In the eleven years since we founded Alley Interactive, it has grown from a niche technology consultancy into the go-to strategic digital partner and tool creator for some of the largest and most influential media companies, think tanks, foundations, universities, government agencies, and enterprises. Our incredible team has executed complex and high-profile site launches for
Alley’s core company values of quality, transparency and accountability closely align with the values of Scrum and, more broadly, the principles of agile software development. However, recent events have led us to consider how the practice of Scrum also supports our community values – radical candor, psychological safety, asynchronous communication, diversity, and inclusion.
As Alley’s Technical Analyst Meg Parsons states, “Scrum, by its nature, supports teamwork, transparency and accountability so there is alignment between the outward facing values of the company and the workplace experience. Communication and psychological safety are as important for Scrum to work as they are for good community life. Although Scrum might have been selected as a framework in order to increase productivity, it handily aligns with the spirit of Alley and supports its best self.”
Other companies may act in good faith with the best intentions. However, the myriad layers of management and approval processes in traditional companies may stifle best efforts to respond and adapt to rapidly changing economic, civil, and social realities. For nearly 3 years, we’ve had the opportunity to validate our hypothesis that a full adoption of the Scrum framework would support Alley’s values of quality, transparency, and accountability. So far so good. Scrum supports the team over the individual, early and continuous delivery of software, and daily collaboration between our teams and our clients. Our product owners ensure that our priorities are always in line with the highest-value project needs for our clients, while scrum masters ensure that the team’s norms and processes are as efficient and sustainable as possible. Peer code review and rigorous QA testing further guarantee a high quality product. In short, we don’t ship sub-par work.
Towards transparency, our processes embrace a spirit of openness and collaboration, and we don’t hide things when they go wrong. Swarming, radical candor, and psychological safety support our efforts to keep our work visible. We work hard to prevent knowledge silos among our team members, and we re-examine any norm or process that may keep effort hidden. As a result, we rarely get stuck. Team members are quick to pair with a teammate struggling with a difficult task; scrum masters are quick to remove impediments. With no layers of red tape, our processes are lightweight, flexible, and responsive.
When the outbreak of Covid-19 shut most of the country down, Alley had the advantage of already being a fully remote agency. However, while Alley consists of well-seasoned, work-from-home veterans, we weren’t exactly used to having our partners and children also working and learning from home. To hold ourselves accountable, we lowered our capacity forecast to adjust for new realities facing working parents. With schools and daycare centers closed, our support for work-life balance took on greater significance. Our established culture of asynchronous communication further supports this balance. Many of our teammates suspended their co-working spaces to reduce the risk of exposure and to trim office budgets. For morale, we’ve increased the monthly lunch stipend. For health and safety, we’ve encouraged paid time off for mental health days. When teams foster psychological safety, team members are allowed to be candid about what they need to be happy, healthy, and productive.
Another recent example of our Scrum practice supporting our community values is the formation and efforts of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) committee, which formed from the ground up, with the full support of our partners. Team norms were rapidly established and a product backlog was created to address our goals of increasing diversity amongst our staff and fostering an inclusive environment. The open nature of communication at Alley allied with the scrum framework encourages that team members are responsible for how the work gets done. This has unleashed tremendous energy and creativity around community values. In contrast, in a traditional top down company culture, while you might passively admire the way your organization responds to world events, employees don’t have the same kind of personal stake. Our norms around openness and respect have led to active discussion, much learning, and encouragement toward civil engagement.
As Meg stated earlier, Scrum has not only succeeded in helping Alley launch amazing digital products, it has also paired with the bedrock of our culture to provide us with a framework to amplify and act upon our community values. How might you use Scrum to further your own organization’s values and mission? Let us know on Twitter!