Industrial has grown its team. It’s 2017, we have 17 staff members and we just turned 17 years old. Be right back, going to buy a lottery ticket! As any company knows, with growth comes a few growing pains. Processes that worked fine with only 14 staff members might completely break by adding a few more. The tricky part is, you might not necessarily be able to identify that you’re one Jira card away from breaking until it’s too late. 

It happens fast: Slack has become a distraction, daily stand up seems to take 45 minutes, calendars are filling up with meetings at lightning speed, and the very dongle you need always seems to go missing!

Breathe. These are telltale signs your company is growing and we think that's a great thing. Among all of those aforementioned issues, we’ve also struggled with some larger process stuff. Things like:

  • What is the best way to budget a project at the business development stage and then translate that smoothly into the project planning stage?
  • In which order should certain planning meetings take place and who should (and shouldn’t) be at these meetings?
  • When and where should we be involving our clients in the process so they are actively engaged and well informed?
  • Who is responsible for chairing these meetings so we’re not stepping on toes or relying on someone when they are secretly also relying on you?
  • Which tools are the best tools (for Industrial, specifically)? For budgeting, for mapping out epics and stories, for time tracking, for timeline management, for resourcing? 
  • How can we solve all these problems in an agile way?

Before I jump into explaining how we have started to solve some of these issues, let’s just quickly recap on what Agile means at its core. The term comes from software development and typically refers to creating a product in short and frequent intervals, in self-organizing teams, while welcoming changing requirements, and continually reflect on how to become more effective and adapt accordingly. Keeping all of that in mind, we set off to come up with some solutions to our changing requirements as our team and business grows. 

Our UX Director, Megan Goodacre, had done a lot of research on various Story Mapping tools in order for us to effectively map out Stories (an action a user would like to take) and Epics (a larger user story often defined as a feature) for each project. She landed on a tool called StoriesOnBoard that seemed to answer a lot of our questions - web-based, low cost, multi-user, integrates with Jira and has an estimation component. 

StoriesOnBoard quickly became the missing piece to the puzzle when it came to tools and with Megan’s thoughtful training on its use, the team rallied behind it and how we fit it into our process as a whole. We decided to start using the story mapping exercise right at the business development stage, by mapping out the requirements given to us by the client and placing estimates onto each requirement right into StoriesOnBoard. Below is an illustration of what our process looks like during the “Winning the client” stage of a new project.

Graphic of Industrial's process for Winning the client

Once we started using story mapping at the business development stage, the project planning stage kicked off a lot smoother since we already had a pretty good visual representation of the epics and stories the project required. From here we agreed on the next meetings that were needed in order to properly plan a project and who would and wouldn’t attend these meetings. 

It’s not always necessary to have all hands on deck but you always want to make sure each person on the project team is properly represented. Below is an illustration of what our process looks like once we’ve won a new project and we are planning it out.

Industrial's process for Planning a project

As you can see in the above illustration, we involve the client in a story mapping exercise with the goal of achieving a shared understanding of the project requirements from both the business needs and the user needs. This exercise adds a lot of value, as everyone walks away with a clear understanding of the project priorities and level of effort. 

We’ve also identified our suite of tools, and will continuously reevaluate them as our needs change. We certainly do not have it all figured out and will run into more growing pains along the way. By continuing to reflect on how we can improve, embrace change, and communicate openly with each other and our clients, we can move forward with success…here’s to 2017!