time and time again:

• Each technology department is different in terms of team size, skills, experience, leadership qualities, technical excellence and product management.
• Business leaders all want to see you delivering value but interest in what you are doing, and how, varies.
• Employees view technology in different ways: service centre, value driver, growth engine or even ineffective cost burden.
• The very definition of lean and agile software development can differ wildly from person to person.

If we were to draw a perfect technology and product-led org chart it would take you roughly five minutes, but as we can see from the proliferation of agile coaches, the path to this perfect solution is long and winding, and, to be honest, never ends.

The likelihood is that you won’t have all the skills you require out of the box to build this org chart and unless your organisation has deep pockets, and you get can sign-off on the 10 keys hires you may decide you need, then you’ll need to take a different approach.

It pays to focus on the basics.

At MVF that’s what we did. We knew from the start that this process would take us a year at least (a great board of directors and commercial teams supported us immensely through this). Here are the eight we’d advise anyone going through a similar transformation to take:

1: Create your own definitions of ‘agile’ and ‘lean’

As I mentioned there is no right way, but there are plenty of materials and training available to help you understand and come up with a definition. Work out where you are against this and plan your transformation.

2: Break down your architecture

Attempt to separate or group key parts of your systems so they can be handled as independent parts. These will form your products. At MVF we focus these around business teams and well-defined business processes.

3: Create roadmaps

Every product or system has a roadmap and our product managers pore over these to ensure they deliver the right value. We use a combination of impact mapping, mind mapping and a holistic process/people/technology framework.

4: Align your teams

Teams must be aligned to your roadmap. Without this you are unlikely to deliver against it. Build cross-functional teams who have all the skills they need to deliver their objectives.

5: Establish effective workflows

Multitasking kills productivity. By providing a workflow system, where staff take on work when they have capacity, it is easier to visualise progress, focus on the most important tasks and spot issues. Kanban boards, where workloads are mapped out visually, using Trello, Jira or even physical whiteboards, help you manage your work so as to meet objectives and avoid overloading teams.

6: Run stand-up meetings

Once you have a team, roadmaps and a process to manage work, you need a forum to push the execution of the specific tasks. The daily stand-up is vital here. It allows us to visualise what is being worked on, manage impediments and, most importantly, ensure shared understanding exists among team members.

7: Automate

As your team becomes more effective we’ve noticed that you can more easily identify waste in your processes and spot inefficiencies. It is vital you try and automate these as much as possible from builds, to QA and even user story creation.

8: Continual Improvement

You can’t stop improving. As you increase speed of delivery having reflection points in your process is vital. Retrospectives, one-to-ones and growth conversations allow you to feed back further improvement ideas into your roadmap, team, individuals and products.

We’ve had great success with this approach, so much so that other teams and departments have asked us how they can take on some of our methodologies and implement them in their departments. We are now working on an implementation of these ideas and planning workshops to help staff become more effective in delivering the business’s goals.

MVF faced considerable pressures as we scaled our business but finding a consistent way of working that is flexible, ever-evolving, and fosters a collaborative environment, was fundamental to supporting the growth. We won’t stop here though, it’s only the start of the journey.

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