The photo looks like a Kanban Board you would find in any High-Tech company — each sheet of flipchart paper could show a particular process for an IT deployment and the different colored Post-it notes could show the “swim lanes” for each feature being developed. You could imagine a product development team standing in front of it every morning reporting progress in a daily standup as they planned their work for the day.
Your first impression would be right (It would not be right if you assumed it was taken in a SW company conference room. But the mistake would be understandable) if you assumed that this photo was taken in a conference room of a software company. However, this photo was taken in the conference room of a local construction company that successfully adapted agile software development practices to weekly sales meeting.
I had long believed that the principles and practices of the popular methodologies under the umbrella of the Agile Manifesto were based in common sense ideas of how people coordinated work with each other. One of my coaching clients presented me with an opportunity to test whether the methods would work in a different environment.
He’d recently taken a position as a project manager for a local construction company that specialized in home remodels and specialty construction projects. The job was a good fit for Glenn because he had many years of experience in the construction industry. However in his new role, he also had responsibility for SELLING and DELIVERING projects.
During his orientation, Glenn learned the different stages that each project progressed through in their Sales Pipeline from Initial Contact to Customer Signoff. He made notes to make sure he understood how to accurately report his progress at the weekly Sales Meeting.
During the sales meeting, each project manager would talk about each new prospect and what the next steps were to “Close” the deal. All the information was entered into an Excel spreadsheet that was projected onto a wall in the darkened conference room.
Glenn reported that there were different understandings of what “closing” meant – some project managers thought it meant an agreement to sign a contract and others thought it meant having a check to give to the bookkeeper. He also reported that the meeting would go for several hours and that people would only seem engaged when they were reporting on their projects. I remember going to meetings like this before I learned about Agile practices.
I introduced Glenn to the principles and values of Agile and then coached him on the conversations he should have with the other project managers and the owner of the firm to introduce the change.
We worked with two principles from Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban:
– Visualize Your Work
– Limit Your Work in Process
Glenn convinced each member of the team to give it a try. They used one wall of the conference room to put up a sheet of flipchart paper for each stage of the Sales Process. Each project manager was given a different colored pad of Post-it notes which they used to write down each of their projects which they placed in the stage that that project was in and the date on which the prospective project had entered that state..
After the first meeting they were able to see several things that weren’t visible when looking at an Excel spreadsheet. They could see stuck points in their pipeline as well as when proposals might turn into committed projects. Also, the amount of time spent in each stage and the total elapsed time from first conversation through customer commitment and initial payment (close).
Glenn reported an additional benefit started showing up several weeks later when project managers would start offering ideas for how to move a Post-it to the next stage to the person standing in front of the room reporting on their progress. The project managers are now keeping track of that advice so that it can be referred to later on other projects. Additionally, the company as a whole benefited by shortening the sales process and time-to-revenue.
Glenn thanked me for the coaching which helped him become part of the team at his new company more quickly and also helped him be seen as someone who can bring new ideas to a traditional industry like construction.
I thank Glenn for taking part in the experiment and proving that coordinating work with others can be done effectively with quality conversations and simple practices.