Delivery Management at Sovrn
Feb 12, 2021 - by Ryan Chichirico and Sammy Cooper
What is Delivery Management?
Delivery management is a form of project management with a broader business reach. It spans the business and technical functions to support building, measuring, and delivering products to our customers. At its core, delivery management is about ensuring products and services deliver business value as quickly and safely as possible. At Sovrn, the people who operate in this role are Delivery Managers. In this role, Delivery Managers are responsible for:
- Nurturing and growing the technical and product teams by continuously helping to improve their processes.
- Identifying dependencies, removing impediments, and increasing team productivity.
- Communicating progress updates to stakeholders.
- Leading and ensuring agile adoption across the organization, not just with Product and Engineering.
How is it different from Project Management?
There are similarities between project management and delivery management. Project management focuses on details of technical projects and the delivery and execution of those projects. Delivery management is a super-set of project management spanning more areas of the business including engineering, product management, operations, finance, and product marketing.
Delivery Management in our Organization
As we continue to mature, it’s important to continue to embrace the beliefs and standards of agile development. The Delivery Manager plays the role of coach for our engineering teams with the basics: move quick, fail fast, learn, and try again. Looking forward, the delivery management team should be focused on or involved in the following:
- An increased partnership with product management, product marketing (go to market), operations, publisher advancement, finance and customer support teams.
- Cross product dependency management via monthly product prioritization meetings and scrum of scrums.
- Increasing agile adoption across the organization.
- Further maturity in the vertical slicing of work. Small, end-to-end, working features.
- Increasing insight to customer needs thus improving satisfaction (sense of purpose) for the products the engineering team builds.
- Facilitating and fostering collaboration across engineering and non-engineering teams.
- Building the delivery management team to a size that can support all of engineering.
Case Study: Applying Agile with the Sovrn Commerce Team
“As a team we had felt for a long time that there were fairly significant inefficiencies in the way we planned and delivered work, but had only really succeeded in making small tweaks to our process. Sammy was able to come in and provide a fresh set of eyes, working with the team collaboratively to understand the pain points we were facing and offering us a range of alternative approaches.”
“The biggest wins were the reduction of friction via improved meetings and meeting formats. Our new retro format feels much more concise and meaningful, and the fact that a feedback loop for the process itself is built in gives us the ability to make meaningful changes at a reasonable cadence.”
“Moving toward a streamlined, and truly agile team is such a refreshing change. Engineers are more engaged and empowered, meetings when needed are more efficient and valuable for those involved. The business impact this will have long term is exciting for me as a product stakeholder because it means we can deliver business and customer value faster. We will have the processes in place to build POC’s quickly, fail fast, and learn. With the help of a delivery manager, product teams spend more time with customers, developing the vision for a product, and less time on the day to day process.”
What happened when a Delivery Manager was added to our Commerce team?
Reduced average cycle time by 7 days from ~15 days to ~8 days over a quarter. The added benefit, features delivered to customers faster and an improved feedback loop.
Backlog hygene is critical to know what’s important. We went from ~1200 JIRA tickets to ~100.
1hr. 15 min
Weekly time saved per engineer from format changes to the daily standup.
Prior to the involvement of delivery management, the engineering team was operating in a scrum framework but with a waterfall methodology mindset. While the basic meeting structure followed scrum, the actual implementation was more aligned with waterfall. Dedicated resources were assigned to projects, sprints were planned based on deadlines, and there were long periods of development followed by full feature testing and one large deployment. The mix of processes resulted in higher overhead in planning, a lack of prioritization, multiple interlaced dependencies and a disjointed team.
The team lacked the structure needed to move quick, fail fast, learn, and try again. This is truly the core of agile development. Our role as a delivery manager is to teach the teams this mentality and then work with them to continuously streamline their process.
The Commerce development process is more closely aligned with scrum. Below are some changes driven by the delivery management team to help streamline the team’s process.
By migrating tickets from Pivotal Tracker to Jira, all engineering teams are using the same tool for ticket tracking. This allows us to implement consistent practices across teams, review metrics at a high level for all teams, and allows for ease of movement of work between teams as necessary. (such as with SER tickets).
Empowering the team
Backlog refinement and sprint planning now completed as a full team. By involving the team and reviewing tickets much earlier in the process, they are given the opportunity to ask questions, debate proposed solutions and refine the details of the work prior to being planned into a sprint.
Keeping it tidy with organized work
Implemented a regular cadence for backlog refinement and reintroduced ways to maintain a healthy backlog. The team decided to close tickets older than 6 months. This reduced the backlog from ~1,200 to 22. By reviewing the backlog every week, it now maintains a healthy size with around 100 tickets. This is a much more manageable size to maintain and keep relevant. The goal here is to only keep tickets that will be worked in the next few months and to add to the backlog in a similar cadence to the work being completed.
Reviewed the statuses/workflow with the team and adjusted to meet the team’s needs. Duplicative or unnecessary statuses were removed such as “opened” and “rejected.” The team settled on the following workflow to help streamline their process: To-Do, In Progress, Review, Delivered, Done.
Efficient meetings equals more time doing what we love
Provided guidance and facilitation of meetings in order to make them more efficient. We coached the team on the purpose of each of the scrum ceremonies by outlining the goals for each session and stating the desired outcome. The format of the daily standup was adjusted which reduced the meeting by at least 15 minutes everyday = more than 1hr 15 min back for the engineers each week. Meetings were rescheduled to reduce context switching and bundled together to give the engineers larger chunks of time outside of meetings.
One team with a focus on top priorities
Engineers are no longer assigned by project. Instead, the entire team is responsible for the work in the sprint. The to-do column is prioritized and the team works the to-do column top down. Sprints are now planned by velocity and how much work the team can actually complete in a two week period of time (based on previous metrics). Work is now broken down into self contained items of work. They can be developed, deployed and tested in smaller pieces without multiple dependencies on other tickets.
Seeing is believing
Team level dashboards highlighting key agile metrics such as cycle time, velocity, and average story points have been created and made available for teams to review on-demand or during bi-weekly ceremonies.