Our agile Transition at Adsdaq

Our journey to be an agile company explained in storytelling.

Preliminary

To understand the story and references I’m making, you can find underneath a list of comparison items I’ve used.
Kings: founders
Knights: developers
Captain: team leader
Queens: clients
Castle: our software solution
Dark wizard, Dwarfs, Trolls, Dragons: issues, bugs, complex code, …

The year is 2007

Once upon a time in the year 2007, September 2007 to be exact, two kings decided to build a new and impressive castle. A never seen before type of castle on the market and that would attract a lot of new queens worldwide.

They started by hiring some Knights that could build and defend the new castle. They had already 1, and they found and convinced two other Knights to join the adventure. The two kings had an excellent idea of how they saw their new castle and had a good knowledge of what was out there on the market. So they started to share their ideas with the Knights, and each knight then began on building pieces of the castle. After a few months of long building days and nights, we finished some parts of the castle. From that moment, the kings start to showing it during their sales pitches with potential queens.

Months go by, and the fast building kept on going. The kings managed even to attract some queens to joins us in our castle and use the castle for their daily business of selling advertisement placements. That was a lot faster than the old way of going door by door. With the first usages of the castle and the fast building, we didn’t start to notice little black clouds gathering on the horizon. What we didn’t realize was that these black clouds would bring a dark force of dwarfs, trolls, and dragons. Each knight was working on different parts of the castle, that we didn’t realize the oncoming trait. Little by little the queens started to report the first dwarfs entering our castle and annoyed the queens in their daily routine.

The kings, who received the first word of this, started to inform the knights and they began to search the castle to destroy those dwarfs. 
While those actions were happening, the kings and queens continued talking to each other about new opportunities for the castle. The queens demanded the new features and the kings agreed on everything.
So now the Knights didn’t only have to fight the dwarfs, they had to build a new part to the castle or adapt them to please the queens. Since each queen had their separate desires for the castle, it was difficult to acquire the correct setups for all of them.

Lists were made by the kings about the new desires of the queens or parts were they saw dwarfs wondering around and then delegated/explained to the Knights. Each knight did their best to fight the dwarfs and build new parts of the castle. And to achieve it as fast as possible, Knights started to take more and more shortcuts to have it done more quickly.

So the castle was growing fast, but the dwarfs and even trolls were able to get in more quickly also due to the lack of proper testing and verifications after the build was done. We also had a communication problem between the kings and queens, sometimes the king came back with a new idea of a queen, but he understood it differently than how the queen wanted it.
This same problem was also happening between the kings and the Knights since sometimes the notes that were taken weren’t correctly done or verified, which gave the situation of some that were built in the castle that the queens didn’t want like that.

At one point, we were so overwhelmed by the dwarfs and trolls that were present in the castle. We had almost no time in building new parts for the castle, only time to fight and fix broken pieces of the castle.

This situation went on for a few years. We hired new Knights to help to build and to defend the castle against the dwarfs and trolls. But most of the Knights stayed on their part of the castle they knew the best. Sometimes another knight came rushing in to help a fellow knight fighting a dwarf, but it wasn’t a common thing. Each knight tried to fight and build it alone.
As time passed, the build of the castle became bigger and complicated to navigate through, which made it hard for the Knights to find the dwarfs and trolls quickly. Even some of the seasoned queens got lost in all the functions of the castle, and it required the kings also more effort in explaining and guiding the queens.

In the meantime, dragons have found their way silently into the castle and had settled themselves in a dark part of the castle. Only a few of our Knights were brave enough to go those parts and try to fight the dragon.

A breeze of change

A few years passed by with this working method and by the end of 2010 beginning of 2011, the kings had enough of the situation and wanted some changes. Both on the productivity of the Knights and also on the organization internally. Themselves went on a quest to find a solution for our chaos inside but even outside. In that same period, we hired our first Sri Lankan Knights, in the hope they could help us in our quest of building this fantastic castle.

