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Agile on the Beach 2017 - A customer services road trip!

Our Managing Director tasked us with attending Agile on the Beach to learn how to apply agile principles in our Client Services team. Bring on a road trip to Cornwall!

Well what can we say, what an experience it was! We arrived on a sunny Thursday afternoon and we were very excited about the next couple of days and who we were going to meet and what we were going to learn.

We are not developers and come from a Client Services background. In fact, before being volunteered to go to Agile on the Beach, we did not have a tremendous amount of knowledge about Agile methods. But we wanted to learn how Agile can be applied to Client Services. In fact, we were very nervous and apprehensive when we arrived at the conference and expected a lot of focus was going to just be on Software Delivery, Continuous Delivery etc. Nonetheless our hopes were high that we’d find something relevant to customer services.

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.

Wednesday evening kicked off with a pasty, pint and a quiz. Not knowing what to expect, we walked in (or out, so to speak, as it was on the terrace) grabbed a pasty, queued up for a couple of pints and started mingling. The pattern was very much the same; “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “Oh, Client Services, how does Agile work there then?” It was definitely a good conversation starter with many raised eyebrows and shoulder shrugs as to the solution. “What talk will you be attending to find out about this?” There are plenty about continuous delivery, but still not quite right for the continuing stream and high level of client requests we receive. The outcome of the evening saw us at an ‘after party’ with the speakers and cases of a beer aptly named ‘BDD’. It was at this stage that an introduction was made to Belinda Waldock, one of the organisers, to discuss the benefits of Agile in a customer services environment. Belinda encouraged our presence at her talk entitled ‘Retrospective Sailing’.

Dolly attended Linda Waldock’s hands on workshop, which was a practical retrospective game. Retrospective Sailing is a game you can play as an individual in any role, as part of a development team, or, with clients and customers to help understand how your journey is fairing. The aim of the game is to give you a new and fun way to run a retrospective to help to gain your bearings, identify what’s putting the wind in your sails, the anchors holding you back, and discover hidden treasure. Then you’ll plot your course and map a way forward that raises those anchors and catches the tide and a fair wind. 

This still didn’t answer our question as to how we apply the Agile principles to the continuing stream of client requests for support and how we can improve our working processes using Agile principals, whilst maintaining an exceptionally high service level agreement (SLA). But it did at least provide an interesting way to assess any challenges we might be facing.

As we looked more deeply at Agile and asked lots of questions about how Agile can be applied to Customer Service, we found there is a niche gap in the market and a lack of experience in applying Agile in this context. We will continue to try and find more Agile ways of working and hopefully if we attend Agile conferences in the future there will be a wider focus on non-IT areas and the use of Agile. Maybe we’ll be the speakers and tell people what we have learned at Siteset.

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