With the growing number of Agile users, the methodology and its applications have moved long past the software development field. According to the state of Agile report, the number of practitioners from operations, marketing, HR and sales have made up 30% of Agile users in 2019. However, some are still doubtful on how they could implement these practices in their respective fields and processes. This being especially true when the simple starting structure of an Agile board just doesn’t cut it.
If you are still unsure Agile can improve your day to day activities, let me introduce to you some teams and companies that applied the methods outside of the software development field. These teams were not afraid to look past what traditional Agile is and created something that would work just for them. Their creative custom Agile boards are a great source of inspiration for any team out there. Software development or not.
Let’s kick this list off with a department that usually has least predictability and thus is rarely the first option for Agile. Sales processes are often random and reactive to the potential customer actions. They vary greatly depending on the client and thus it is not easy to estimate what is going to happen next. While this seems like quite a big issue, a sales and account management team from iSense chose Agile and actually improved their performance. Here is how.
The team has decided to adopt Scrum as their primary project management solution in the fall of 2010. All of the previously random sales processes were put into a Scrum board and got clear guidelines. This was all done by the team as they were the ones that best knew how the operations should run. The team used the board to track the progress of each potential client and added notes of any additional actions they have taken.
After some time, they started to notice that certain indicators in the early sales process lead to better final sales results. Meaning the team could now detect certain aspects that could mean the deal will be closed. With this information they started taking proactive steps to control and influence the sales process. Visualizing and monitoring their process allowed for not only crystalizing the process, but also improving final results.
The second custom Agile board comes to us from another customer-centric department – design. While all of the actions needed for the end result in this case are clear, the customer feedback is what creates an issue for Agile application. There are various feedback loops that need to be accounted for in the design process. Thus using a board with simple process steps cannot represent what is actually happening and becomes useless.
Design teams wouldn’t be about design however, if they could not find a solution. This one comes to us from Daniel Bohn as Design Kanban or what we at Teamhood like to call column groups. The idea here is simple, in order to represent the review process for each of the design steps, review loops are added to the board. Each process step (or column) is divided into two – one for work being done and second for feedback. Thus clearly representing when the item is being designed and when it is gathering customer feedback. Most boards has 2 to 3 such review loops to allow for the full design process visualization. Try this out with your team and you won’t have to guess what is happening with design items.
Contrary to design teams, clear structure and processes make it rather easy for HR teams to apply Agile. Use columns to represent all of the process steps, and task cards to represent employees. To ensure all the different processes like hiring, employee evaluation and retention are visualized, several Agile boards can be used. When employing a virtual custom Agile board, the team can even set reminders within the board. This way, no evaluation or raise will be missed.
If a regular Agile board sounds just too regular for you, here is one shaped like a spider web. Coming from Jennifer from TranspireLife, this Agile hiring board is another great example of creativity. Instead of having a traditional linear board, Jennifer turns it into a spider web. Each circle represents a step in the hiring process and each section is dedicated to a particular position. As candidates go through the hiring process, they move closer to the middle until only one is left. This way you can easily track several positions and candidates while making the decision on who is the right fit for your company.
Moving on to a more creative environment once again, next up we have the marketing teams. Working in the creative and ever changing environment is sure a lot of fun. But when you need to manage multiple clients and their various requests, while at the same time delivering inspired work, things can get complicated. Visualizing all of these processes on an custom Agile board means more focus and less frustrations on all accounts.
This is exactly what Zest tried to accomplish after they decided to build their own marketing Agile board. In fact, they took it just one step further and made it out Lego to keep visualizing fun and exciting for their team. In this board each row represents a different client or project and the color of Legos stand for the type of work that has to be done for this client. The size of the Lego is important as well as a standard small block stands for a certain amount of time. So the size of Lego block describes the work item size.
Lastly, the columns represent the days of the week and act as a tool to show when the tasks have to be finished. While all the team members use their own Lego figures to mark which task they are working on. It is important to mention that Zest allows its team to choose which tasks to work on, but limits every team member to just one task at a time. This non-traditional custom Agile board does not represent all the processes of team, but visualizes and allows to optimize work in way that works for a digital marketing agency.
Coming up a little higher on the company management ladder, let’s look at an example of an enterprise custom Agile board. Creating a board of this scale is different than just creating one for your department. You have to account for various stakeholders and what they want to see visualized. Coming up with an effective solution is usually a result of hard work and compromises along the way.
Agile coach Jason Little has been going through a similar process with this enterprise Kanban board. While determining what will actually work, the team has reworked the board 5 times and even completely scraped it. Finally, a solution that works for all stakeholders was reached and the need for weekly status reports almost vanished.