After a while, the kings came back with a book about Kanban. They did some further research in the local libraries. In their search, they came across an abbey of white wizards that were kind enough to send us one of their white wizards: Nick Boucart. He came and looked at our processes and told us we were walking a path of disaster. With the whole team of Knights and the kings, he explained to us the concepts of Kanban and Scrum and recommended to start with Scrum. We all agreed, and he guided us on how things should go for the planning, the daily stand-ups, … He did some follow-ups for some sprints, and then it was up to us to continue the journey.

One of the kings took it over from Nick, and we started to get organized. We followed the Scrum method for several months. We had sprints of 1 week, daily stand-ups with all the Knights and all tasks were written down in the way of “as a … I want to … so that … “. Then we tried to put a story point on the task. At the end of our sprint, we had a retrospective on the past sprint.

The kings also found a new tool, Jira, to use to get us better organized for all the requests and tasks that were coming but also where all the dwarfs, trolls and dragons were situated. In this tool, we even had our queens involved in so they could give us an indication of where the dwarfs or trolls were hiding. Which was very helpful in some cases but sometimes the queens thought they saw a dwarf, but in reality, it wasn’t a dwarf, but a decoration they asked for.

But we failed miserably with our quest to use Scrum. Why? Because we didn’t stick to the rules, sometimes we made a sprint of 2 weeks, or we skipped the daily standup, or the planning wasn’t ready for the next sprint. All that because the king didn’t have the time to keep track of it, because he was already full in discussing things with the queens and following the progress of the build of the new parts for the castle.
Even the Knights didn’t continue the daily scrum tasks, due to the tight schedules of building the new parts together with fighting against the dwarfs and trolls. But also because some of the Knights didn’t like to work like that. I blame the black wizard that cursed their minds.
So all of that made it very difficult to adapt to this, but the most missing part was somebody dedicated it.

A year passed again in a snap, but this time the winds changed in the right direction …

The winds of change

There was a knight, me, that was present from the beginning. I’m honest, I had it with the fighting against the dwarfs, trolls, and dragon + building/adapting at the same time parts of the castle. I admit, I wasn’t the expert in building and I never would become one in the current environment. But I was intrigued by the scrum / agile methods and being the captain of the Knights. So together with the kings, we agreed I would take that responsibility step by step.

The first step was to put back the scrum process in the team. We started to simplify our Jira tool because that one also became too complicated to have a good overview of things that needed to be done. 
As a team, we decided to have sprints of 2 weeks, nothing more nothing less. Our daily stand-ups were set at 10 o’clock each morning. We just stood up in a circle, all with or without a piece of paper, with what the knight did the day before and was planning on doing that day. 
Planning was done together with a king, and during the retrospective, we discussed our velocity and what we did right, wrong or not to do anymore. Everything was noted and tracked in our book of wisdom called Confluence, and I guarded this with my life and made sure the team followed it.

Another thing we changed was our building process. We introduced that each knight should review the other Knights building before we told the kings and queens that a new part of the castle was finished. The same for the annoying dwarfs, if a knight came back saying he defeated them, a knight double checked that no dwarf stayed behind. This change made a big difference … and as time passed, we noticed lesser dwarfs and trolls hanging in and around our castle, which pleased our queens of course.

The process between the queens and kings have improved also. The first thing was to say NO to the queens when something wasn’t doable or not relevant to building it in our castle. This required some understanding of our queens, but after a while, they have accepted it. There was also a common understanding of writing the new request for the castle down in a document that was a reference for once the build was done.

By now the Knights with the cursed minds left the castle, and new Knights found their way to us, which created a steady team that was willing to go further and takes the challenges together. To increase this bound between the Knights, I organized our team gathering, with a day of fun and not to think about the work in our castle. Our team became closer and working more and more together. I became the captain of the Knights and guided them as good as possible in the right direction.

As of 2014, I started to go to big gatherings of other Knights and wizards that talked about agile processes. My first gathering experience was the Agile tour Brussels 2014 and returning from that gathering I had a bag with a lot of new ideas and books to be read. Since then I never missed a gathering and each year I had new ideas to try. With that gathering, I also found a new one, XP Days of which I had my first one in 2015 the mini XP Days and since then the same, I never missed one either.

