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Agile. Step by Step

Digital Transformation 04-26-2019

Episode 9

During one of our last episodes, we talked about the importance of designing with users in mind. This is a foundational part of the GC Digital Standards. What could be better than putting users at the centre of our efforts to improve our jobs and service offerings?

How about doing all that while being agile? Sounds great, right? But hmm… what does “agile” mean? Watch this 2 minutes video to know more.


00:00

so it was 2001 and a group of software

00:03

visionaries gathered at a ski resort to

00:06

share their experiences and figure out

00:08

why so many software projects were

00:10

failing this wasn't just about

00:11

documenting best practices they knew the

00:14

industry required a fundamental shift in

00:16

values and so the agile manifesto was

00:19

born the Declaration of for bold value

00:22

statements that became the basis of a

00:24

new approach to software development and

00:26

would change the industry forever but

00:29

what were those four values and why

00:31

should you care take a look but first it

00:34

is important to point out that the agile

00:36

manifesto ends by noting that all of the

00:38

things mentioned are important just that

00:41

some things must be prioritized over

00:42

others okay here we go number one

00:46

individuals and interactions over

00:48

processes and tools

00:49

this doesn't mean throw processes and

00:52

tools out the window simply means that a

00:54

good face-to-face chat should trump

00:56

rigid workflows and impersonal forms of

00:58

communication number two working

01:01

software over comprehensive

01:03

documentation makes sense right but

01:06

traditional software development often

01:08

produced extensive documentation before

01:10

a program was released for initial

01:12

testing some documentation is good but

01:15

wouldn't it be better to have the

01:16

program than a book describing it number

01:19

three customer collaboration over

01:20

contract negotiation sure you'll want to

01:23

start out with some initial guidelines

01:25

but instead of locking customers in a

01:27

cage by defining the exact details of

01:29

the project before it starts teams and

01:31

customers should collaborate to find the

01:33

best solutions and finally number four

01:36

responding to change over following a

01:38

plan nothing ever goes entirely

01:41

according to plan

01:42

so instead of sticking with something

01:43

that isn't working it's much more

01:45

effective to make adjustments as your

01:47

situation changes following the values

01:50

isn't always easy but when you build

01:52

them into your team's processes

01:54

customers notice hey

01:56

is huge which of the agile values do you

02:00

think is the most important

Ok, did you get that?

  1. Ask for feedback early and frequently
  2. Adjust course along the way
  3. Know when something is good enough
  4. Launch the real work product, get feedback again, iterate and update. It’s a never-ending story.

Meet Todd Scanlan

Todd Scanlan, the Digital Academy’s Agile Coach, explains in more detail and tells us why the agile approach is relevant for all of us.

Todd Scanlan @toddscanlan
Agile Coach @ CSPS Digital Academy

Canadians are expecting products and services to be intuitive, easy to use and at pace with their ever-changing needs. We too, as public servants, have to change the way we work to become more adaptable and focused on clients and customers, no matter the field we’re working in.

To do this we need our leaders and management to be less “command and control” or micro-managers. They need to see themselves as enablers who create the conditions for individuals and teams to learn and improve.

They do this by:

  • creating an environment of psychological safety, trust, candour and openness
  • embracing uncertainty through experimentation
  • setting priorities and high standards for “what work will be done”
  • being open to working-level decisions on “how to collaborate”

Can we ask you some questions Todd?

Q1: How can we use agile approaches individually and as a team?

Individually, you can start by creating a personal “kanban” to help you manage your work. “Kanban” is a Japanese term that means “visual signal.”

A kanban is designed to help an individual or a team prioritize work, create efficiencies and remove constraints so that work gets completed faster and with higher quality.

Watch the following video on how to use it (a 1 minute video that could change your life).


00:05

hi this is Dave fryer with another p.m.

