Agile Development And The Sprint To Success

Here at dotDigital, we’re always on the lookout for ways to improve how we work to ensure we ship the best possible products in the best possible way.

In recent years, this has included migrating a lot of our delivery processes over to Agile methods. We recently spoke to Computing magazine about this in some detail, so check out the interview with me here.

Agile Development isn’t really new (it has been used since the 50s), but it wasn’t until the Agile Manifesto in 2001 that it hit the big time across the pond in the USA. Since then, more and more companies have started to consider it as a viable project management alternative to get results.

At its heart is a team-based strategy that revolves around regular, 10 minute progress meetings, and fixed-length periods of work (commonly called scrums and sprints respectively). A sprint is kept deliberately short (we use either two- or four-week durations), and always results in something deliverable.

We’re fortunate enough to have multiple teams split over our products: dotMailer, dotSurvey and dotCommerce all have their specialists.  This allows us to experiment with sprint lengths, for example, to see which fits us better.

Points and Post-its

Agile development also means you end up with scenes like this:

The dotSurvey task board

Welcome to the task board, where individual jobs are jotted down on post-it notes. The team gathers around this every morning for their scrum, to ensure that all team members across all disciplines have a solid idea of what each other are working towards. Not to mention a sense of accomplishment once they get there.

This is where the points system comes in. Every task has a number written in the corner representing effort; the higher the number, the more effort the team thinks the task is.  For those of you who paid attention in high school maths, we use the Fibonacci system for the numbers. This provides an easy way to track progress and prioritisation becomes simple – and wiping high numbers off the board brings immense satisfaction.

But the best thing? It lives up to its name: it’s agile. It allows us to change direction quickly if priorities change (if, for example, you’ve posted something on our suggestions forum that we just have to react to straight away!).

We’ve been excited about this technique for a while now, and thought you deserved a little insight. Of course, it’s all about delivering great products with great updates. See you at the next scrum…

In the mean time, be sure to check out our suggestions forum and have your say on where you think our products should go next.