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How Syncsort became Agile

agileneweraOur journey towards Agile development started back in 2008 when our development managers became certified scrum masters.

They brought back the ideas, and made some small changes to our waterfall approach so projects were tracked weekly. We didn’t initially jump in with both feet, but the seed was planted.

A couple of years later, the ideas had matured and the company was ready to commit to adopting agile. More people were certified scrum masters, we selected a development project to be the first pilot project that would follow Scrum, and we hired a consultant to coach us along the way.

There were some initial reservations about how much time would be spent on daily meetings and monthly sprint demo/planning meetings. We convinced everyone to keep an open mind and four months later the pilot feature was successfully shipped. Developers were also ready to acknowledge that there had been some positive changes. The team was communicating better, problems were solved faster, and they were having more fun along the way.

An unexpected but much appreciated bonus was the fact that the feedback cycle was also shortened. We used to have a hard time getting stakeholders in other areas of the company to give us timely feedback on features being implemented. By inviting them to the sprint demos, we found that people were joining us in the excitement of what we were developing ─ the feedback was coming early and we were able to incorporate suggestions as we went along.

The pilot project helped us convince the remaining skeptics that Agile was the way to go. We sent more engineers to a scrum master certification course, formed some teams and pulled the trigger.

The process has been constantly evolving since then. Our developers have become more empowered, self-formed into teams, and taken over scrum master duties. We have also found that JIRA with Greenhopper works much better than the Excel spreadsheets we’d initially used to keep track of backlogs and velocity.

And the work is never done. The process itself is as iterative as the development we do with Agile. We try to have periodic ‘retrospectives’ by bringing in an Agile coach to help us examine where we are, suggest areas for improvement, give our teams a refresher on the basic principles, and help us spread the concepts around to the other areas of the company so that everyone becomes more Agile along with our development.

We also gather members of marketing, sales, support, and development for release retrospectives, and backlog scrubbing so we can involve everyone in the process, incorporate their feedback when designing the roadmap and getting early buy-in.

Our efforts are paying off. In 2013 we successfully contributed to Apache Hadoop, released two Hadoop products, as well as an offering on the Amazon Web Services Marketplace.

We’re proud to have been recognized as one of the “businesses that can be considered agile and don’t have a problem adapting to rapid change in their industry.

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