Agile and Scrum at Youwe

Journey and the Destination
Agile and Scrum at Youwe - Ceremonies

Jeroen Claassen and Bas Rozema had an interesting start of the year. In January they set off on a new career journey as Agile Coaches in Youwe, having previously worked in technical roles, as a Delivery Manager and a Developer respectively in the company. The goal they have set for themselves and Youwe is an audacious one – to have all the teams at Youwe, i.e. more than 300 employees, function as Scrum teams and work as close to the Scrum Guide as possible by the end of the year.

Bas and Jeroen explain Agile as a journey, consisting of establishing your direction and making sure that you are always aware where you are on the way. “In the IT industry, large projects used to be managed with an ambitious plan, defining the end goal which resembled an idealized future castle in the sky. But rather Agile is much more in determining the starting state and the direction to take. It’s all about taking small steps, and taking the time to re-evaluate. A set of small steps eventually builds up to reaching the determined goal.”

Most of the Youwe teams in the Netherlands have been working with Scrum for a while now, but with slight differences depending on the team background and office location. The ambition is to have the unified way of working, and training all the teams in Scrum. “We are currently focused on conducting trainings in Rotterdam and then we will roll these out to Sweden, and later on also to the UK. We prefer conducting the trainings in person, because it's a whole different dynamics that you have. But of course, because of COVID, we had to look for online alternatives. We did pretty well on that with a combination of Miro and presentations that we do. So the trainings are partly theoretical, where we explain about Agile and Scrum, and partly practical with a Scrum simulation, where people can see how it works in real life,” Jeroen explains.

Bas adds, “In order to get Scrum working properly, the clients or product owner on the client’s side also have to get trained. So the Agile Scrum training has become a part of the kick-off with every new client. We start off our training with a simple exercise of asking the client or the product owner to write down everything they know about Agile and Scrum. Most people have had some concepts explained to them, but the thing with Scrum is - it is definitely simple, but really hard to wrap your head around. So, I'd say that almost everybody is a novice when it comes to Scrum.”

“When the project starts, so do the sprints. The nice thing about Scrum is its capacity for relationship building and improvement. Because at the end of every sprint you sit together in a retrospective and you ask, ‘What did we learn during this sprint regarding people, processes and tools? How can we improve on what we are doing?’ ” Bas explains.

Jeroen adds, “It's impressive to witness how the teams that have been together for six years during the retrospective still find improvement points. That's what I personally like about Scrum – continuous growth. This is also a more sustainable way of working. Working with Scrum denotes working with a regular rhythm and in sprints, so as a team you commit to a certain amount of work and being open about all the challenges you face as you discover more about the work. You inform the client and together with them adapt the work to fit the sprint. So ideally, the stress level is decreased.”

Jeroen summarises their experience so far, “There is a lot of work to do, and a lot of help is needed within the entire organization, but it's rewarding to see the effects of it already. We see that the teams are getting happier and, and also clients are benefiting from it.”

As Bas puts it, “My drive lies in my core belief that people need three aspects to be happy at their work - they need autonomy, they need purpose, and they need to be able develop craftsmanship in their trade. And I truly believe that Agile methodology, or Scrum, provides you with all these aspects. You have autonomy, because you are working as a team empowered to make decisions on what you work on, and when you work on it. As a team you work together towards a specific goal, constantly trying to improve, so you also have a sense of purpose. In addition you are developing your craftmanship as you work towards high quality standards, you are improving yourself a lot, and also improving the team. Finally, if you have happy people doing good work, then the customer automatically benefits.”

At Youwe we have regular study groups in Scrum and Agile organized and open to every interested employee. Jeroen elaborates, “In the study group we deep dive into the Scrum Guide, analysing and exploring every nook and cranny of the document, with the goal of preparing the participants for the relevant Scrum certifications. In addition we make the study work relatable to our current activities and projects, always focusing on what we can additionally improve. We need 6 sessions to run through the complete Scrum Guide, including some exam questions practice, and then the next study group starts.”

All these activities encourage the company to fully embrace the Agile journey. “Even though some parts of the company are more agile than the others, I would be as bold to say that Agile is a part of Youwe’s DNA. I think the DNA is a good example, coming from biology and denoting the need for adaptations and evolution. So with small steps, our DNA is evolving to encompass the Agile approach for the entire company,” Bas concludes.