When it comes to how their company is organized, the co-founders of Snapcommerce had a mission — make sure their company stayed Agile as they started to rapidly scale. They didn’t want to lose the numerous benefits that Agile provides — frequent check-ins, increased involvement and satisfaction for stakeholders, superior quality products, higher transparency, flexibility, and productivity. To do this, Snapcommerce had to solve two different problems — who should lead the task of ensuring the company stayed Agile, and how do you create an Agile workplace that scales alongside rapid growth?
For the first problem, the co-founders weighed the pros and cons of whether to hire an external consultant for this task. A number of high growth startups choose external Agile Consultants because of their deep knowledge of the subject and ability to be objective when they come in to assess a company’s Agile set up. The downside of external consultants is sometimes they may have a one size fits all approach. Copy / pasting Agile doesn’t always work and can cause frustration and give Agile a bad reputation. It was this reason that eventually led to the decision to hire a Director of Agile internally. The thinking was that someone internal would know more specifics about the company and be able to more easily provide a custom fit Agile solution.
With this problem solved, the next step was to start assessing the Agile processes already in place at SnapCommerce. One of the benefits successful startups enjoy is a workplace that’s naturally Agile. Here are some naturally Agile things that are likely to occur in startups:
- They have the right intent and spirit — everyone wants to work together to achieve company success
- They tend to be highly collaborative and cross-functional
- There’s end-to-end accountability for what they deliver
- North stars are embedded in teams throughout the company
- Rapid decision making and learning cycles
- Standardized processes for working, like Jira tickets and Miro boards
- Empowered teams that choose what problems to solve based on quarterly company objectives and key results (OKRs)
While Snapcommerce is a successful Agile startup, it’s also growing at a rapid pace. Snapcommerce adds almost 2–3 new people across all departments every week. In the early days, when the company was not growing as quickly, the process teams used are small huddles to figure out the solution and deploy it. Everyone could easily visualize their team’s thoughts and workflows, and participate easily. Now, with teams growing and having various different stakeholders, it’s no longer feasible to have large meetings with everyone attending. For many companies, growth spurts like this are where Agile processes can start to break down.
There are two major pitfalls growing startups encounter with their Agile processes:
- Inefficiencies can begin to creep in, either because people don’t notice improvements they can make, or because some team members may have different understandings and levels of experience with Agile.
- Trying to focus only on process change.
While it’s tempting to try to rush to improve and change processes, it’s important to remember team and company goals. The first priority of any team is to push their work out the door, so any changes we may want to suggest must be integrated with the work they’re already doing. And, it’s important to remember why companies choose to be Agile. They want to improve decision making, pace of delivery, and product quality. While process plays a key part in these things, it’s not the entire story. It’s also valuable to work on teaching and encouraging an Agile mindset as well as technical practices.
So, now that we understand the challenge growing startups face when they want to stay Agile, how do we address it? How do we make sure everyone adopts an Agile mindset? How do we get people to have equal soft skill levels and emotional intelligence when they have different personalities and interests? Snapcommerce uses five techniques. The company:
- Invest in talent
- Invest in training and reinforcement of Agile practices
- Provide on-going Agile coaching
- Create Agile champions
- Hold retrospectives
Invest in talent. Snapcommerce makes an effort to invest in top talent across the board. Something unique the company does is to invest in Agile Leads that have expertise in project delivery as well as agile coaching. Each Agile Lead can be embedded in a team to help the team deliver features and products. The lead works with both Product Managers and Engineers to help them adopt the necessary Agile mindset and practices.
Invest in training and reinforcement of Agile practices. It’s not enough to ensure that people are trained in Agile practices when they arrive at Snapcommerce. That’s a great start, but Agile is a mindset. It must be continually reinforced, which is why we also include the Agile Leads in each team.
Provide on-going coaching. At Snapcommerce, our Agile Leads continually provide Agile coaching to the teams they are embedded in. And, they also receive coaching, to ensure their Agile practices are aligned with one another. If people are interested in soft skills coaching, we make sure to provide that as well.
Create Agile champions. The more people are inspired and interested in Agile, the easier it is to maintain an Agile mindset in a team. We look for anyone across the company who is interested in promoting Agile mindset practices and encourage them to be involved in Agile training and reinforcement of Agile practices.
Hold retrospectives. We continually inspect and evaluate our teams to ensure we maintain an Agile mindset and efficient processes. By holding retrospectives at all levels, we can talk about what we can improve and what works well.
Snapcommerce is still growing - but with these different techniques, we can ensure that as we scale, our winning Agile mindset will scale with us.