On one of those gatherings, I got to know another great wizard: Jef Cumps. He helped us in refining our processes in 2015 and acknowledge that we had a good process going on.

So inspired by those yearly gatherings, I organized our own Yearly Adlogix Agile games with the purpose of showing the agile processes through games. Our Knights learned each time again something about the process while having fun. If I wanted to have something new in our process, I made a game about it or used existing games. It is a day that the team looks forward to each year.

Our Jira tool is great, and we can’t live without it at this point, but for our stand-ups not really. We wanted something visual that we could see immediately. And so we started a period of different physical scrum boards on the barracks walls.

Our first scrum board 1.0:

First scrum board 2014
First scrum board 2014

Our scrum board 2.0: Here we include the cycle of the request of our queens. In that way, we had a visual on what the next things are to come in the building cycle.

Scrum board 2.0 2015

Our current scrum board since 2016 3.0: A Lego scrum board, the best one we have.

Scrum board 2016
Scrum board 2018

Our retrospectives experienced the same kind of transformations during the years. First I build it with a power point and later that involved in using a Jira board.

Each retro a different type of image
PowerPoint version with the columns
Jira retro board since 2017

Since last year, I’m making a drawing each sprint that relates to the sprint and describes it in one sentence.

The one where we need some focus

The one where we collaborated together

one with the Halloween review!

To show you that retrospectives are helpful, I have the following case. We had issues of reviews taking long, not in the sense that the build was terrible, but in an understanding of the knight that had to review it, didn’t find the time to do it. That made us lose time. So we decided that once a building is in a review, you need an approval of 2 Knights: a functional one and a technical one. You assign 2 Knights, and in case they don’t have the time, they should mention it. In that way, another knight that has the time can have a look at it.

A year and a half back, we had a period where the Knights weren’t motivated entirely, and I knew that we could do better than the current velocity. But we couldn’t find a reason why this was happening. Since I like playing games a lot, I found information on how to gamify your process. Reading a lot about it and figuring out a system in our environment, I introduced this in 2017 and today we are still using this system. First, we build it in excel and afterward I made it digital that retrieves the information from Jira and calculates the points automatically. Those points are used for a personal incentive but also a team incentive. Those are used to organize the team gathering and game day. More points mean more money for those days. But we agreed that the team building is always done even if we have minimal points. It just says we are maybe doing arrow shooting instead of cruising with a ship.

Something else that we recently started to do is to share our love amongst the Knights. I implemented the Adsdaq love wall… a wall where you can add your appreciation to a fellow Knight. If during the sprint, a knight did something extraordinary or helped you unblock a build, you can write a love card to that knight. During the retrospective does cards are being read for all the Knights

Present day

For two years now we are building a new and simplified castle, with an agile process on point. We see from time to time tiny dwarfs popping up, but until today we never had to face a troll or big dragon. We can see that also in our discussions regarding processes, and they are more about details than about big things. But we never stop trying to improve our processes.

Like the way, we introduced this year, micro knight teams. We have micro teams of 3 Knights working on an epic. They can review each other work, and you always know who to pick as a reviewer. Each micro team has his micro leader, and he follows ups the epic progress. When issues arise, he will be the person to report it back to the captain.

Today we have 13 Knights to build and to defend our castle, and I’m doing my best to lead them. Of the 13, we have 8 in Sri Lanka, and they are a big part of our team, and they are a great value. It took us some time to get their mindset from just executing tasks to a mind of thinking about how a request can be built and letting them also do some investigations and then implementing it. 
The Belgian and Sri Lankan team is one big family, and as in every family we have some struggles, but we communicate and talk about it so that everybody on the team feels good and is happy to come to work.

So, looking back on the track of 11 years, from where we came to what we are today, is such a huge difference. When I ask if we should go back to our old way of working, I will get a no immediately as an answer.

Today, I can say that we have a team of Knights with a good team spirit and mentality to achieve our goals. Each of us has their pros and cons, we aren’t perfect, but we accept that, and we do what we can to achieve success.

And that concludes this story of our transition at Adlogix/Adsdaq.

Underneath I have added the list of books, I’ve read during those years. The tops ones are the most recommended ones in my opinion.