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Working in an agile way: sharing our experiences

Fion talking agile to a group of men and women around a large table at Worthing Town HallHi, my name’s Ffion Martin and I am a Developer based in HMRC Digital, Worthing.

Before I start here are two quick definitions of alternative ways of working:

Waterfall (traditional): project management that is characterised by sequential stages and a fixed plan of work

Agile: the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans

We’ve been working in an Agile way for a while now and it’s sometimes easy to forget how hard it can be to make that change from Waterfall to Agile. So when Worthing Council asked if we‘d share a bit about what we’ve learnt in adopting Agile ways of working and how we’ve done it successfully we were very happy to share our experiences.  Digital Delivery Manager, Chris Penner and I went to Worthing Town Hall to meet their development team.

Constantly learning and improving is all part of being an Agile team

Worthing Council are in the early phase of Agile transformation. They’ve had a few in-house training sessions to develop their knowledge and understanding of the processes involved with being an Agile team, for example, how to run daily standups, what happens during sprint planning, how to estimate stories for the sprint and how to work as an Agile team in general, but they were keen to get some insights on how best to put this knowledge into practice.

Chris explained how the HMRC digital delivery centres work across the country, and how he’d set them up to work in an Agile way. He talked through how we coach our business stakeholders and talked about the relevance and importance of Government Digital Service (GDS) guidelines. These help ensure that styling is consistent across all services and, most importantly of all, ensure everything starts with the user’s needs.

Chris Penner standing in front of a white board talking to the audienceI shared with the group more detail about how we use Agile here in Worthing: how the teams are structured, how we participate in daily stand-ups and retrospectives, how we track our work, the tools we use, what processes work well and what hasn’t worked so well. We’re quite a new team ourselves and are still fine-tuning the correct velocity for a sprint, so sometimes end up either bringing too much work in, or not enough, and having to bring additional work into the sprint.

Our sprints are every 2 weeks, we’re able to take what we learnt from the previous sprint and help us improve and work more efficiently next time. Constantly learning and improving is all part of being an Agile team, and how we are figuring out what works best for us is a good way to illustrate Agile in action.

Question time

Then we opened up the floor to questions from the development team and they came thick and fast. How we handle certain situations like resistance to change? How do we keep the teams motivated? Some really great questions that showed the team is already thinking in the right way.

Being able to have a discussion in a relaxed environment, I hope, helped the Worthing team think about how they are going to begin running their own projects and how they can overcome blockers. They said they felt motivated to try some of our techniques and felt more confident about what they can do to reduce resistance to change.

One of their Developers gave us this feedback

It was incredibly insightful to understand how HMRC utilise Agile. It was important for us to hear first hand how HMRC implement Scrum, the challenges they face and how they overcome many commonly shared issues. This session really has helped us feel more confident and relaxed to finally make the move into Agile.

The session was very positive and Worthing Council now feel more confident they will be able to apply what was discussed and begin to improve their Agile way of working and take some of our ideas forward. For me it was interesting to learn how local government organisations are run and the different challenges they have on a day to day basis.

We’re going to keep in touch and invite them to visit our offices to see first hand how we do things here. We’ll be watching their progress with interest and looking forward to learning from them too in the future. My message for anyone else considering moving to agile ways of working it’s important to remember it doesn’t work for every organisation or team, and don’t feel afraid of adapting things to whatever works best for you and your team!

Ffion Martin

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