Agile London at Thomas Cook

Agile London - worth attending if you work in software development
Agile London – worth attending if you work in software development

This evening I went to the latest Agile London event, hosted at Thomas Cook, at a supremely convenient location about quarter of a mile away from the Endava office.

Our host for the evening was Jesus Fernandez, the Development Manager at Thomas Cook. In a concise introduction he described how Thomas Cook has been consolidation pretty much everything – from its management team to the brands it was selling, to its technology platforms.

Thomas Cook is an £8bn ($13bn) public company which has recently gone through a Digital Transformation programme.

“Fix nothing to achieve more”

John Lucas, Head of Product Management gave the first presentation. He described how Thomas Cook keeps the P&L (Profit and Loss) with the business, not the technology division.

At the end of peak trading periods (January to February), they run Agile retrospectives to understand what the business would have liked – before the business gets sidetracked on to something else.

There is a strong technology roadmap, with teams working on platform improvements during less busy [business] periods.

They perform considerable analytics analysis to understand user behaviour.

The business is continuously calculating the ROI of technology projects, and if the project is too small, they group a number of similar small projects together and calculate the combined ROI.

“How teams self-organise when no one is organised”

Jeremy Freeze, a scrum master at Thomas Cook described the challenges of multiple development teams split across several locations. They use a number of communications tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts and so on.

He described how “Quality is a collective responsibility” amongst the scrum teams.

Scrum teams estimate user stories themselves, to deliver quality products – and they usually will.

Thomas Cook are moving towards a Test Driven Development (TDD) model. Teams are organised as full stack rather than the more traditional back end and front end team setup.

We then discovered during some questions that the business has unofficially work out – based on story points per sprint and the costs of the scrum team, what the ROI per story point is.

“Improving the delivery of Agile Teams”

Prag Patel from ANDigital gave the last presentation. ANDigital provide some Agile coaching to Thomas Cook. Prag described the 4 improvements they have made at Thomas Cook:

  1. Improving the predictability of delivery. This was achieved by allowing teams to choose what they are committing to and giving them the ownership of what they have committed to. This required the entire team to work together on estimations and understanding user stories, as well as them collectively agreeing on the definition of done.
  2. Improving working practices across teams by creating consistency and clarity of the definition of done, clear inputs and outputs of Agile activities, and clear roles & responsibilities across the team.
  3. Improving progress transparency and activity by using Scrum boards to accurately reflect progress; clearer Jira boards with up to date Jira task status. Having clarity within the team about who is working on what. Transparency and visibility helps improve teamwork.
  4. Improving velocity by having an accurate team capacity and story points. This leads to a more consistent delivery model. Having well defined user stories is vital, and prioritising non-functional needs in the backlog correctly.

Other points worth noting:

  • They created a RACI model for all scrum events
  • They ran targeted training to a consistent scrum level
  • They provided Agile coaching during events
  • They improved the clarity of objectives

They faced some challenges which included:

  • Allowing for planning time for Agile events (e.g. sprint planning)
  • Ensuring there were consistent views and expectations of scrum events and practices
  • Being pragmatic rather than expecting the process to be perfect first time

Why?

I liked the event, and if you are involved in technology or development, I thoroughly recommend you to attend the Agile London events. I thought the last event at McKinsey was superb, and tonight’s event was great too.

I spoke to a couple of people afterwards and they questioned why Thomas Cook had been so open about their Agile journey.

Here are my views on why companies share their technology challenges, from Goldman Sachs to Thomas Cook:

  1. It attracts talent. There were 50-odd people in the room who knew Agile inside-out (I’ll exclude myself from this group) exc, from a variety of backgrounds, and they’ll spread the message about Thomas Cook’s [appealing] development culture.
  2. Retaining talent. There are clearly a bunch of bright people who work at Thomas Cook, and some public speaking such as this evening helps improve their skillset and publicity awareness.
  3. For the greater good of the industry through knowledge sharing – by sharing their ups and downs tonight, Thomas Cook came across as a highly personable and nice company. I don’t think any competitors in the travel industry (and there was one there tonight) gained anything from tonight’s session. Besides, isn’t every company a software company?

 

3 thoughts on “Agile London at Thomas Cook

  1. Nice summary, looks like a good event.

    can’t help to comment on “RACI model for all scrum events” – this does not marry well with the scrum philosophy of a single team with equal members all focused on an end goal. yes 3 roles, yes we cherish the specialities – but noone can say “this is not my problem, look at the RACI list I am only supposed to be informed in this matter” quite different from full participation and focus on team organizing to meet the end goal.
    I’d focus more on a healthy interaction model in between the team members and constant review of the progress towards the end goal via all those inspect/adapt ceremonies.

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