Agile Scrum Training: Product Development Engineering Team at Performance Drone Works

Performance Drone Works is a well-supported startup born from professional drone racing to develop of small autonomous UAS platforms enabling the modern warfighter to maximize mission effectiveness while minimizing personal risk.

Moving from the hectic startup pace of product development into a structured Agile Scrum approach is not an easy change, though one that Performance Drone Works embraced and with which it is now thriving!

Solutions Used

AJC delivered the following approach for PDW:

Leadership team Agile Overview training

Full Engineering team (30+ people) Introduction to Agile Scrum training

Scrum Master coaching

Facilitation of Three Sprints with daily huddles, focused coaching sessions, and facilitated Sprint Reviews / Retrospectives / Planning (RRPs)

Role of a Leader in an Agile Environment training

Introduction

Delivering on tight deadlines as a startup often means long hours at the office. However, in the middle of a global pandemic, and with a long-range vision, the CEO of PDW was looking for a more sustainable, and predictable, structure for his engineering team to continue new product introductions (NPIs).

The Problem

Working hard against the clock, the NPI Engineering Team at PDW had not yet developed a structure for their multiple engineering teams to coordinate efforts into a consistent product delivery methodology that would find and eliminate defects in real time, rather than using the traditional Design/Build/Test – and not finding defects until the “Test” phase. It was not that the individual engineers were incapable, because the skills of the team were definitely top-notch. Rather, they were so focused on resolving in the immediate issues that popped up on their radar, they had not established their rhythm and a sustainable process for product development.

Engineers were frantically working hard, 60-80 hours a week.
Patrick Laney, CEO

Figuring Out the Solution

To add to the basic need for the four different engineering teams need to synchronize and harmonize their workstreams, the entire PDW team was reorganizing its engineering department, and team members were physically re-locating to their headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama. Change was constant at PDW, and when an important deliverable was missed, everyone knew that something had to change.

Goal 1

Train all four Engineering Teams on Agile Scrum

This was actually a shift over time, because originally PDW asked AJC to train one 9-person engineering team as a “pilot.” However, when the deadline was missed and the PDW team increased hours, they asked that AJC wait until the engineers had co-located, and provide training for all 34+ team members together.

Following all the correct protocols, this in-person, intact training turned out to be a great relationship builder for not only the AJC consulting team, but also for the entire PDW engineering team. AJC sent out a team consisting of a Trainer and a Coordinator/Scribe to conduct training, capture concerns for later discussion, and to facilitate the next phase of the project.

Goal 2

Standup all four Engineering Teams in Scrum by Facilitating In-Situ training for Three Sprints

Again, this was a shift from the original plan to pilot with just one group. Though starting slow has some advatages, with the delay to train upon co-location, it definitely made more sense to begin Sprints with all of the engineering teams at once, and provide coaching for them as they executed three sprints. CEO Patrick Laney described this saying,

“In the moment, it was disruptive and broke our inconsistent rhythms, but this is what was needed.”

The AJC Coordinator ensured that all sessions were scheduled, concerns captured for specific coaching and Q&A, and all training and coaching materials that AJC provided for the PDW team were transitioned to them in a timely fashion.

Goal 3

Ensure the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Leadership team would be ready to support ongoing Agile Scrum and Sprints going forward.

In addition to coaching in the daily standups and for the team leaders throughout the sprints, AJC provided additional training on the role of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Managers in an Agile environment. Specifically, Managers were there to remove roadblocks and encourage the team to “swarm” around problems. The Product Owner needed to ensure the Product Backlog of “user stories” was prioritized and ready for Sprint Planning, and the Scrum Master maintained the integrity of the Scrum, enabling the Scrum Teams to pull the highest priority work from the backlog and commit to the specific items they believed they would complete in the 2-week sprint.

It was a huge improvement, an incredible impact.
Patrick Laney, CEO

Conclusion

As of this writing, we are pleased to report that PDW is successfully running Agile Scrum on their own, with Engineering Leads who feel the process is working well, and is meeting their customers performance testing requirements on time (even early in some cases)! Additionally, transparency around what each team is working on has improved with cross-functional 30-minute Sprint Review and Kickoff meetings, and teamwork and communication is up all around. We at AJC couldn’t be more pleased for PDW and their success!