The Fonix Method: a Lean and Agile way of working


Product Owner, Chris Foots discusses a whole lot of Agile

Here at Fonix I’ve introduced Agile and Lean methodologies. The basic idea of both Lean and Agile is to break down the business goal into smaller more achievable tasks. They are designed to be flexible and ensure the business is continuously developing through short feedback loops of trial and error.

Agile breaks down the overall goal into smaller deliverables known as ‘stories’. Similar to cooking a roast dinner. The whole roast dinner is your goal. The stakeholders tell me they want a roast dinner. I have to determine what roast dinner they want, is it chicken? Beef? Is having gravy fundamental to the meal? From here I work out what constitutes the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is the smallest number of elements included and it still be a roast. Would people still be happy if it was only meat on the plate?

Preparing the individual elements are the stories: the meat, potatoes, carrots, etc. Each of the stories are broken down into tasks. Peel the potatoes, chop them up, boil and so on. Bugs are the unexpected things that go awry and need fixing, in this case… lumpy gravy.

Once this is established I can break that down into stories and tasks, which get put in the backlog that the developers will pick up. When the MVP has been deployed we can gauge how customers reacted to each part of the roast, and adapt and change to improve the meal, perhaps they weren’t a fan of the steamed broccoli and we’ll try cauliflower cheese in the next iteration.

With a sprinkling of Lean

Neither Agile or Lean are perfect. They can both be quite restrictive, as within Agile you commit to deadlines which leads to disappointment as no matter how accurate the workload estimate, it’s rarely right. Or whereas, for Lean there are limits on the amount of work that can be in progress at any one time.

I take techniques from both Lean and Agile that I feel best work for the team, and amalgamate them. Every morning we have a daily standup, which is where the tech team individually provide an update of what they’re working on and any blockers they may have (elements they are struggling with). Standups are great for morale as it forces transparency and improves communication, it also brings everyone together as a team at the start of every day.

We use a Kanban board which holds the backlog of stories. The Kanban board is a dashboard, divided into columns indicating the progress the story has made in its journey to completion. It starts in the backlog then gets “Selected For Development”, meaning it will be picked up next. Finally it goes to the “In Progress” column which shows that it is actively being worked on.

A winning combination?

This combination is proving to be effective, and the team are working cohesively, and at a good pace.

Lean and Agile are effective because of the shorter feedback loops, than the traditional Waterfall model. If we were to plan and execute a full project and deliver it, only to then realise it is unfit for purpose, that time would be wasted. Whereas if we complete and deploy one element at a time we can accurately assess the impact of that element, and establish whether this project will be heading in the right direction. It also allows for adjustments to be made mid-project. Hence the name: Agile.

Communication and great teamwork is crucial so we can all work together to achieve the end goal. At Fonix, we’re always looking for ways to become better at what we do. Our working style helps us achieve just that.