The delivery manager. Part Project Manager, part Agile Coach, part Scrum Master, we could go on. Our Delivery Managers have such a wide set of skills to be able to work with our UK enterprise clients. So how do we attract them? And how do we create a working environment that allows them to best utilise those skills to help us as a whole? We spoke to Aoife Davern, one of our delivery managers who has already made great steps within the company. Here’s her take on life at AL.
What initially attracted you to AL?
The main thing that really attracted me to AL was meeting people who seemed genuine and nice to be honest. So far, the people I have worked with at AL are focussed, humble and smart, and there doesn’t seem to be the traditional ‘politics’ that I’ve encountered in other organisations. Thinking of my personal career progression, I was looking for more autonomy. My past experience in big four consulting meant that I was used to operating in a hierarchical structure, and while there is a ‘hierarchy’ at AL, I was able to take a step up and start building things myself. Challenging for sure, but also cool.
How did you find the interview process when joining AL?
Exhilarating! It happened so quickly. I spoke to Fazan (Head of Talent) just before the Christmas break, and then met with Kris, one of AL’s founders, in the new year. Kris offered me the job during the interview.
How have you found it meeting a range of different clients so early on?
I’ve met about four of AL’s different clients so far. It’s been good in that I think I’ve been challenged from the get-go. What I’m doing is helping to build the agile management and delivery capability within AL. Although it’s currently not synonymous with who we are which can be challenging, but it’s interesting to get first-hand experience of the work we’re doing as a business. I’m learning the difference between working with clients where we have an existing relationship to provide engineering support vs. engaging with existing and new clients to provide a new offering on behalf of AL. The agile delivery offering is quite new for AL, but that gives us the ability to shape it into something exciting for our clients.
How do you find the R&D team has responded to agile training and activities?
They love parts of it! Something I hadn’t expected was to be working with people who have graduated so recently from the AL Academy. They just think this is how we work, Agile is ingrained into their way of working. The key thing I’m trying to distinguish is that there is a difference between agile ceremonies/practices and adopting an agile mindset.
The training and activities so far have gone down pretty well and we’re planning to do more of this with our senior engineers too. I’ve really enjoyed it, in particular doing ‘The Marshmallow Challenge’ with the R&D team, an interactive activity to build a freestanding structure with spaghetti, string, tape and a marshmallow. I’ve never seen such engagement during training! I think training like this will help our colleagues to realise even at AL there is a mindset shift we need to work on. There’s a distinction between doing Agile vs. being Agile. We want to be known for the latter.
Tell me about specific exercises and techniques you use, how do they translate to real projects?
If you take the most recent grad cohort as an example, they’ve done a huge amount of technical training in a very short amount of time as part of the academy. I wanted to focus more on what it’s like to turn up as a consultant on day one on your first project. I started by asking them what they thought it meant to be a consultant, providing them a forum to discuss this as a team and work out any concerns they may have. Another thing that has really worked well is role-playing, it’s so easy to talk about things theoretically, but putting them into practice or stepping into our client’s shoes is really helpful. E.g. let’s say they’re playing the role of a very demanding delivery manager, and the other engineers have to respond to that. At the end of the day our client’s goals are important to the success of AL, so preparing them for this type of new reality is fundamental to being synonymous with quality delivery.
If an organisation is adopting Agile practices for the first time, it can be a big change. What strategies do you have for changing the way teams work together?
The first and most important one is that the change has to come from the leadership team. If clients want to see a difference in their organisation, culture and ways of working the leadership team need to be fully bought into it. Often this depends on how ‘Agile’ a client wants to be. E.g. a specific feature team or DevOps team could decide they want to work in a more agile manner and start implementing the relevant ceremonies within their own team. However, they will inevitably run into roadblocks outside of their team where there are dependencies. They can only ever take the process so far as in DevOps we never work in isolation. The phoenix project shows how important it is that the leadership team are bought into the change.
A buzz word or phrase in the market at the moment is ‘Agile coaching’, having engaged with clients looking for this type of service it’s clear that how to implement Agile (coaching, management, delivery, ways of working, however this is packaged to the client), is often mis-sold. Not all organisations are ready for a revelatory approach to Agile and on the part of AL we are defining how we can help organisations start their journey to become more agile and give them tangible ways of measuring this. It’s important to acknowledge the pace at which our clients want to move with regards to implementing agile ways of working.
I think the other thing that can change how teams work together is supporting the development of self-organising teams, which equates to ‘let’s get this done.’ As a team member asking yourself; ‘how far can I take this and who is going to help me to get there’? You can’t just rely on your own personal skills, that’s the whole point around cross-functional teams. E.g. I can’t just say; ‘Here’s a roadmap, do this’. People in my team need to trust they can speak up if they’re stuck and ask how to get things done. If you have a cross-functional team who actually feel empowered to tackle the whole piece of work and have trusted relationships with their colleagues then they have the motivation to get that thing, whatever it may be, over the line.
Is there anything you have particularly enjoyed about AL so far?
Autonomy. Knowing that I even though I have priorities from a ‘business perspective’ that it’s okay to explore new ideas and ways of working for the R&D team is great. There have absolutely been times that I’ve questioned if I have the remit to do something, but the response is always ‘go for it’. It sounds chaotic, and it can feel that way at times, but the right things are getting done.
If you’re interested in more autonomy and working for a great company, check out our Jobs Page. We’re always on the lookout for great talent.
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