Two and a half years ago, the Accounts team at SilverStripe was set with the challenge of becoming an Agile Accounts team. We blogged about our transformation, and thought it was time to give an update.
Is the team still Agile? Yes it is, even though the team is comprised of completely new members since the original Agile transformation. Making the work visible, shareable, and easily able to be re-prioritised is what we were aiming for and what we ultimately achieved. Here is a look through the lens of the Agile Values and how they relate to our Agile Accounts processes and team:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Although processes and tools are important for any highly functioning team, more important is making a system that works for the people in the team and that facilitates the actual work that is required of the team. We change processes as needed and would change tools if the improvement is worth the change. That being said, the team is still happily using Trello as their Kanban board, projected onto a TV screen on the office wall for visibility within the Accounts team, the wider Engine Room team and the CEO. The Accounts processes have been comprehensively documented and are kept current as required.
The structure of the Accounts Kanban board is as follows— Visible columns are the standard backlog (with usually nothing in it that’s due further out than a month away), work in progress, waiting on (there are always a number of jobs that can’t be completed without hearing back from someone external to the team), and a done column. An additional column we have added is a doing everyday, never done column, as a reminder and with additional information if needed for all those things which need to happen every day like bank and credit card reconciliations and daily checks. We use avatars to show who is working on each active Trello card.
In the past we have been asked how we deal with recurring work using a Kanban board, as recurring tasks are very common in accounts. Hidden off to the right of the done column we have a number of columns with Trello cards that repeat at regular intervals— weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually (Card Repeater is a Trello Power-up feature). When these cards repeat they usually appear in the backlog column in a mostly correct order by choosing the time of their recurrence to the top of the backlog. All the repeating jobs cards have been filled out with checklists of what needs doing, instructions in the description, and any required links or attachments. The job cards appear with everything needed for the work to be done with a minimum of running around trying to find what’s needed or trying to work out or remember what needs doing.
There is also a hidden list called as needed containing a whole bunch of job cards which are copied to the backlog as required, such as setting up a new staff member for payroll, or setting up complicated new billing jobs. Of course, new cards are added to the board for work that is neither repeating nor a standard job we have already done before.
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Of course it’s not software, but the most important thing for the Accounts team is that the work that needs doing happens on time, correctly and in the most efficient way possible. Whether that’s paying staff or suppliers, invoicing customers, supplying requested information or reporting, the work is visible, shareable and easily able to be reprioritised.
The documentation is supporting this work, and means that staff don’t have to try to remember all the gazillions of things. It is also there so that if current staff are sick or are on leave, that it is possible for someone else to step in and take over the work with all the processes documented. The documentation matters, but only in support of the work needed being done, which matters more.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
The way we interpret this Agile Value is that working with our customers to deliver what they need is more important than sticking to only doing what we’ve done in the past, or doing the bare minimum. The customers of the Accounts department are the CEO, the board of directors, all the staff, the customers and suppliers of our company, and even the tax department. We need to deliver what all these people require of us, juggling priorities, quite often with strict deadlines.
Much of the work in the Accounts team are must-haves, with not many nice-to-haves. Do we need to pay our staff on payday? YES! Do we need to have our GST returns submitted and paid by the due date? Yes, or we are penalised. Do we need to send our monthly invoices out to clients within the first week of the month? Yes, if we don’t want complaints or late payments. Do we need to report on the previous month before the board meeting. Yes. For the Accounts team we often can’t drop work because it doesn’t fit in our week or our day, but we must keep a close eye on the backlog and use quieter periods to get ahead with work we can do early so that we are able to keep up with the rush times.
Some of our nice-to-have work might be considered improving our processes, but early on I decided that any time something showed that our processes could be improved, that it was worth spending the time to do that. And I think that has paid off.
Responding to change over following a plan
So how does the team respond to change? As new things are needed they are added to our Kanban board, and also added to repeating columns if they fit there. This means that as a team, we are constantly checking in about how things are going and how they could be improved. If something does slip through the cracks, we look at how we could catch it and build it into the repeating task.
New requirements for how work is to be billed or how products are sold are always built into both the Kanban boards and our billing software. There are however always improvements that can be made when it comes to other teams remembering to proactively notify Accounts what changes are required or checking in with how to set things up in the systems we are using!
Another thing the team does is check in with our customers to find out whether information or reports are still required. There’s no need to keep doing something if it’s no longer used…
This year I have taken these agile learnings into a new career path and have become a scrum master / agile team facilitator at SilverStripe. I’m enjoying learning this new role and getting to know the teams I am now working with. I am no longer a part of SilverStripe’s Accounts team but my team motto is still on our Kanban board:
Catch it all. Do it right. Make it work better for next time!
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