The Classic Marketing Request: “We Need a Last Minute Push Out This Week. Make It Happen!”
As I started typing that first line, I started to ponder whether these opposing forces our team faces are the norm every week or if I’m just more acutely aware of them because now that I am documenting them every week.
Either way, sprint 5 (which ran 1/13/2015 to 1/19/2015) was no different and may have actually been the biggest challenge we’ve faced since taking on this transition, but facing it with Agile actually made things relatively painless.
We’ve all heard those words before
It really is the classic marketing challenge. The month is half over and product and/or management comes to marketing with an “emergency request.” Someone is not in love with some metric for the month and must have a last minute push put out as fast as possible. We’ve all received this request before…and will receive it again.
Mid-week, so January 15th exactly, we received that exact request. In the past, we would have looked at our already ridiculous to-do list, commiserated and reluctantly got something out, usually with some individuals bearing more of the burden than others. Other projects would suffer and other stakeholders would be neglected.
But this time we tackled it with Agile
The request came mid-day halfway through our sprint, so our tasks and velocity had already been set and was already well underway, not to mention, our stand-up for the day had already occurred. There was never really any previous discussion of how to handle this kind of a scenario, and adding this project was clearly not doable with our velocity and current workload, so something had to give.
We created a sprint within a sprint
So, using the Agile marketing methods that were already working for us, we created a kind of sprint within a sprint. The marketing manager and I met with the stakeholder and devised a plan. We outlined what we thought were the tasks needed and outlined them on a separate whiteboard while the team was at lunch.
We rallied the troops and had an abbreviated Agile planning meeting as a team. We talked through the situation and what was needed and solicited their input on anything we were missing. Everyone got on the same page and we tasked out this mini-sprint. From there we whipped out the Planning Poker cards and estimated everything that was now going to be added to our plate. After some negotiations and clarifying a few tasks further, it came to 120 points of new additional work that we had to complete.
Our new Agile estimating points were the key to our success
It is really interesting to actually be able to quantify this project in those terms. That’s something we were not able to do in the past, so the amount of work needed was very subjective and differed from the team and stakeholder perspective. When the campaign ends, we are excited as a group to actually be able to put the revenue produced against the points for the project and compare that to other tasks and campaigns.
Another exciting outcome is that as a team we were able to collectively decide what points no longer made sense. Each team member didn’t go back to their desk and make their own call about what from their to-do list needed to get bumped. Instead, as a group, we looked at the tasks already in place and put these new tasks wherever they fell in the team’s overall priority. Everyone could see everything that needed to be done and where it was in our team’s priorities with a quick glance at the taskboard. Things shifted and we were all on the same page in minutes. Time was not wasted on things that weren’t an absolute priority for the team and everyone was able to band together to collectively tackle this new project.
And by quantifying the points needed for this new project, it was fairly easy to identify an appropriate amount of tasks that now probably weren’t going to be completed within the sprint. They were going to be sacrificed. We could all see that and we all agreed that they were the right ones to go. This helped make us more productive because we simply swapped some tasks for others. Our to-do lists for the week didn’t grow. Collectively, they were the same, so the team didn’t waste time reconsidering priorities as tasks were completed. They saw the whole picture and attacked. They weren’t worried about whether the right things were getting done or how they were going to get everything done in a limited amount of time. It also gave the marketing managers plenty of insight into this new project as it progressed, but also what was going to be sacrificed. For tasks close to certain stakeholders’ hearts, we were able to be upfront and honest with them about the pivot being made in this week’s sprint.
Happy workers. Happy management. Happy stakeholders.
As you can imagine, we got the emergency request filled and are starting to see the results come in as I write this. Time will tell whether the numbers will justify the amount of time and effort and the opportunity cost of the tasks that were sacrificed. But positive is the team took to the change well, despite the impact the project had on the week, and it helped bring us all together. Most exciting though, overcoming this sprint 5 challenge helped everyone buy into Agile even more. It helped reduce stress for everyone, showed the power of our new processes and is giving us a tool to better justify work and return with stakeholders.
Even in this firestorm, we have happy workers, happy management and happy stakeholders.