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The Benefits of an Agile Working Environment

Company Culture
Team Processes
Agile / Scrum

2 June, 2021

Anupam Singhal

Anupam Singhal

Engineering Manager at Snapdocs

Anupam Singhal, Director of Data Science at Workday, witnessed the transition between past and future first-hand as his company adopted a policy of Agility, just as the trend began to take off in Silicon Valley.

Problem

Before Agility became the norm in our industry, engineers collaborated with their stakeholders through a waterfall process; direction comes from above, and those building the product executed to the best of their ability.

Waterfall-style working involves product managers writing very detailed product requirement documents. They would typically spend months writing these documents, talking to all of the customers and all of the stakeholders. Once they were there, engineering would come on board to write their own design documents.

The process was slow, amounting to a release every year or so. You spend all of this time gearing for that; since users only had access after the product was released, the feedback cycle was super long. Even very small changes took a lot of time.There was always this big mismatch between what you were building and what the customers were actually asking for and getting.

Actions taken

In the Agile world, what ends up happening is that you have this group of beta customers. You give them access to stuff before actually going to market with the product. This means that, from the time that you start developing, you can have a prototype in your customers’ hands within a month, in some cases. You get that early feedback and are able to tweak the look and the feel of each feature as you go.

At my first start-up, we hired an Agile coach for a week. This coach worked with all of our engineers in order to bring them all up to speed. We started adopting all of these practices, gaining a variety of learnings and eventually bringing on our own internal Scrum Master.

Over time, you build up intuition about what works for you and the team. Every team is different. Some teams want structure. More experienced teams, however, may prefer to have more autonomy instead. The key is getting to know which processes work best for your team in particular. In people management, that’s been a really big learning experience. I am always trying to focus on what seems to be working well for people.

In software, we now have the luxury of working any way we want to while still being connected to the needs of the user. If the company that you think needs to exist hasn’t been founded yet, you need to go out there and build it yourself. Agility gives you the framework that you need to figure out what works best for you and what will allow you to be delivering service at that level for the people that you intend to market your product to.

Lessons learned

  • I typically keep my teams small, no more than ten. If they get larger, you should try to break them up.
  • Everybody has their own way of working. Try to find the best way that works for them. You want to be spending time with your best people in order to accomplish this sooner rather than later.
  • When building a product, oftentimes what you plan and what ends up working can both look very different from one another. Early feedback will allow you to modify the product accordingly. This is the greatest benefit of Agility.

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