Engineering

Not Just A Buzzword – 3 Ways We’ve Embraced All Things Agile

3 Ways We’ve Embraced All Things Agile

At Index Exchange, we’re committed to driving innovation in the programmatic advertising ecosystem and technology sector at large. We’ve been building solutions for publishers and buyers alike for more than 17 years and have learned a lot along the way. 

Over the last few years, we have made several adjustments to how we plan, build, and ship products in order to stay steps ahead of an ever-changing marketplace. These adjustments are rooted in our desire to be as Agile an organization as possible. 

However, this is not your typical Agile evolution that most companies undergo. We don’t check a box when we run events like daily stand-up meetings or end-of-sprint retrospectives. Instead, we are constantly challenging ourselves and questioning whether we are getting the most value from everything that we do. Our objective isn’t to implement Agile; it’s to be Agile. Here are three underlying principles that our 200+ engineers live by every day to achieve this goal:

Rapid Learning

“Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.
W. Edwards Deming

Feedback loops are the cornerstone of the Agile methodology. When solving engineering challenges at IX, we’re conscious of the fact that we don’t have all the answers from the outset. This mindset is critical to our work as it affects our approach to building solutions. 

We’re less focused on finishing a project on time or within scope. While those factors are important, we’re more focused on solving the problem at hand through rapid learning. 

We also leverage experimentation to validate our assumptions rather than starting with a predetermined solution. Operating this way allows us to make informed decisions when designing solutions while continuing to innovate in our space. 

Recently, the IX Data Engineering team needed to optimize our data pipeline due to a large surge in internet traffic as much of the world transitioned to working from home. Due to our investment in system performance metrics, we were able to leverage an experimental approach to determine which of the many ideas helped us to reduce our data clusters resource usage the most. This rapid learning and feedback loop was critical in getting our data pipeline back to normal quickly. 

Continuous Improvement 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Bert Lance

This quote has always irked me a little. It implies that you don’t need to improve anything if it’s already working sufficiently. Unfortunately, this mindset can lead to falling behind in today’s fast-paced and unpredictable world. I’m more partial to:

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.
Thomas Edison

It speaks directly to how we work at IX – continuous improvement is at the heart of Agile development. This means in such an environment, it really is important to create a framework and culture that enables teams to strive to be better today than they were yesterday. Our goal is for teams to understand what they’re trying to improve, why they’re trying to improve it, and ensure they have the necessary support. Our in-house Agile Coaches and Engineering Managers work with our teams to embed continuous improvement into their processes. This includes the use of as much data as possible to help prioritize and validate their efforts. 

To be successful, it is imperative you create slack in the system in order to have time to work on improvements. Our general rule of thumb: 20% of a team’s sprint capacity on average should be used towards improving either their processes or technical stack. This investment gives Indexers time to experiment with new ways of working and mature as a team. 

Team Empowerment 

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
George S. Patton 

One of the first steps in any Agile transformation is to create cross-functional, self-organizing, and autonomous teams. It sounds good in theory – those doing the work should absolutely have the autonomy over how they deliver. 

However, simply telling a team they are empowered to do so doesn’t necessarily lead to the expected results. I hear this all the time in Agile community gatherings: “We told the team they are empowered, but they are not stepping up.” 

At IX, we don’t just lay the burden of responsibility on a team and let them figure it out on their own. We allow them to own their processes but also ensure we are giving them the tools and support necessary to succeed. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the dynamics of how our teams work. We went from working as co-located teams to remote workers overnight. This brought about new challenges that each team tackled independently, aided by some IX-provided best practices for working from home. Some teams leveraged new tools to sustain collaboration while others changed how they worked to improve communication. There was no red tape or approvals needed for Indexers to try out new ways of working. They had the autonomy and were empowered to determine what worked best for them; they also had support from management when needed along the way.

Conclusion

“True perfection is unattainable, but if you chase perfection you will catch excellence!
Vince Lombardi 

There is no one perfect framework when it comes to building software. At IX, we believe the mandates outlined above will continue to help us improve how we work and deliver first-rate products to our customers. We truly believe that embracing Agile principles to the fullest makes a significant difference in how our engineers work as opposed to being Agile simply in namesake. For us, it’s not just a checkbox.