To make this enterprise board work, Jason first identified its key customers. These included IT stakeholders and chiefs, business stakeholders, PMO, IT directors, managers and PMs as well as others. Then he asked those customers one question – what do you want to see on the board?
Based on their answers, he created a board that represented what was important for its users. Instead of process steps, the columns read as – new requests, planning and funding, service queue, risks, delivery (measured 0% to 100%), transition and done. While the lanes were focused on the lines of business instead of a purely one product focus.
This approach allowed the interested parties to quickly answer questions like:
- What projects do not have money?
- Which projects have money, but are not committed?
- What is the overall status on delivery?
- Which issues and risks need to be talked about?
Instead of relying on weekly status reports, the company is now able to come down to the board and understand the situation at any moment. By making sure the board was something his clients want to see, Jason created more opportunities for conversations and solutions.
No one knows the pain of bureaucracy and paperwork better than those working in the government sector. Dealing with various branches and compliances is no joke, but image having to manage. It gets messy very fast. This is why more and more government offices are turning to Agile by getting their work out of binders and into visual custom Agile boards.
Just like in any other field, first processes have to be turned into boards that represent them. Luckily, most government agencies have very strict procedures that can be easily translated into boards. And the documentation that is piling up in closets can be easily used to fill the backlog. Having this sorted, all that is left is deciding on the acceptance criteria and performing Agile ceremonies to ensure continuous improvement.
Agile helps this sector not only by allowing to track better, but also by creating boards with clear process steps for various procedures. It becomes easier to ensure everything is done correctly as the employees have to simply track the steps on the board. As well as giving a way to keep track of what is happening, leaving no issue behind. Just take a look at these boards from Belgium and Poland.
Just like any other sector, financial institutions need a good system in place to track what is happening. And this is where Agile comes into play. This accounting case is a great example. The way a traditional accounting firm operates is this – a definite amount of accountants complete work items for the firm’s clients. While each client has an assigned accountant, accountants have several clients they work for. To control the flow and work load for each accountant the team need to track and monitor this process. Giving the perfect leeway for Agile application.
Kanban or other Agile methods visualize this whole process. First, the team sets up an accounting Agile board, where the columns represent process steps and lanes represent clients. Each new work item is added to the corresponding lane and assigned to one of the accountants. Accountants then proceed to move the task through all the process steps until it is completed.
Such visualization allows to not only see the work load from each client, but also manage the work load for each accountant. It is easy to notice when one team member becomes overwhelmed and distribute the work to even the load. It is also easier to estimate work item completion time and bill clients accordingly to the time spent on their requests. Here is an example of custom accounting Agile board in Teamhood.
Automotive sector is one of the industries where delivering defined work packages on a specific deadline is still widely used. However, growing customer demands and the ever changing driver assistance technologies challenge this approach. It is no longer sufficient to work this way, especially where infotainment and driver assistance technologies are concerned. This is where Agile steps in to offer a more lenient approach.
This next example of Agile application to the automotive industry comes from Elektrobit. A global supplier of embedded and connected software products and services for the automotive industry. They identified the need for a more flexible development approach and introduced Scrum and Kanban into their processes in 2008. And have since then noticed an increase in customer involvement and satisfaction.
Their custom Agile board works in a rather traditional fashion – team members plan tasks at the beginning of an iteration and then move through process steps as they complete them one at a time. To better control what is being done, various task tickets are grouped into stories based on the feature they represent. And as soon as a team member finished a task, he or she sends it to the customer for review. This way being able to alter and change course immediately.
By using lean development model, Elektrobit is able to keep the car manufacturers involved in the development process. Thus making the final result up to date and responsive the end customer.
My last and least expected example comes from field none other than sports. While this is something that most of us rarely associate with Agile project boards, maybe this should change. When talking about sports training or performance management, each coach has a very clear system. There are steps that each athlete goes through and what better than an Agile board to track all of this?
A sports coach Mladen Jovanović had the same idea when he came up with a Scrumban board to manage performance training. He sets up the custom Agile board to represent certain phases the athletes go through – Away, Training or Available. With defined steps in each section, the coach can easily track all of the athletes and their current status. Thus planning ahead and ensuring best performance come game day.
By using a digital Scrumban board, he is able to add notes and reminders that help guide the training process. Thus keeping all the information visual and available in one place. More in the video below.
Custom Agile Board for Non-Developers
Agile approaches have long grown out of being solely for software development teams. However, many organizations and teams working in different fields are still afraid to try it. Hopefully these examples gave you some ideas and courage for an Agile transformation. Remember keep to the core values, aim for constant improvement and do not be afraid to experiment. There is no right way to do Agile, but there is the right way to improve your processes and business results.