Leading an Agile Transformation

Digital design and Development Agency Infinum explains the steps to agile project management

By Ken Kaplan

By Ken Kaplan March 04, 2021

The Agile Manifesto, published in 2001, still causes ripple effects with its 12 principles for developing software effectively in an era where customer satisfaction is job number one. A key aspect is flexibility, which allows for changes and adaptations even very late in development.

“There’s one sentence that I’ll often use to describe what agile is, and it goes like this: Do everything you can to reduce the gap in time from doing something to getting feedback,” said Jon Kern, an agile transformation consultant and one of the 17 engineers who met in Snowbird, Utah, 20 years ago to write the Agile Manifesto

That feedback loop is critical and the closer it gets to real-time, the better, said Kern.

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Getting there requires building trust and good communication between teams. Applying this approach to work for clients involves self-examination, clear values and commitment to collaboration, according to Ivan Kosovec, project manager at Infinum, a design and development services agency based in Croatia, Slovenia and New York.

Kosovec said project methodologies changed rapidly in recent years. Traditional waterfall projects have given way to projects guided by agile values. This required him to form a team, create a plan and lead their agency through an agile transformation.

“Although we had prior experience working in an agile setup, we knew we had to dive deeper and analyze the benefits we could harvest: not only on the project level but also on the organizational level,” he said.

Kosovec is a CSP-SM agile coach and one of the agile transformation pioneers at Infinum, which helps large brands, banks, insurance companies, media publishers, mobile carriers and other companies design and develop mobile apps, from creative concept, planning, graphic design, programming, testing to publishing.

As Infinum goes through its agile transformation, Kosovec sees a pattern of continuous learning and knowledge sharing built on trust and collaboration internally and with clients.

“We like to look at our clients as part of our team and we’re building the digital product together,” Kosovec said.

Some clients have no previous experience with software development, but they bring worthwhile entrepreneurial ideas. 

“Our clients rely on our expertise in designing and developing software, but we also give them consulting and coaching services about the project methodology as well,” said Kosovec.

”It was up to us to transfer knowledge regarding good practices and values that we’ve experienced and adopted during the years.”

This builds trust and raises the level of quality output.

Sharing Agile Experiences

Infinum starts with fundamental agile values like transparency, ownership, collaboration, and iterative development to explain their approach to clients. These are essential for building any digital product, according to Kosovec. 

“Although we have our company processes, it’s more important working together with our clients in collaboration,” he said. “We discuss the client’s vision and our vision then find the best way to work together.” 

Kosovec said it’s essential to focus on:

  • A regular, healthy dialogue between the Infinum team and their clients
  • Iterative development that involves the client in critical steps along the way
  • Team ownership of the product with a strong ambition to improve the product
  • Identifying, communicating and mitigating risks early
  • Swiftly reacting to the rapidly changing global market
  • Understanding client’s needs, their vision and their expectations
  • Sharing insights with clients and access to the project management tool, Productive

“Agile is all about people,” Kosovec said. “We tell clients that we’re on this journey together.” 

This helps Infinum switch from a product-centric approach to a customer-centric collaborative approach.

Organizational Agility

Kosovec has seen companies try to transform their way of working by introducing Scrum to a single team just to see how it goes. 

“Scrum isn’t a tool that will magically solve all problems,” he said. “On the contrary: It will make problems easily identifiable and visible to everyone. When you have a backlog of problems and no one to solve them, you’re bound for failure.” 

He said after companies struggle with Scrum, most declare it, “Something we tried but didn’t work for us.”

“Scrum puts you in the driver’s seat but doesn’t teach you how to drive. You’re bound to crash eventually, especially if you hit the highway right away.”

Steps to Agile Transformation

To start an agile transformation on the company level, the first step is to have support from executives, accordion to Kosovec. If that vision doesn’t include agile values, there are only two possible outcomes:

  • Try fitting in agile values in the vision
  • Don’t change the vision, try agile another time

“Being agile means working in a certain mindset,” Kosovec said. “You can’t expect a single team to adopt the agile way of working and deliver more value out of nowhere when they’re part of a non-agile system.” 

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To conduct the transformational change, everyone has to be on board. 

“It’s a systematic approach that will impact the whole company, and not only project or product teams.”

When Infinum started their agile journey, the first goal was to get support from management. They defined goals that would benefit Infinum and their clients. 

They defined four core goals to initiate their agile transformation:

  • Maximum transparency
  • Improved ownership
  • Improved estimates
  • Iterative delivery

“Our executive management was on board and We got the green light,” Kosovec said.

The next goal was to get everyone from the project management team on board. This can be challenging.

“Middle managers often get lost in their new roles and responsibilities because they often don’t have enough time, knowledge and courage to adapt to this new way of working.”

This is why education, mentoring and coaching are essential because one wrong turn can result in the whole agile journey going downhill. 

Infinum started mandatory bi-weekly community workshops for all members of the team. They discussed agile values, the Scrum framework, Scrum Master and Product Owner as roles and other related topics. 

“Everyone started feeling comfortable in this new way of working,” said Kosovec. “They were asking questions – to which we often did not have the answers right away.” 

Agile is Always Work in Progress

Sometimes it took weeks to solve a certain challenge. To tackle day-to-day challenges, team members who had the most agile development experience were assigned as coaches to help out other colleagues.

“After a few months of education and the amazing engagement from all team members, we were ready to start piloting this new way of working,” he said. “We discussed this new way of working with our clients and started defining improvements together.”

They started with a few projects and few clients and soon shifted all project teams to the agile mindset.

“That process is still evolving and will keep on evolving in the foreseeable future,” said Kosovec. “The fast-paced global environment that agencies work in today requires adaptability regularly, and agile software development seems like the way to go at the moment.”

Kosovec said that an agile transformation is not an end in itself. It is just a better way to maintain flexibility and close collaboration, which are essential for creating a real-time feedback loop that results in better products or services.

Ken Kaplan is Editor in Chief for The Forecast by Nutanix. Find him on Twitter @kenekaplan.

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