On today's episode of Exo on the Couch we introduce Exo Digital's founder and director, Rob Wijaya.
Rob has been in love with technology and the internet, developing chatbots since he was 11 years old. That’s a lifetime of tech and design experience!!
Today Rob is raving about this year's growth and successes even though it hasn't been a typical year for anyone. Rob reflects on how well the Exo family has adapted to remote working and will be talking about how he attributes a large part of this success to the use of the ‘agile’ mindset.
Agile vs Waterfall
Agile requires the whole team to have a common goal, and then creating a ‘how might we’ statement, where we identify what the deliverable is so we can work together to achieve the end result. As it is so iterative, projects run in an agile way can move faster and pivot if needed in order to achieve the end goal.
Waterfall on the other hand makes it very difficult to change direction if the project needs to be modified to achieve the end goal. As waterfall runs in a linear fashion, if changes are required it’s extremely difficult to manage, as the whole project is then called into review. This costs valuable time and resources.
How Exo Works
With agile the Exo team can deliver on projects in a highly iterative way. Here at Exo we use two week ‘Sprints’. Many companies run Sprints between 2 to 4 weeks long, this way a high level of momentum can be maintained. Each Sprint begins with Sprint Planning, whereby each member of the team commits to a set priority for that Sprint and to establish whether any tasks from the previous sprint needs to be carried forward.
It’s a great opportunity to check in with all of the team, make sure they are comfortable with their workload. At the end of the 2 weekly cycle we go to a Sprint Retro, where we look back and see what worked, what didn’t and how we can improve.
Every morning at Exo begins with daily check-ins, if you have worked in an ‘agile’ set up before you are likely familiar with ‘daily stand ups’. Obviously right now we can’t stand up, so we do check ins!
These are a vital mechanism for project managers to ensure their team is able to do their tasks optimally and remove anything that may be blocking their progress. Rob tasks himself with removing blockers. To do this the team needs to identify them and then they can be removed, this could be through removing unknowns by doing additional research, allocating more resources, reprioritising other tasks or providing additional support from other team members.
Embedding continuous innovation
One of the greatest benefits of working the ‘Exo Way’ on a project is the identification of the business problem we are trying to solve from the very beginning, which we do through workshops. Once we understand the problem we can source customer/employee feedback then devise a plan to create a solution. The first step is identifying everything we are assuming about this problem and doing research to make sure that the assumptions are correct. Otherwise we risk going in the wrong direction.
We are an innovation consultancy, and at our very core is a focus on customers and designing for fantastic experiences. During the workshop and research phase, if we identify any problems or opportunities we can adapt very quickly to maintain the momentum and achieve the project goals.
Being adaptive in uncertain market
With rapid changes occurring in part due to the pandemic, agile allows us and our clients to be nimble. We hope that this mindset is instilled with every member of the team and every one of our clients. We want to support growth and innovation!
“Our First is our Worst” - As designers, developers and professionals, we collaborate with each other and challenge one other. The main emphasis is to not get too attached to a solution and have the mindset for a change to adapt.
Agile is for Life not just for Christmas
Rob is so passionate about the agile mindset, he even applies it in his own home, and has done since he first saw how powerful it could be years ago.
Rob was first introduced to the agile mindset when he was working with corporate teams that were undergoing a restructure. It was, as you would expect, a huge challenge. When projects run for months, if they are not iterative and adaptive it poses a huge risk to everyone involved. If the project is blocked or undermined it has the potential to waste time and resources! With agile this is prevented, as we work on smaller tasks within the larger project together - little and often.
Rob observed how agile seems misunderstood, that many see it as a process as opposed to a mindset. Any risk can be mitigated through being agile, no matter how big and small the project or the business it works within.
For Rob, it’s not just about ‘failing fast’ - who wants to aim to fail? Instead it’s about the speed of learning and speed of applying the learnings. The key is figuring out how we can learn fast enough to implement our new found understanding. Rob knows that this is the key to achieving success with an agile approach.
The Path to Implementation
Once the project objectives are achieved we begin implementing the solution and the project moves into ‘Program Increment Planning (PI Planning)’. Unlike a Sprint, which is typically 2-4 weeks, PI Planning occurs each quarter allowing any team, project and company to look ahead and figure out what that quarter's goals and missions are.
As designers we ideally want to be working 2-3 Sprint Cycles prior to PI Planning to get a head start on research and discovery initiatives. We then come together with the team charged with quarterly delivery and work in parallel to support them. At this stage Exo Digital is focused on empowerment of the delivery team to participate in planning, so as a team we can identify the data behind the problem and work out a plan to create a solution.
Living in a digital age we rely on technology to execute these planning strategies. Technology has been particularly important during the COVID pandemic allowing us to continue working without any disruption to our projects. At Exo Digital we use a tool called ‘Click Up’ to plan our sprints and projects.
Be Agile to Go Agile!
Creating a two week Sprint for your team is a great start! Rob recommends you start it on a Monday and simply begin with a commitment. Get the team to commit to a goal, and then break that goal down into smaller chunks so everyone on the team can hold one another accountable and ensure each item is delivered. The process creates a highly collaborative environment for your team to work in.
After a couple of sprints, and running retros to look back on how the sprint runs, you will be able to see what has been working, what hasn’t, and very quickly see results.
Improve with Retros
Retrospectives (Retros) are a session at the end of your sprint cycles to look retrospectively at your successes and challenges as a team. It’s a space to celebrate one another and to offer support to do better next time. These meetings are a mechanism that allows everyone on the team to have a voice and to get feedback from their colleagues.
Coming together as a sprint team allows different departments to work together and help one another. It allows everyone to feel comfortable coming together to achieve common and agreed sprint goals.
As a team leader or manager, you need to be present! Your presence, and your commitment, is vital to supporting your team and learning from them.
If you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing.