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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Executive Insider

Using the Scrum and Sprint way of working transformed my team

I take a keen interest in productivity and leadership styles. As a CEO of a four year-old business I’ve tried many methods and read several books on different schools of thought of management. Recently I found one which enabled me to ride the covid crisis storm.

Before I go into this magical method it might be helpful to explain what we tried before and what’s different about the new method.

Management Methods Tried and Tested

When my business was only a couple of years old, I became increasingly aware of the importance of measuring OKRs. I implemented a spreadsheet system to track them and it took a year for the team to get used to it. But then we realised it wasn’t working – targets were being missed. So we decided to move onto a performance management software called 15five.

This enables you put in OKRs for the company as a whole, as well as teams and individuals. But getting people to update the system correctly was a challenge. Often the actual status didn’t reflect the numbers so there was a mis-allignment and sometimes we’d be in meetings looking at different numbers. So in 2018 I turned to another method in a book called, ‘Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business’ by Gino Wickman. According to the Traction model you report constantly and every week on your or your team’s results and discuss why you might be off track.

In January 2019 I decided to try to implement a new system based on this. It took the company at least 2-3 quarters to get to grips with the concept of more formal OKRs and even then, goals were still being missed and workflow was slow. We were working at a cadence that – in business software speak – is known as ‘Waterfall’. This means there is a big rush once a year to get one updated release out instead of new features regularly. It’s not always a good thing because in that time the competition can move on and you’re left behind.

The Scrum Method

Finally, my epiphany came in February this year. It may very well have saved my business. By complete chance, I was recommended a book called ‘Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time’ by Jeff Sutherland. There were certain elements of Sutherland’s ideas which sang out to me: picking a team and working in sprints, daily standups, retroactive reviews of sprints and a focus on priorities.

Then in late March, lockdown was announced. For us – a SaaS conference organiser, this meant we had to pivot big time or face closure. We had to launch a whole new flagship conference online. There couldn’t have been a better time to launch into yet another method to track OKRs, so I gave ‘Scrum’ a go. After all, this was do or die.

We were due our quarterly offsite meeting the following week. Everyone knew that their jobs and the company we had spent years working for was at stake. I calmly explained that we would be switching from using 15five to a software called Align and that this would form the bedrock of a new workflow system called ‘Scrum’.

There wasn’t any resistance. The whole team understood the gravity of the situation we were facing. The prospect of not being able to run any conferences this year was heartbreaking, but also worrying about what it meant for us as a business.

Our sole goal was to pivot online. We began by working out the revenue we needed and then started to work backwards. We split goals across departments and working in huddles, we devised our tasks for the next 30 days, which we then imputed into Align. By the end of the two-day offsite meeting, the team each had all their tasks set for the next 30 days, as well as goals for 90 days. This would culminate in our first ever completely remote conference – SaaStock Remote on 10th June.

To my surprise and pleasure, everyone started working much faster. The Sales team, for example, knew the tasks they needed to do for the next two weeks. At the end of each two week block they would review what worked and what didn’t in what is known as a ‘retro’ – an introspective meeting, then set the next two week sprint.

This new method of working started at exactly the same time as lockdown. Another change I noticed was a dramatic shift in how often we communicated. Before lockdown, I had one-to-ones with team members every monday and a weekly ‘all-hands’ meeting. Under the new method we had daily huddles instead. The idea of this wasn’t appealing at first – more meetings seemed like a nightmare. But they have been a huge success.

Every morning each team has an online ‘huddle’ at 9.45am, then the company meets, and then the team leads another huddle after that. We discuss everything from good news, top priorities, the latest numbers and where people are struggling. But we always try to have an element of fun as well – it could be an out of season Christmas jumper day or a surprise hat day.

Scrum is based on the idea of working in high intensity ‘sprints’ and then easing off. It feels like a better cadence of work. Of course, the effectiveness can only be measured after the success (or failure) of SaaStock Remote in a few days time, but we are working faster and seeing results on paper.

There’s less repetition, we’re communicating more and seeing better alignment across teams. We’re also getting better at understanding the numbers. I believe that without adopting the scrum way of working we would not have been able to pivot online and we may have become a smaller organisation. I will be asking my whole team to read the book after SaaStock Remote so we can implement it even further.


Written by Alex Theuma. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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Alex Theuma
Alex Theuma is founder and CEO of SaaStock, a global community for SaaS founders & investors. Alex Theuma is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.