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Interview with Agilists

Interviews with Agilists Episode #2 - Russell West from Assistive Partner

03 Apr 2018

Interview with Russell West

It hasn’t been that long since we reached out to some of our Agilist friends and we are happy to say that the response has been great. People are happy to share their experiences and views on Agile and we are really excited about learning more.

Today, we are talking to Russell West, a Product Manager at Assistive Partner from Redditch, England, a company that offers healthcare software solutions. Russell is the Product Owner in his on-site team of twelve. The team consists of developers, one designer and, customer support.

They work on software for the healthcare industry, predominantly hospital theaters - managing stock, and processing the items and equipment used within operations. Russell’s team also works with mobility retailers to provide stock management and ePOS software.

Agile implementation started 3 years ago at Assistive Partner company. The first choice was Scrum but later on the team adopted a Kanban approach, as it suited their business better.

Q: Why did you switch from Scrum to Kanban, i.e. why did you adopt Kanban practices?

A: Scrum felt too restrictive. We needed to be able to change priorities quickly as they arose.

Q: What challenges did your team experience when transitioning to a new way of work?

A: The initial transition went well. However, ensuring everyone (from development to management) understood not just how the agile practices work, but also why turned out to be more difficult.

Why change, what will it benefit was a hurdle we had to contend with.

Q: Have you incorporated any practices from other agile frameworks in order to adjust Kanban to your workflow?

A: We predominantly use Kanban, but we bring in some of the Scrum practices, such as reviews and planning poker sessions.

Q: When talking about estimations, you said that you use planning poker. A problem that is not that rare within any team is underestimation or even overestimation of tasks. How often do you encounter these situations and how do you cope with them?

A: We use planning poker as it makes estimating a little more fun and collaborative. It also provides people the opportunity to raise key questions or potential issues. And when it comes to under- and overestimating tasks - we do it quite regularly. I think the team is still finding this area of agile practices difficult to understand, especially when coming from a culture of estimating in terms of time rather than effort. This is an ongoing process that requires continuous training and the more we do it the more we understand the benefits.

Q: And how does your user story look like? Do you also have a defined Definition of Done for all user stories?

A: A user story is mostly an idea of what is required, why it is required and how it will benefit the user. Loosely speaking we do have the Definition of Done. It contains the idea that done means developed and tested to specification, reviewed by another developer, checked by QA and ready to package.

Q: While your team develops the healthcare software, do they use any of the agile software development techniques?

A: Yes, they use pair programming. Collaboration is key to ensuring development is the best it can be. Ensuring not only excellent code to reduce bugs, but also that developers understand aspects of each of our products fully. Working together on features enables our developers to gain a better understanding on different areas within the products.

Q: A common concern for agile teams is that they are spending too much time on the meetings. Which meetings do you conduct with your team?

A: We don't really utilise retrospective, but we hold regular daily standups, and monthly reviews. Backlog grooming is done twice a week with the Product Manager, development lead, and Operations Manager.

Q: Since you have more than 3 years of Agile experience with your team now, which benefits would you highlight in your work?

A: Kanban provides a process that we can all work towards. It provides a framework for us to know what we are working on and what our goals are. We have found that work is completed in a more collaborative approach since using Kanban. And when it comes to the quality of the products we develop, it has made the products more stable and developments are completed quicker (a better understanding of what is required).

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Disclaimer: The interview has been edited for clarity and style.