Agile and Lean

I’m enthusiastic about continuous improvement via Agile and Lean processes. I write a blog called Agile Aspirations.

Here are some recent posts from my blog:

I have also written for the Ocado Technology blog.

My Agile Story

In my role as a Software Engineer at Ocado, I’ve taken part in seemingly every stage of an Agile transformation.

This journey began in September 2012. Prior to this, my only experience of using Agile methodologies was a half-hearted attempt at what we understood “SCRUM” to be during our third year group project at university, along with what I now recognise were elements of “Extreme Programming” (XP) during my internship at Betfair. At Betfair, this included practices such as pair programming.

My first role at Ocado involved writing software to power the company’s second automated warehouse, which opened in early 2013. The project had reached the testing and bug fixing stage when I joined the company. We worked using SCRUM and adhered to the principles of it, including all of the usual ceremonies. I now realise that this was a good introduction to Agile, but I believe that we made mistakes. For example, retrospectives were led by the project managers all too often. This meant that the team didn’t foster a high level of trust, and consequently things rarely changed.

After moving to the Marketing Systems team, Ocado announced a major replatforming project. The hiring of an Agile Coach led to us finding out more about Lean practices and we were keen to start applying these to our work. As our engineering moved to a greenfield cloud-centric space, our processes also seemed to stay new and shiny. We adopted Kanban, and I carried this through to my new team after an internal restructuring in October 2015. As a self-organising team, we spent much of our time honing our processes. This involved measuring and reducing our cycle time, as well as measuring our flow through various states of our Kanban board.

I wrote a blog post about our endeavours, which was published by Ocado Technology.

In Delivery Systems I have had the opportunity to take in a lot more stakeholder feedback, as we have tightened the feedback loops between our team and the users of our software. We’ve met drivers, been on “buddy routes” delivering shopping to customers, sat-in on phone calls in the contact centre, embarked upon tours of the different types of warehouse and carried out focus groups. We became more responsive to customer demands, which made stakeholders feel more involved in the development of our software. We also saved a lot of time, because this feedback cycle has helped us to avoid both re-work and avoid simply doing work that wouldn’t provide much value.

My enthusiasm for Agile/Lean methodologies gained pace in the second-half of 2016. In September I attended Agile Cambridge 2016, presenting my favourite learnings to Ocado Technology colleagues in-person and via video link to our European development centres upon my return. I began to attend a number of meet-ups in Cambridge, Peterborough and Northampton – giving a lightning talk (adapted from my blog post on “Scrum Ceremonies“) at one such event.

In November 2016 I delivered a two-day Kanban training course for colleagues. The course went back to the “core principles” of Kanban, but also covered things such as how to measure cycle time using cumulative flow diagrams, how to categorise work according to classes of service, and how to spot waste with value stream mapping.

Agile & Lean skills and experience

  • Kanban boards
  • Kanban core practices and principles
  • SCRUM methodology
  • Facilitating retrospectives
  • Squad health checks
  • Pair Programming
  • Setting and adhering to Definitions of “Done”
  • Narrowing down, and defining, a minimum viable product (MPV)
  • Reducing stakeholder feedback cycle
  • Reducing cycle time
  • Impact of Cost of Delay
  • Team stand-ups
  • Gathering interpersonal feedback
  • Self-guided departmental restructuring
  • Tools: JIRA, Trello, SwiftKanban, Leankit, etc
  • Code reviews
  • Continuous delivery
  • Coaching/training

Conferences I’ve attended

  • Agile Cambridge 2016

Books I’ve read

  • The Phoenix Project (Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford)
  • Drive (Daniel H. Pink)
  • The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
  • The Goal (Eliyahu M. Goldratt)
  • It’s Not Luck (Eliyahu M. Goldratt)
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Patrick Lencioni)
  • Death by Meeting (Patrick Lencioni)
  • Silos, Politics and Turf Wars (Patrick Lencioni)
  • The Five Temptations of a CEO (Patrick Lencioni)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)
  • Predictable Irrational (Dan Ariely)
  • How to Measure Anything (Douglas W. Hubbard)
  • Clean Code (Robert C. Martin)
  • Good to Great (Jim Collins)

Podcasts I listen to