A glimpse into the inner workings of an Agile team

“We call her ‘The Muscle’ because she gets stuff done,” said Caleb Eades about Swati Shenoy, his manager at the Mindtree Gainesville Delivery Center. “She’s awesome!”

Swati Shenoy inherited a stalled project. Requirements had been gathered, user stories had been written. The BA for the project, Adriene Shepherd, had spent two months onsite with the client laying the groundwork and getting everything ready. But when she returned to Gainesville in April, the client had to wait for financials to be approved. In August, the green light finally came, and Swati was assigned as scrum master. “Swati came in, put things back in order and formed the team,” said Adriene. “She picked up everything really fast.”

Every Agile project is unique

The client, an industry leader in timeshares and hospitality, had engaged Mindtree to retrofit its existing desktop-optimized website to a mobile design. The project used a distributed model: a Waterfall team offshore to build out the Hybris CMS for the back end, and an Agile team onshore to build the responsive front end.

Swati was uniquely suited to keep the two teams in step despite their different development methodologies. Having worked on many Waterfall projects in Bangalore prior to moving to the US to work at the Gainesville Delivery Center, she has expertise in both methods. “Her Waterfall experience made a positive impact on this Agile project,” said Scott Purcell, a Technical Lead who helped get the project off the ground. “When Agile wouldn’t fit, she knew the Waterfall aspects to put in place. Being able to fall back on that when she needed to was big.”

“Every Agile project is unique to itself,” said Swati. “We cannot define steps one, two, three, four. You have a framework, and you can tweak that framework based on your needs.” In this case, the need was to get the two teams aligned. “The Hybris team was very behind us. They were still in the requirements gathering and design phase when we had already implemented a number of pages,” said Swati. “It was very difficult for us to go back and change our code to use their stuff.”

The deliverables for the mobile site included 168 pages that were divided into eight categories. The offshore team had determined that they could complete three to four categories in each of three Waterfall “Drops.” The Drops, containing two or three categories each, were evenly spaced out over the four-month engagement. Swati had her team focus on one category per sprint, averaging 20 pages delivered at the end of every two weeks.

“The major challenge for us was to design the mobile view,” said Swati. “If [the users] are used to the desktop website, it is a big screen. They can see everything. When you turn it into a mobile site, it’s like you’re trying to fit 3,500 gallons of water into a 35-gallon container. That was a major challenge technically.”

A Glimpse Into the Inner Workings of an Agile Team

Gain velocity with every new sprint

Most of the team members on the project were new hires, including the UX lead, Tim Le. Tim was unfamiliar with Agile and the Lean UX approach the Gainesville digital team uses. “It was a challenging time for me,” said Tim. “But it was good getting my feet wet with Lean UX. Swati was very supportive from the beginning. She’s technically savvy, so when there were things I wasn’t quite sure about in client meetings, she would stand in the gap. It was very reassuring to know she was there if I needed her.”

The newness of the team contributed to a slow start. “We were really crawling in the first month,” said Swati. “The progress was not enough. We had only done six to eight pages when we needed about 40.”

After the first month, though, the team hit its stride. “The second sprint was the most successful,” Swati said. “The pages were extremely complex with major business logic, but it was nicely arranged and planned properly. We couldn’t believe we were able to do all that we did!”

Every Friday, Tim would lead a demo for the client. “Almost every single call, a question would come up—especially regarding site navigation and the map,” said Dustin Fertig, the quality analyst for the project. “Swati would jump in and be so knowledgeable about what was going on between the offshore team that was working on the Hybris system and taking the code and loading it. For a lot of the client’s questions, she was able to step in and give examples. She smoothed things over well by the end of the meeting.”

The weekly interactions with the client contributed greatly to the overall success of the project. “They would tell us if they wanted something changed,” said Swati. “That really helped because we knew exactly what they wanted.” Swati’s team catered to the client’s wishes so precisely that they earned a 7 out of 7 rating on their customer service survey after completing the project.

Why an expert scrum master makes all the difference

When asked what makes a good scrum master, Swati said she sees herself as just part of the team. Dustin agreed, saying that despite the busy project schedule and tight deadlines, Swati always found time for a chat. “I can’t say it in enough ways how awesome it was, how refreshing—even though there are a million things going on—to have someone just sit down with you and understand who you are,” said Dustin.

“She would sit down beside us and walk through what we needed to do. There were several times like that. She guided me along as far as what was expected, and that made me successful,” said Jason DeBottis, a developer on the project.

“Swati is all about the team,” said Adriene. “That made the project more fun and the experience more enjoyable. She is such a wealth of knowledge and has such an expertise not only in digital, but in the way she runs things and the way she’s able to communicate with people.”

“Leaders in an Agile organization have to be helpers. They just move blockers out of the way,” said Scott. “And that’s who Swati is.”

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