Serious Scrum
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Serious Scrum

Eating our own dog food: How we used Scrum to improve our Scrum implementation

Credit: Parabol

We were exasperated. We all stared at the Miro board of ideas we had been capturing for the past hour on how to improve our agile delivery at Babylon. We’d got to this point before, but now we needed real action. The key question was, what’s next? Previously we had handed out actions and waited for people to come back to the group. But that had inevitably ended in little actually being done. Then it hit us — we should try using our own methodology — use Scrum to improve agile delivery at Babylon.

So started a six month experiment to try using the Scrum framework to drive our continuous improvement within the agile delivery function. I had always wanted to try applying Scrum to the problem of improving agile delivery, as I’d not seen this attempted at any of my previous companies. My theory was it would provide a framework for us to solve the complex problems we were facing by ensuring we had regular cycles to inspect and adapt progress and stay focussed on the customer (in this case, the wider product & tech organization).

Our established goal for the team was to support continuous agile improvements across the business and create more aligned ways of working, influencing and implementing processes while championing agile values across Babylon. This consistent approach is a challenge across an engineering organisation the size of Babylon, with 20 Agile Delivery Managers.

However, there were some unique challenges to this approach. No one on this team would be full time — everyone would be volunteering to support whilst also working with their product teams. Therefore, we did make some modifications to our implementation:

  • Twice weekly standups for 15 minutes, rather than daily scrums.
  • Volunteer driven — no permanent members of the team, those with time in a given sprint could contribute towards tickets.
  • Careful awareness of holidays, setting very small goals for the sprints where we had lots of volunteers off.

Apart from that, we stuck to Scrum as closely as possible. We defined a Scrum Master and a Product Owner. The Agile Delivery Managers who volunteered were the developers doing the work. Our stakeholders were the other agile delivery managers across the business who did not contribute to this initiative, as well as product and engineering leaders who we partnered with for delivery at Babylon.

We began working in two week sprints with planning, reviews and retrospectives. All our work was tracked in Jira, like any other Scrum team at Babylon. We had the same transparency in presenting our work in sprint reviews and getting feedback from the organisation.

We started with a commitment to trial for three sprints and see how the framework suited us. The first set of sprint events were able to be run effectively, as with a team of agile delivery managers, everyone understood the purpose and the value of the events! The biggest challenge was finding a suitable time for everyone to meet, particularly at the end of sprint / start of sprint crossover. We recently moved to morning meetings to avoid the busy time in afternoons where we cross over with our US counterparts, driving up attendance.

An interesting side note was the cross-pollination of the different ways Agile Delivery Managers run Scrum events. By being able to see different ADMs in action, this was a great way to share ways of working amongst the team. The retrospective was particularly interesting for this, and was of massive importance to keeping the team delivering effectively.

So, what have the overall impacts of the initiative been in these six months?

Impact on delivering value

The first major benefit was that the team managed to actually deliver some improvements to doing agile delivery at Babylon! A key initiative was having a set of information to be included in Sprint Reviews, and a template to be used. This was delivered over a few sprints, with collaboration from all delivery managers. We also defined a new process for the capitalisation of costs across projects, cleaned up our initiatives and kicked off a project to improve our JIRA implementation. These all helped improve the ability of ADMs to work effectively at Babylon.

Maintained consistent momentum over a six month period

Often these improvement projects that exist outside of the product structure lose momentum over time. In fact, we have seen that the momentum of the agile delivery squad has grown over time. At the start, a few dedicated delivery managers kept the team going. Over time, more delivery managers have become involved and taken an active position.

Regular cycle to engage with the wider ADM community and collaborate

A challenge has always been to bring the wider ADM group together and drive collaboration across different departments. Whilst there is still room for improvement, the sprint reviews in particular have driven interesting conversations with delivery managers across different areas about different ways of tackling common problems. This will continue to grow as we introduce in-person events.

We are now looking ahead to improve this process further. Here are some process ideas we are looking to introduce to further increase the value produced from the Scrum team.

  • Rotation of Scrum Master accountability through the team — so far, I’ve been taking the Scrum Master accountability in the team. However, we have many people in the team who are skilled in this role! I’m looking forward to rotating this and learning from the way other delivery managers complete the Scrum Master duties.
  • Engaging with the wider engineering org — whilst we have engaged with the other ADMs, we are yet to engage much with engineering or product. A next goal of the team is to widen the stakeholders to get more inputs and further increase the value of what is being delivered by the ADM squad.
  • Using this structure for other internal improvement projects — after the success of this team, others are interested in using Scrum for other internal improvement projects at Babylon.

Please reach out if you have used Scrum for internal improvement at your company, and how you found it.

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Edward Lowe

Edward Lowe

Agile Delivery Manager at Babylon Health, interested in how to organise software teams to build great products.