The “Agile” MSP

| By:
Linda Brotherton

IT Nation is always packed with opportunities to learn from industry experts that are living and breathing the practices and philosophies they’re teaching. This past year I was able to attend a panel discussion on Agile Methodology, and how it transformed one MSP’s project management processes.

Ben Johnson and Nathan Jones from Liberty Technology explained how adopting (and adapting) the Agile method known as “Scrum” into their business practices completely enhanced their internal and external communication when it pertained to project management. You can watch their IT Nation breakout video here.

How did Agile Methodology impact the team at Liberty Technology, you ask? According to Ben and Nathan, the company’s average open daily tickets dropped 50% within 6 weeks of implementing the new strategy, and customer satisfaction increased from 87% to 95%. They were able to get things done faster and more efficiently than using traditional, sequential project management processes (think Waterfall methodology).

I imagine you’re probably thinking, “That’s great and all, but what exactly is Agile Methodology and scrum?” In truth, it’s a dense topic, but one well worth diving into if you want to overhaul your project management process and get things done more efficiently.

What’s the Deal with Agile Methodology and Scrum?

Agile Methodology is not a process, but a framework of structured principles and values. Unlike traditional project management methods that focus on planning up front and proceeding blindly forward until the completion of the entire assignment, this approach is evolutionary, with a bigger focus on being responsive as new developments arise within the project completion process.

There are many different approaches within Agile Methodology. One of those is called “scrum.” This is the specific method that Ben and Nathan use at their MSP business today. Scrum is a rugby term that refers to the organized, interlocking formation the players make when restarting a play. This technique in business is designed to foster a heightened level of teamwork amongst participating staff members.

Scrum is an iterative, incremental approach to development and management for a given project. Just like in rugby, there’s a team of people, with dedicated roles, that work together to accomplish one piece of the overall project at a time. The tasks are broken up into sections, are assigned a realistic completion deadline based on feedback from the team, and are executed one at a time. These sections are called “sprints.” You can think of them as the bite-sized chunks that make up a giant project.

Most sprints take place over a 2-week period, although occasionally a sprint can last up to 30 days. The goal is to end the sprint with a fully operational piece of the overall project. At the end, all aspects are reviewed in retrospective sessions, the plan is updated with the new information learned, and the next leg of the project is planned and executed. Here’s a little more detail on what exactly is involved in a sprint session.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Sprint!

Sprints start with a planning session, then turn into a series of “daily scrums” or 15-minute standup meetings for the production team, to see if everything is running smoothly and, if there are impediments to anyone’s progress, how to resolve them. Sprints end with review and retrospective sessions which update the process before the next sprint begins. Now let’s talk about the tools you’ll be using.

The Product Backlog: When a project comes down the line, a product backlog is created. It contains all the features and functions the product owner wants out of the entire completed product. It’s, in essence, a wish list. It undergoes constant refinement during the completion process, and also hosts the criteria for completion and acceptance, as determined by the Product Owner.

The Sprint Backlog: Like I mentioned before, the sprint is the quick period of time during which a piece of the project is started and completed entirely. The Sprint Backlog is the list of tasks, estimated timeframe, and execution plan for that piece of the overall project. Like the Product Backlog, the sprint backlog is also reviewed and revised throughout the process as new information presents itself.

Scrum Team: Your Project Athletes

Scrum Master: This is a multidimensional role, where the individual is a combination of cheerleader, firefighter, counselor, and negotiator. Their primary role is to discover and eliminate impediments within the project completion process, so things run smoothly and on time.

Product Owner: This individual is the decision-maker. They are responsible for creating and refining the project completion requirements.

Production Team: This is a group of individuals that carry out the actual creation of each facet of the task during the ongoing process of project completion. They’re self-managed, self-organized, and report to each other exclusively.

Becoming an “Agile” MSP

Now that you’ve got the framework and your team, put this technique in motion and get ready for the transformative impact it will have on your business.

Here at ConnectWise we use this strategy to help streamline the development process, enabling us to release new products and enhancements on a consistent basis.  Because the production team meets face-to-face every day, there’s higher visibility and accountability than traditional project management structures.

Like the customization offered by ConnectWise suite solutions, this method enables you to increase visibility and accountability, and adapt the technique to best suit your business’s needs. To learn more about how ConnectWise handles project management, watch the demo video!