Social Planning a roadmap, being Agile

I believe preparing a roadmap for one quarter should not be painful or time consuming for engineers. Our Engineering team here at BlaBlaCar currently consists of 91 team members, handling multiple proposed projects and dependencies. Alignment and understanding of who is working on what within the Engineering team allows for clarification on, for example who is the point of contact and what, if any, are the dependencies.

A roadmap is a flexible planning technique to support strategic and long-range planning, by matching short-term and long-term goals

The objectives:

  1. Engineers who will do the work, propose and define their backlog based on company vision, priority and technical need while identifying and communicating perceived dependencies.
  2. Ensuring all members of the engineering team understand current projects and the team members who will work on them.

The Idea: A time where the Engineering team discuss face to face their proposed roadmap and perceived dependencies/risks. This enables all teams to share ideas and fosters discussion on need, priority and dependencies while understanding who is working on what and which person is the point of contact.

The Purpose: Traditionally the Engineering team share proposed roadmap projects using presentations, email communication and talks. But, the message while delivered is not always received by people outside the roadmap presenting team. As the end of a quarter approaches often there is a feeling of rushing and late unplanned requests. I believed improving communication and transparency would help to make work visible allowing teams to discuss and sync on dependencies.

Oliver Bonnet, VP of Engineering “Presenting a roadmap with slides typically doesn’t scale to large and diverse teams. It is easy to unintentionally skip projects, send the wrong message or priority, leaving the audience feeling smothered by detail and with an inbox full of slides.”

Communication: Is the transmission of a message from sender to receiver in a way which the receiver understands. Effective communication leads to understanding. How people perceive and talk to each other in a work environment is a major determinant of success. Poor communication reduces quality of work, productivity and can eventually lead to frustration and mistrust within an organisation. Therefore, I focused on improving communication specifically the delivery process of our roadmap message.

We can improve message delivery by adjusting content, tone and reception using a social process.

Rhetorical triangle

The Social Planning event

Before:
 
Engineers in each team proposed:

  • Projects, based on company vision, priority and technical need
  • The definition of done
  • Any perceived dependencies

Each team received 2 posters:

  • A Team Board poster
  • A Risk Board poster

Teams complete their boards as a group. The Completed Boards are displayed in each teams working area.

Team Board Poster and Risk Board Poster, which were distributed to each team

A risk board is used to detail a dependency noted on a Team board. If a team documented a dependency, they develop this perceived dependency on a Risk Board.

A perceived dependency is a risk, which may be resolved or accepted during discussions at the Social Planning event or afterwards in the management review of all dependencies.

In order to deliver THIS I need THAT from you.

Our journey, the story in pictures:

Teams prepare their Risk and Team Boards on a team by team basis
Completed Team and Risk boards are displayed in the open space
Team members move around to review and discuss the work of others
Some team members stay to discuss their work and answer questions
While their team mates walk around to review the work of other teams
Some team members dialed in to participate and answer questions

Afterwards, we learned:

Oliver Bonnet, VP of Engineering “The social perspective of this roadmap method, where teams could walk around and discuss various projects, with the level of detail relevant to them, was a huge success enabling discovery, investigation and many super productive discussions!”
  • Face to Face communication allows clarification on topics ensuring/helping all team members to have the same understanding of what needs to be delivered and the steps involved to achieve it.
  • Having a global view of what your Engineering team is working towards adds value to daily communication and interactions resulting in completed work.
  • Taking time to speak with your colleagues and learn about their work is interesting, fun and supports team dynamics.
  • Asking questions, clarifying work, giving and receiving feedback face to face, is quick, easy and effective.
  • Project Owners reviewed and discussed all the risk boards improving stakeholder communication and understanding.
Nicolas Tricot, Engineering Manager: “ Taking time to tour around teams proposed projects was much more efficient than any meeting. To take a step back on our roadmap and ensure all teams were aligned, while having the opportunity to clarify any topic in a casual way added a lot of value, for individual understanding of the global strategy.“

Feedback and Areas for improvement:
Through direct feedback and a feedback board, posted in the open space:

We learned:

  • Not every project is relevant for every person.
  • Set session times at intervals as some team members had a feeling of continually beginning to discuss their work as new people joined a group.
  • Agree in advance and communicate the level of detail needed on boards.
  • Be more inclusive, consider the colours, material used and size of writing on posters ensuring accessibility for all team members.
  • Within each team agreement is needed on who stays to answer questions and who walks around to review the work of others.
  • It is a good idea to move teams located on the edge of the open space to a central location
  • Agree on project names in advance.

Next Steps:
All risk boards were reviewed by management at a dedicated meeting, allowing open discussion, prioritisation, synchronisation, acceptance or removal of risks. The end result is a clear picture of dependencies.

Creating a Physical Product Backlog is the next step and is a work in progress. This is in addition to our online tools, to have a central location allowing team members to have a high level overview and current update of projects and the teams working on them.

I would love to hear how you prepare a roadmap, collaborate and make work visible, get in touch!

I would like to thank Henrik Kniberg, Agile/Lean coach and Robert Lowe, Senior Global Director at LEGO Group, who’s work and Agile conversations inspired this social planning event. Last but, not least all the people who participated in this Social Planning event.

For more details on technical Communication I recommend the book, Rhetoric, Innovation, Technology: Case Studies of Technical Communication in Technology Transfers, in the MIT series by Stephen Doheny-Farina. For an overview visit the MIT press or find a complete copy available on Google books.

For more information on the Theory of Communication watch: Communication and Rhetoric: Two Theory Models by Stephen Klein.