Get Agile and Make Cycle Time Your Superpower


What comes to mind when you think of Agile? Maybe it’s testing, iterations, or continuous improvements. For us, it’s: Andrea Fryrear. She’s the CEO of AgileSherpas, the leading Agile marketing and organizational transformation consulting agency. Andrea shares how to roll-out and sustain a successful Agile transformation. You’ll learn key Agile metrics like cycle time, plus, the importance of planning for slack time. If you’re ready to climb the Agile marketing mountain, with an Agile pioneer as your guide, read on. 

5:58 – Cheat Code #1 – Go enterprise-wide with Agile 

When implementing Agile, treat it as an organizational transformation that involves the entire company ? versus a few teams. This will boost everyone’s ability to deal with uncertainty and react in real-time.

One team is good. All teams are better. Whenever you have a micro-adoption or just a few people testing and learning around Agile ways of working, you get some benefits like speed-to-market for the work they’re doing. But marketing is such a bigger, more complex animal these days. 

Isolated adoption will only get you so far. It’s about that departmental, or even better, organizational transformation mission. We’ve started to differentiate: Adoption is ?We keep the structure largely intact and start changing processes,? whereas a transformation is ?We change the way we organize ourselves.?

We did some comparisons between folks who were in that adoption mode ? a few teams here and there ? versus people who had gone all in. There was a massive jump in employee engagement, in the ability to deal with uncertainty, and react in real-time to incoming data. 

10:37 – Cheat Code #2 – Use the core Agile metric ?Cycle time?

Cycle time is how long a project takes from starting the work to completing it. You can use cycle time to measure your teams? efficiency levels, no matter what framework you’re in, be it Scrum, Kanban, or hybrid.

Cycle time is: How long does it take for work to cycle through your entire workstream? In Kanban, it’s the length of time from taking something into progress until it’s done right. It’s: How quickly can we expect something to be completed once we begin? This is beyond velocity, aka, the sheer number of tasks completed during that time-boxed sprint. 

Cycle time can be measured irrespective of your framework. A Scrum team can use cycle time. A Kanban team can use cycle time. A hybrid team can use it. It allows you to get an apples-to-apples look at team health.

11:26 – Cheat Code #3 – Use the core Agile metric ‘Task efficiency?

Pay attention to task efficiency, which tells you how much of the cycle time is weighted toward inactive, stalled work versus active. Task efficiency is especially handy when pushing for more timely feedback. 

Cycle time is related to things like task efficiency. Then we’re starting to see, once we took that piece of work into progress, how much time it was active versus how much time it sat there, being stalled. 

If you’ve got an external dependency you’re sitting around waiting for to get back to you on something, task efficiency can tell you how much of the cycle time belongs to that weighting versus active work that your team can control. 

I love this one for folks who need feedback, especially from senior leaders who tend to get really busy. You can say, ?Yeah, it was a twelve-day cycle time, but for eight of those days, we were waiting. We could have a four-day cycle time if we were getting feedback in a more timely way.?

This allows those conversations to be less ?You’re always behind and you’re making us late? and more ?We could deliver this much more quickly if we could find a way to collect feedback faster.? It turns into less of a combative and more of a data-driven conversation.

13:30 – Cheat Code #4 – Use the core Agile metric ‘Throughput? 

Throughput tells you the volume of work that you?ve accomplished as a team. Use in tandem with marketing performance metrics like ROI on ad spend to figure out if the work delivered real value to the user. 

Throughput is another productivity-centric number that’s going to tell you the volume of stuff that you accomplished as a team. It’s a good, straightforward metric that’s universally applicable to any kind of Agile team. 

It can be tempting to over-index on throughput, where it’s like, ‘Look at the giant pile of stuff that we accomplished in the last month,? but throughput doesn’t tell you if it was the right work or whether you delivered value to an end user. 

Something like throughput, measuring how much stuff got done in a month pre-Agile, can be good, again, for an apples-to-apples way of looking at pre- and post-Agile rollout, but it’s a microcosm of the work being done. You should balance it with marketing performance metrics. 

