Agile Santa

Gerald Bachlmayr
4 min readDec 11, 2019

Imagine …

You are five years old,
it is Christmas time …

you are excited about Santa Claus bringing you that one present you were dreaming of for almost a year.

You are also amazed how Santa can actually do that: deliver presents to so many children all over the globe in one night — he must be a superhero!

Agile Santa

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Finally the time has come. You understand that he had no time to say hello — but he left you a wrapped gift box. Is it really that little white matchbox car that you were hoping for? The excitement increases while you are unwrapping that gift box.

And there it is: Yes, a matchbox car! You love that shape of the car — but hold on, why is green and not white? That is all you asked for — a little white car. The excitement dampens, but that’s OK, next Christmas is another opportunity — maybe the car will be white then.

This is the story of a disappointed Product Owner that has to wait another year to get what they asked for.

Why Do you Need to be Better than Santa?

Santa had all the best intentions, but working hard does not mean that you will succeed. You also have to work smart, collaborate with your stakeholders and improve continuously. During my previous engagements I observed too many times that a product owner does not get the outcome that she or he expected. Therefore it is very likely that the offering will also fail to meet the expectations of customers. In times of cloud adoption and machine-learning based customer insights your business will fall behind very quickly and eventually get “blockbusted”. You want to make sure you understand your customer needs. Ideally you are even a step ahead and let them trial something before they even realise this is what they have been waiting for. Back to Santa — he got a couple of things right and let’s have a look at that.

What Has Santa Done Right?

Santa had the best intentions you could imagine but like everyone else he had to master the “project management triangle” pictured below:

A quick assessment of the three parameters gives us the following:

  • Time: One year to prepare the delivery and he delivered that matchbox car on time — success
  • Scope: Santa delivered the matchbox car that the child wanted — partial success (with a caveat: wrong colour)
  • Cost: He probably had a constraint there too, and he managed to stay within budget — success

Looking at the project management triangle one could say Santa ticked all the boxes, but since we can see some unhappy faces we definitely want to look into possible improvements.

How Can Santa Improve?

Getting feedback from stakeholders once a year is not enough. Things change — the market, the competitors and the customer demand. How do we make sure we understand what the expected outcome is and that we can deliver it in an effective way? There are a couple of things that will help us:

  • Continuous feedback from your stakeholders:
    Make sure the delivery is aligned with stakeholder expectations, which might change, e.g. because of new legislations or a changing market. The most powerful technique to do that are regular playbacks at the end of a sprint. This way every stakeholder gets the opportunity to experience where the team is up to. Short intervals and release cycles will help to get continuous feedback.
  • Continuous feedback from your team:
    A regular catch-up with the team where you figure out what went well and what didn’t, will help you to identify gaps and things you need to continue doing. This will help the team to improve continuously.
  • Collaborate:
    Communication with team members needs to be efficient. A daily stand-up will help you to make sure everyone knows what the team members are doing and if there are any impediments. This is of course not the only way to call out any blockers and you will still need to collaborate throughout the day.
  • Cross-functional team:
    By establishing cross-functional teams you can reduce the waiting times that you have in a typical waterfall approach to a minimum: e.g. waiting for procurement before an AWS account can be created.

In all fairness, children would not be that excited about Christmas if they were involved in all the above ceremonies. Also, celebrating Christmas every two weeks might wear off fairly quickly. But your business will benefit if you adopt the above routines.

Until then: Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night