00:08

problem solver I've been in 90 seconds

00:10

to help you get better at getting your

00:11

work done if you're a pn you probably

00:13

spend so much time focused on other

00:14

people's work it doesn't leave a lot of

00:16

room for you to be efficient with your

00:17

own so I have four tips from personal

00:19

combat that will help you become better

00:21

at managing your own work first

00:23

visualizing your work is a big part of

00:25

understanding it set up a task board for

00:27

yourself with three columns ready doing

00:30

and done create a post it for each item

00:32

of work you have and prioritize them in

00:34

the ready column second start using that

00:36

board each time you start a task put it

00:38

into doing and when you're finished move

00:39

it over to done it sounds like a simple

00:41

thing but physically moving those cards

00:43

is a big motivator third stop starting

00:46

and start finishing limit your work in

00:48

process to two to three items in the

00:49

doing column at a time and don't let

00:51

yourself bring anything else into doing

00:53

until you first move something over into

00:54

done and forth take time each day to

00:57

reflect on how you're maintaining your

00:58

priorities and your work in process

01:00

limits if you're sticking with them

01:01

great if you're not you just have to

01:03

figure out why so you can figure out how

01:04

to become more efficient in your work

01:06

the next day if you'd like to learn more

01:08

about personal combine or thousands of

01:10

other ways you can improve your project

01:11

management practice check out the

01:13

webinars of project management com by

01:15

following the URL below thanks

01:25

you

Use the kanban as a team by putting all of the team’s various projects and tasks on the wall to better understand what everyone is working on and “unhide” work. Doing this will help you discover time thieves in your processes:

  • too much work in progress
  • unplanned work
  • conflicting priorities
  • unknown dependencies and bottlenecks

You can then start injecting more feedback loops where possible. Most projects include a lessons learned report, which is typically written at the end of the project. To be more “agile,” you could reflect on the project while it is in progress to examine how things are going and come up with ways to improve the team and how you are working together.

Q2: I can see how the agile approach works for big software development projects, but is this really a viable approach for everyone?

Yes, all areas can benefit from getting feedback early on in the process. That way, you know you are on the right track. Our colleagues from the Canadian Digital Service are paving the way, as you will hear in this 3-minute bilingual video:


00:00

What is effective design to me? So,

00:03

collaboration, first and foremost, trust,

00:06

is another and openness, would be the third.

00:09

Design is the conception of everything,

00:13

of all the services we offer to Canadians

00:17

The whole UX aspect is super important.

00:21

So, going to see the customers,

00:24

testing our products,

00:27

then making changes and then

00:29

retesting before releasing the products online

00:34

or any kind of product, really.

00:36

So, in our context at the Canadian Digital Service,

00:39

our users extend everything from the back end staff who

00:43

manage the services to the frontline

00:45

staff who are working in local offices,

00:47

are working in call centres, and get to

00:49

experience firsthand some of the pain

00:51

points and challenges that users actually bring to them

00:54

And then users as in the Canadian public.

00:57

If you design something, the user must be able to use it.

01:00

If they can't use it, there's no point in designing it.

01:03

How? Because

01:05

They're the ones who usually approach us

01:06

because they have a problem and they want to resolve it.

01:09

When you work with users,

01:12

it's not just about asking them what they want.

01:15

User testing, user research, is really about

01:18

sitting down, noticing what they do,

01:20

how they interact with the service,

01:21

they interact with something. And

01:23

that's really about taking the full account

01:25

of how they use something.

01:27

So, digging deep down and asking them

01:29

questions and keep digging,

01:30

“why, why are you doing this?”

01:32

really allows us then to understand

01:34

what their needs are.

01:36

And so there's, you know, the adage of like,

01:39

you may want something but that's not

01:40

exactly what you need and that's what we're about:

01:42

we're about designing what users need.

01:45

So, of course, they have to be consulted

01:47

and once our products are made,

01:48

we have to go back and ask them

01:50

what they think about them and then do better.

