How the COVID outbreak accidentally kickstarted SCRUM in our company

The actors: two dark scrum teams, our usual suspects

The IT department in the organization was composed of two teams: the back-office team (BO) and the front-office team (FO). Both consisted of 3 developers, 1 product owner and 1 tester.

The scene: COVID 19 comes in

The national-wide measures to battle corona hit our company hard and the revenues plummeted. The possible solution quickly materialised in the form of the “MP project”. To briefly outline its merit, it was the drop-shipping implementation of our custom and complex fashion e-commerce solution. The process was simple:

  1. Do some magic and employee interactions
  2. Send API requests with an order to our partners
  3. More super cool magic in the warehouse
  4. Satisfied customer at the end
  • “As an employee, I can enlist products from a new partner using a provided XML feed with minimal extra work.”

The plot: doing the experiment

Given the state of the teams and the data about lead times at hand, no rational commitment could be made. But we decided to take up the challenge and do an experiment. We set the rules of the experiment quickly:

  1. Do little to no overtimes.
  2. Focus on MP project and nothing else.
Team loading a van with office stuff.
The team loading their stuff on the truck.

Step 1: Storymap it!

Given the uncertainty, creating a story mapping was a logical way to start. We came up with the solution, identified dependencies and validated the map with product owners and stakeholders.

Step 2: Mini sprints

We decided to split our teams into two new groups and do two separate workstreams, effectively creating two new temporary teams. Both teams then agreed to do a set of four 2,5 days long sprints.

  • separate stand-ups
  • do a shared review with stakeholders
  • show the results on the review in the production environment
  • do retrospectives separately

Unraveling the plot: see the results

Did we deliver a 100% working product? Of course not. There were still many unfinished things and the product would not go live for another two weeks. But both teams outdid themselves.

The plot twist: the main retrospective

Now came the difficult part. How to transform the learnings to regular life? We did a long shared overall retrospective at the end of an experiment. We mainly focused on learnings and “what I like/missed” observations. It was one of the richest discussions I ever witnessed with those teams.

The 4L retrospective

What worked well?

I will try to distil what worked for us:

  • a shared understanding of the purpose of the product
  • temporarily break the rigid old teams
  • 2 weeks timeframe
  • 2,5 half days sprints
  • shippable increment at the end of each sprint
  • no development besides the project
  • physical board using post-its
  • ad-hoc standups
  • get stakeholders on the review
  • do overall retrospective and follow-up on it
  • 4Ls combined with election manifesto retrospective as a retrospective format

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Josef Sekava

Josef Sekava

Prague based full-stack developer and agile practitioner. Engineering Manager at @productboard 🚀