Success at Agile Australia 2012

May 31, 2012 at 5:41 am 4 comments

Several months ago, eBay colleague Megan Folsom and I flew out to India to train our outsourced development teams in the concepts of Agile.

To provide a bit of background, we had spent almost 6 months banging our heads against a wall trying to get teams to collaborate with each other, the internal eBay product team, and the eBay business stakeholders. After many painful attempts to move our teams in the direction of Agile, we realized we were going about it completely wrong. We were trying to put in place processes representative of an Agile environment, but the teams didn’t understand some of the fundamental concepts behind the movement. So it was time to start from scratch and return to basics.

At a high level, we devised a week-long offsite for the teams that explored the concepts of agile via playful and non-threatening exercises. We ran the workshop without any specific goals or expectations – we were only hoping to make in-roads.

To our surprise, the workshop turned out to be more successful than we could have hoped. We were so moved by the experience we felt we had to share our learnings (as well as yet-to-be addressed challenges) with others.

And thus, we attended Agile Australia 2012 this week to share our story. The conference had 800+ delegates, with ~300 attending our presentation. Our format was a combination of video of our developers during the workshop, impromptu Q&A between Megan and myself, and open questions from the audience.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what reaction to expect. Telling this story felt a little bit like talking about your kids. You know you’re interested in your kids..but no one else is. Would it be like that?

Most definitely not! We received tons of amazing feedback. People loved seeing firsthand the positive change in our developers from the beginning of the workshop to the end. They loved the honesty that even a big company like eBay doesn’t have it figured out. And most of all, they appreciated the validation that off-shoring and outsourcing present unique challenges in Agile adoption. In fact, following our presentation, I felt a bit like a therapist. People came up to us to share that they faced the same challenges. Many didn’t even ask for our advice on addressing the challenges….they just wanted to talk, have someone listen, and validate everything they were feeling.

Outsourcing a a reality. Agile is a reality. But how do you combine the two to create a positive, successful, and human experience? I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure if anyone does. One thing I do know – everything we’ve done with our developers to date, especially all the time we’ve spent building face-to-face relationships has made a HUGE difference.

I feel very lucky to have been part of the dialogue on this at Agile Australia 2012. First, thank you Megan for all your hard work and dedication, helping me address challenges I had no idea how to tackle. Secondly, thank you to our manager, Robin Whyte, who supported us in our efforts, despite the fact that we weren’t sure of the outcomes. Thank you to the organizers of the event, who believed we had a valuable story to tell and invited Megan and I to speak. And finally, thank you to everyone who attended our presentation. Your feedback and support was amazing!

For those interested, here are a selection of posts that floated through the Twittersphere during our presentation. My apologies to those that posted these Tweets…I wasn’t able to figure out how to export your Twitter IDs and profile links along with your posts.

eBay expectations around collaboration, continuous delivery and trust weren’t working with outsourced teams #AgileAus

someone admitting they were far from agile. Quite refreshing! #eBay #agileaus

team at Ebay was silo’d and operated in a vacuum before their agile transformation. #agileaus

Goal for ebay teams- build trust & collaboration @mfolsom @robinzaragoza #agileaus

Face to face time with offshoring team at #eBay. Best single offshoring practice in my opinion, definitely worth the cost! #agileaus

No surprise- show respect to the offshore teams, build trust, create face-to-face relationships. Reassure people, defuse stress. #AgileAus

Safety exercise at retrospectives. Useful and well known but often forgotten! #eBay #agileaus

eBay team showing the penny game used with offshore teams. I love that game. We even use this with execs #agileaus

Create Team manifestos – the things that resonate most with the people #AgileAus

How to get people to trust each other and work with each other? Share food! #agileaus

#ebay empowers their offshore teams to collaborate and trust the power of a team @robinzaragoza @mFolsom

Takeaways from Indian ebay team: Do what you can; Eliminate waste; Trust each other. Great to see engagement and enjoyment grow. #agileaus

Agile has to be across the whole organisation not just within development teams #ebay @robinzaragoza @mfolsom #agileaus

treat your external vendors as your team member and empower them. Don’t treat them as service providers. #ebay #agileaus

ebay speaker not confident they can influence the culture sufficiently within their outsourcing partner. Big issue with vendors. #agileaus

Culture impacts a teams ability to agile @robinzaragoza #agileaus #ebay

building trust, the right culture within and with the overseas team is key to offshored projects #agileaus #ebay

#AgileAus Agile has to be across the entire organisation, not just the developer teams, the business must embrace it as well:eBay

Don’t underestimate the power of face to face when empowering agile offshore teams @mfolsom @robinzaragoza #ebay #agileaus

Difference in language from ebay Europe speakers: they say “being agile” rather than “doing agile”.

Quick note: Unfortunately, our presentation was not videotaped. We will be looking for another opportunity to present (and record it) in London in the coming months, so we can share it online. If you have any ideas for events at which we can present our story, please let me know. Thanks!


Entry filed under: uncategorized.

Huge letdown by Zappos

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill  |  May 31, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Great words Robin and hats off to you and Megan for honestly and openly addressing one of the big issues for big businesses growing in the eCommerce space…..

    You’ve made a big difference at eBay, so keep the focus and keep taking people with you.

    Well done

    • 2. bstnmelody  |  May 31, 2012 at 6:16 am

      Thanks Bill! Its a long journey, but someone’s got to do it! Thanks for being part of the ride!

  • 3. Steph  |  November 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Robin,
    I saw your presentation and it was fantastic. Loved the honesty to tell the real story, not just the wins story like so many others there are doing. That humility is what makes the conference and learnings so much better. A number of organisations i’ve worked with have the same challenges so all appreciate your guts. One team i’m coaching at the moment is finding the off-shore and collaboration difficult because – in their words – “the five states of india determine behaviour and it’s more ingrained than new agile methods”. We’re looking forward to sharing the videod presentation when it’s done. 🙂

    • 4. bstnmelody  |  November 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Steph, thanks for your kind words. What an interesting challenge….working with teams in five different India states! We work with teams (both dev and business) in several different European countries, and I notice so many differences even between Brits and Germans. I’d imagine its much more challenging across 5 cultures. Unfortunately I won’t be attending Agile Australia 2013, but please do share your video presentation with me if possible, I’ll be very interested to hear what you learn!



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