A word on combining Agile & UX together with Cebeo and Sonepar on an international level.
Cebeo had to switch gears to go internationally under the wings of Sonepar, their mother company. So we switched gears with them...
The challenge now was to build an international e-commerce platform,, while still keeping in mind local customer needs and ensuring ease of use. We had to rethink our way of working to scale up - working together with a bigger team on an international scale - and still value Agile and UX in the process.
About the customer
Cebeo is the market leader in distributing electrical products in Belgium. They offer technical services and solutions for the residential, tertiary and industrial sectors.
The company is part of Sonepar, an independent family-owned group focused on B2B distribution of electrical products with global market leadership across 44 countries and 5 continents.
The main challenge we were facing was going from local to ‘glocal’. We had to stop building our local solution and had to start thinking of an international solution, yet keeping the local needs in mind.
Aside from a change in scope and vision, the team itself also grew significantly larger as we joined forces with international dev teams. This meant working together with more people, across countries, including cultural differences, different mindsets and different ways of working. There was a lot of alignment to do...
As ‘Innovating business’ is one of the things we as Sweet Mustard strive for, we like thinking along with our customer when facing new challenges. We always aim for discovering the right solution to build, building the solution right and coaching wherever we can. We prefer to do this in co-creation with our customer and in an agile way with a human-centred mindset.
Dual track agile at scale
Together with Cebeo, we shaped a way of working with which we can work together as efficiently as possible towards a common project goal. We incorporated design early and continuously in the iterative development process. It is a process of continuous learning and building with rapid tests to confirm or reject assumptions and make adjustments based on user feedback. In other words, we combined UX and Agile.
An extra challenge for this project was working together with a lot of people across countries. This meant we had to move towards a more scaled way of working.
We combined and tweaked the frameworks we knew. After all, it’s all about the right mindset and finding what works for us. We shaped a way of working that contains two main tracks: the discovery track - including working groups - and the development track. There is a big room planning every month (every two sprints) to keep everyone aligned.
We are always seeking to better understand users. The discovery track is all about understanding users and discovering what works and what doesn’t by doing small batches of user research in every iteration. We aim to validate new ideas, content and features before they are being built by the development team. We then collect data and conduct usability tests on working software to see where we need to adapt.
It is a continuous and iterative process that includes tasks such as research, design, prototype, tests on the prototype or on real software. Each of those iterations takes these learnings into account.
By doing so, we:
- Save time by building only the things we know our users need and avoid building something nobody wants;
- Reduce risk by learning quickly what works for users and what doesn’t;
- Respond to changing user behaviour and feedback to continuously improve our solution.
The discovery track delivers input for the development track. This means the discovery track is always two sprints ahead of the development track.
During the delivery track, we work in different -what we call- ‘working groups’, organised per operating country. Each working group researches the prioritised epics or features. Each working group has its dedicated product owner, UX designer and business analyst. Depending on the epics or features that are being researched, there is one or more subject matter expert to answer questions and validate ideas. These experts can be people from sales, marketing, business, helpdesk,...
The goal of each working group is to design features/epics that are viable for the business, possible to implement by the development team and wanted by users. The sweet spot of these three criteria forms a list of features ready to implement.
The delivery track is all about building a qualitative solution that was validated in the discovery track. It is organised according to the Scrum-framework. This is a framework for getting work done in a structured way that helps teams adapt to changing conditions, user requirements and re-prioritization.
We develop the validated user stories during two-week sprints. At the end of each sprint, we deliver working software. The short release cycles are built into the process so the teams can constantly learn and improve.
Big Room Planning
The ‘Big Room Planning’ is two days of reviewing and planning together with all discovery-, delivery- and PO-team members. This is planned every month (every two sprints). As part of the team is located in Belgium and the other parts internationally, the Big Room Planning is planned remotely every two months. Every other month we all meet on location to have a face to face Big Room Planning.
During these two days:
- Everyone shares what they’ve been doing the past two sprints;
- The overall direction and roadmap is shared;
- Priorities are set;
- The upcoming two sprints are planned for both the discovery and development track;
- Dependencies are addressed.
By doing so, we aim to keep everyone aligned on the common project goal.
Up to the moment of writing, the impact of this new way of working on the project is still unclear. The implementation is still in its initial stage. The main goal is and will be working together as efficiently as possible while delivering value with working software that is wanted by users. It goes without saying that we will re-evaluate this way of working and adapt where necessary.
The biggest learning here is that it’s not so much about copying and applying existing frameworks but rather about having the right mindset of finding whatever works for the challenge you’re up to.