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Agile at work: Velocity, Burn-down and Stories

For those living in an agile world, these phrases will be familiar. If not, then it sounds like mumbo jumbo, so here it is explained.

Velocity – The rate at which work is delivered

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 11.44.32This is not a measure of how busy operational departments are, more of a measure of what gets delivered to the client – this is, after all, what really matters. The trick is to get into a stride and try to maintain a fairly steady forward momentum. If you go to fast you outrun the ability of the client to accept what you are delivering; too slow and you run behind and find yourself trying to do too much at the back-end of the project (this is often called “a hockey stick curve).

In the example to the right, we’re using a real project that has run over the last 5 weeks, 1 iteration per week to it’s current state of delivery. You can see that the velocity is pretty even, the one week we were slower was made up for a quicker following week.

What this chart doesn’t show is the work done to deliver these items. For that we need to look at a different sort of chart. One that’s called a Story Type Breakdown. This shows the items delivered also, but adds the chores and bugs in a stacked bar fashion, this better illustrates the work load over the 5 weeks.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 11.41.46As you can see, from week 2 we started to get chores to do (tasks, if you will, that exist outside of the main delivery points). And from week 3 we’re starting to pick up bugs and these need to be dealt with.

We use Pivotal Tracker as our platform for agile delivery (you can follow them on Twitter) – it’s a great little platform, keeping things very simple and seeing the entire project on a single page.

We’re very proud of the progress we’ve made by adopting agile delivery and in combination with great collaboration and communication tools such as Podio, Zendesk and Basecamp we’ve seen the cost of project delivery drop by around 30% and become quite the experts in re-engineering corporate processes. We’ve worked with a number of companies over the last couple of years to help them adopt agile methodologies and open-up the collaboration & communication streams.

It’s interesting that we’re viewed as more than just a digital agency now; we’re now seen as a thought-leader outside the digital space and into general operations, marketing and sales. Usefully, this also acts as a USP when we are trying to win new business – it’s nice when potential clients just “get us” and trust us to be able to deliver what we say we can.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 12.06.02The improvements in efficiency has had a number of dramatic side effects:

  • Reduction in stress, things just flow nicely along
  • No late-night working or “pulling overnighters”
  • Adoption of a 25hr working week
  • Everything gets delivered early. And I do mean everything!
  • Quality of life for all team members is far higher
  • We’ve grown the revenue by 25% this year without the need for additional operational staff

The last graph (to the right) nicely illustrates that by maintaining a steady pace, just ahead of what’s needed across the life of a project we not only don’t get stressed but we stay (broadly) ahead of our target for the entire the project. The recent release shown here ended up delivering a week or so early. Not bad for a 5 week project and showed a potential 20% saving in internal resource needed, that goes straight to the bottom line.

Who said agile delivery was just for code monkeys? Nah, it affects the bottom-line so fundamentally it applies across every segment of business that has an operational role.

By Martin Dower