01:53

They have to be to their liking so they can learn better

01:55

And from there when we start

01:57

building, when we start creating services,

01:59

we want to use research to compare

02:01

what we've built to what people need

02:03

and see how it measures up.

02:05

We do that over and over and over again

02:07

so research is not just happening

02:08

at the beginning of a product

02:10

but at every phase of a product's development.

02:13

So really, when we talk about how design

02:15

and research are infused,

02:16

it's not just starting with research at the beginning,

02:19

it's not just doing some at the end,

02:20

to see how you've done,

02:22

it's doing it at every stage of the process.

02:24

You also have to be thoughtful

02:26

about the people that you're approaching

02:27

and how they sort of all work together to create

02:31

a system that works well

02:32

and that the way that you're engaging them

02:35

is voluntary and not coercive to them.

02:37

So we think about privacy.

02:38

We also think about how the data

02:41

that we're collecting about those people

02:43

gets stored and is used over time

02:45

and being thoughtful about that.

02:46

So there's a variety of ethical considerations

02:48

that go into any good research

02:50

but at the end of the day,

02:51

we think research is also part of building

02:52

an ethical system in general.

Q3: How do we create a non-tech walking skeleton?

The goal is to create a perfect “slice” or “chunk” of work that can evolve over time through continual feedback. In software, this is called a “walking skeleton.”

You need to focus on your first iteration and its potential for learning and discovery.  For example, if you were writing a 100-page document, to make sure you are on the right track you would write your document incrementally and in a way that’s fast and adaptable (lightweight and disposable). You would follow steps like these:

  1. The first iteration could be an outline of the titles of all the chapters in the document
  2. A second iteration could be all the chapters plus all the headings and subheadings, and so on.

These steps help ensure that the document is exactly what the end user wants in a way that doesn’t require a lot of upfront effort. You save a lot of time in the process.

Q4: What should we absolutely avoid or change in our traditional way of working?

We need to stop rewarding outcomes because outcomes are largely outside the control of the working level. We need to start rewarding behaviors such as learning, experimenting, collaborating, being a great team member, building on other people’s ideas—instead of putting them down (“yes and” vs “yes, but”). Having great behaviors will create high-performing teams.

The good news is that some teams in the Government of Canada are getting there. Here are two examples:

Employment and Social Development Canada

We, the Youth Pod at Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), are transforming the way we deliver services to young people in Canada. Our team provides resources young Canadians need to develop successful and satisfying careers. We're working to create a new youth-focused side of government services by recreating the Youth.gc.ca web page while being Agile and user-centric. We have a cross-functional team following a Scrum Agile process. We use a human-centred design framework with a design thinking approach, and we work across the entire spectrum of design: from service design to interaction design, to experience design, to interface design. We're also able to work incrementally toward our big vision and deliver small pieces as they're ready. And we've been able to deliver an incredible amount of value to young Canadians in a short time. Come visit our in-progress web page: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/youth.html.

Transport Canada

This year, Transport Canada launched its Digital Roadmap – a plan to “go digital” by providing TC staff with the right tools, knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of a rapidly-changing transport industry. Each month, we showcase a different aspect of digital government, and in April, we are focusing on Agile. While some teams within TC already use Agile in their day-to-day work, it’s a new concept to many. Through activities, events and learning opportunities, we are showing TC staff how an Agile approach can have an impact across government, including procurement, HR, legislation, and policy development.

Q5: What tools would help us to collaborate better?

The best tools are those that rely on and replicate face-to-face conversation and visualization. All you need are sticky notes, painter’s tape and Sharpies.

Keep it simple and bring everything to a human level. If your team works remotely, use technology:

  • video conference, Skype for Business, Webex, Zoom
  • online chat (Slack, GCmessage)
  • virtual kanban boards (JIRA, Trello, VersionOne, TFS, Wrike)  or have a webcam pointed at the team kanban 24/7

Finally, you don’t become agile, you become more agile!


Learn more about the agile approach