So, did we get good ROI on the time spend, on ad spend, on the leads generated pipeline? Whatever your preferred marketing number is, that has to go along with it. I would also say to keep track of your team health, because the best throughput in the world doesn’t matter if you burn your team out in the process.

20:52 – Cheat Code #5 – Use the right Agile tools

Look for Agile tools that provide full visibility into your teams, while making collaborations, feedback, and sharing resources a breeze. Case in point: Aprimo DAM, built to optimize your entire content ops.

Yeah, tech is definitely a big factor in a successful Agile rollout. In the research, it comes in at the top three every year as something that allowed teams both to achieve an Agile transformation and sustain it over the long term. 

It’s going to provide visibility across teams, the ability for senior leaders to get in and see what teams are doing and provide a kind of block-and-tackle, which is the big role of an Agile leader ? to understand whether the right work is getting done.

If yes, how do I keep that happening? If no, how do I make that happen as opposed to, ?You’re doing these five things today. Let me know when they’re done.? It’s a much different role. Having a tool that ladders up the right level of visibility to senior leaders really helps.

It also makes teams? lives easier, because they have access to better ways to collaborate, get feedback, and share resources. The right tools give everybody a single source of truth. There’s not five different places to log into, to understand what’s going on with each team. This becomes even more important at scale.

23:10 – Cheat Code #6 – Appoint agents of change management

Before implementing an Agile transformation, designate change agents. These are three to five people, including senior leaders, responsible for driving your Agile rollout by testing and learning along the way.  

The thing that has to evolve when you’re into the bigger transformations is having people internally dedicated to Agile success. We abbreviate it as BATO: Business Agility Transformation Organization. They partner with us or another Agile transformation team to be 40-hours-a-week accountable to making this happen.

They’re responsible for change management. We provide a lot of guidance. We’ll give you the e-mail verbiage and the cadence to send it. We’ll tell you how to talk about this in town hall, but we can’t do it. We need people internally with the clout and understanding of the organizational politics to be the change agent.

The difference in the clients where we have that versus don’t and the speed with which they see an impact is amazing, even if it’s just one person. Best case is when you can get like three to five people who are driving a transformational need, to adopt the Agile mindset and be okay with the idea of test-and-learn in the rollout.

28:38 – Cheat Code #7 – Know the core Agile term ?WIP limit?

A WIP (Work in Progress) limit sets the maximum number of projects that can be in progress at any given time. WIP limits may sound counterintuitive, but by capping tasks, your team will get more done.

WIP stands for Work in Progress, and a WIP limit places a hard ceiling on the number of activities that can be in progress for an individual or team. I have a personal Kanban board that I’ve run for seven years, with a strict personal WIP limit of two.

I cannot have more than two things in progress at any given moment. Does that mean I don’t do more than two things in a day? That would be nice, but that’s not the reality. It’s not that I only do two things today; I’ll do like eight or ten things, but I’m only working on two things simultaneously. 

So, if I’m preparing for this podcast and putting together notes for one-on-ones with my leadership team, I can’t do a third thing until one of those things is finished. It’s counterintuitive, but more things will get done than if you pull 20 things in progress, and then try to divide your eight-hour day across those 20 things. That’s a WIP limit. 

29:55 – Cheat Code #8 – Know the core Agile term ‘Slack time?

Slack time is what you set aside for things you can’t schedule, like new opportunities or emergencies. If those don’t end up happening, you get time back for other tasks, like upskilling your team.

A similar kind of concept is slack, which is unscheduled time. So, if we’re on a team of five people and we know that our typical throughput is 30 tasks in two weeks, we wouldn’t necessarily say, ?Here’s all 30 that we’re going to commit to right now. These are the 30 and that’s it. We’re locked down, no matter what.? 

Instead, we say, ‘Let’s commit to 25, so that when a new opportunity comes up, or there’s an emergency, we have slack available to flex and adapt.? Then you’re not just adding more on to people that you know is not possible to complete, which sets people up for burnout.

If those five things don’t materialize, you have slack available. Maybe somebody is upskilling or learning a new tool that’s going to help the team go faster down the road. This idea of leaving space for people is another kind of counterintuitive thing that can actually bear a lot of fruit.
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