Earlier this year on a call with Michael Dockery, Chief Strategist of Design Industries (DI) in Melbourne, Australia, I asked: "What could we do better?"
Michael said, "...a way for vendors that worked with us to improve the way partnerships are promoted."
With that suggestion, the Easy Agile Meet the Partner interview series was born. Fittingly, our first interview is with the company that suggested the initiative.
Design Industries are obsessed with improving the productivity of their Enterprise & Government clients. They do this by optimising their clients' usage of Atlassian tools and implementing best practices while ensuring the platform and apps remain highly available through their partnerships with AWS and Ali Cloud.
Here is a conversation we had with Michael, Philip (Marketing & Comms Director) and Alice (Executive Business Partner). We discussed who they are and what they do, including some common IT acronyms you can learn about if you look them up :)
How did you encounter the Atlassian Platform?
Michael: Design Industries started as a web development company. We were doing custom code, then e-commerce content management systems, web builds, startup consulting, custom API mapping - all sorts of stuff! We took up Atlassian for our service delivery as we were using SVN, I think it was Base Camp, and other tools at the time. We knew we needed something else. I looked at lots of platforms for years and was looking at every project management tool out there.
I noticed Jira and thought that it looks complicated, a bit overwhelming, and then I saw the price - this was when Atlassian released their software as a service product - $10 for ten users! Everything else was $160 per user per month, so we took it up, and in hindsight that was a great decision.
And where is the Design Industries business today?
Michael: We're now half in Melbourne, half in Cebu in the Philippines. We support clients across Australia and help them to make the most of the Atlassian stack. Most of what we do is assisting around project management solutions, so organisations come to us and say, "We want to use Atlassian," or, "We are using Atlassian for project management, can you help us?" And the primary use case is around ITSM (IT Service Management), where they want to run some type of ITIL practice, so we help out with that.
There are also a lot of custom scenarios: a marketing, finance or HR team wanting to improve their workflows. What we've done is created predefined configuration sets for all those different types of operational core competencies to solve their recurring challenges.
Essentially we help organisations fast-start their practice or give a quick uplift to their capabilities by implementing these predefined configuration sets. This is how we support leading companies to make the most out of the Atlassian Enterprise stack. The next step is not only to support the platform and enhance its capability: it's being able to do that on a continual basis - which is where we are leading the market.
What we do with a lot of our clients is continually deliver improvements to the platforms: whether that's improvements in configurations or reporting; additional plugins; retiring other software platforms in the environment; onboarding teams and functions; integration with other platforms and applications in the background.
Are there any notable customer projects that you could mention?
Michael: There are quite a few listed on our website. We helped a significant retailer move onto the Atlassian platform as a core operations piece, assisting them in standing up their Atlassian Data Center environment. We put our standardised configurations for project management in and then we migrated their disparate platforms onto a primary enterprise instance. They were able to standardise and consolidate their Atlassian instances, so that was pretty cool!
Then there was another notable sizeable financial company. Again, Design Industries helped them stand up an Atlassian stack with our predefined configuration sets and, this time, in our managed AWS service. We then took the encrypted data from their parent company and imported it into this new environment. It has now grown to be the enterprise stack — their core delivery platform.
Philip: Each time another major company comes to us, it helps build our pool of knowledge. We often hear customers saying, "Wow! What, you mean you can press a button stand up an Atlassian instance? And then we have enterprise maturity as a scalable framework?"
We respond with, "Yeah, that's what we sell here. We give you a step-change in your organisational efficiency."
Where do you see common pitfalls occur when a customer begins deploying Atlassian tools?
Michael: That's simple — doing it yourself, giving too much Administration rights to people who aren't trained, aren't qualified and implementing it in an ungoverned way. That's a big mistake! However, I've seen it work as a change strategy. You know you can't make such a massive change without allowing people to do it themselves. So throw it over the fence go "OK, here is the tool, run with it" and then hope that the users get excited. When they get excited, then come back and retrofit the policy and do the cleanup, put the process on top and then retrain everyone.
If you've worked in IT or change management before, I'm sure you would agree taking that strategy is a costly mistake. It's better to do it the right way from day one and govern it with a vision in mind. It's an enterprise platform, not an insignificant piece. What part of "mission-critical" don't people understand?
Amongst the Atlassian ecosystem, is there anything that excites you as being "the future"?
Philip: Automated test cases!
Michael: What excites is it's pretty unlimited what we can do, and the capabilities are going to increase. I can see how this platform is beautifully set for some future trends, particularly around automation. I'm just excited that there's so much to do in this space. There are so many businesses that could use the capability that the platform can bring, and most - even if they've already got it - are barely scratching the sides of what's possible. We could close the doors for six months and work on ourselves and our processes!
Philip: Two years ago, we were having conversations about the massive efficiency that could be gained in government by taking on more Agile Project Management. There is so much waste that goes along with poorly managed projects and the associated rework. Then there are things like responding to natural disasters, where you can stand up a fit-for-purpose project management environment, notify the relevant people, get co-ordinating and deliver change on the ground.
Michael: Automated responses to predefined plan execution. I can think of so many things!
So when it comes to Agile, where are your customers these days?
Michael: What is interesting with Agile is the world has turned. I think everyone is now somewhere in the Agile journey, and that has changed from a few years ago. I guess the approach and the degrees of success vary significantly between our clients. Walking into offices, I still see many wallboards and sticky notes. There is always room for improvement.
The journey has begun. Some are doing it well; most can improve; everyone is in the middle. It's interesting times in the space.
There's the opportunity to optimise Agile processes everywhere!
Michael: I think it's just hard! I read about what they call "zero budgeting", which is a method to do budget allocation for Agile projects.
That is such a massive shift in how projects get funded and defunded. If you're going to sit there and say, "OK, we want to measure the value that's being returned on a live basis so that we can fund and defund on an agile basis," you've got to have the tooling in place. If you can't do proper portfolio reporting, you can't tell me what all of your initiatives are.
That means you have to have some type of standardisation in the delivery tool and in the portfolio. You can sit there and go, "OK, I can see my initiatives. I can see what's delivering value. I'm now going to make a monthly budget decision."
So it gets away from these big projects, where most of the C-Level still operates, to where they make funding decisions once a month. These decisions are much smaller, and they're based on who's doing well.
With Agile, there are different interpretations and you've seen different maturity levels in organisations. What resources do you provide to customers? How do you help them find clarity?
Michael: In terms of resources, I used to buy a book called The Lean Startup and give it away like crazy. So that teaches you Lean and Agile, and I think people need to go through the Agile "light bulb" moment. I very distinctly remember when I had my light bulb moment with Agile - there was a before and after. Before, it was confusion, and after, "Aha! I understand this now!" I still think that goes on for a lot of people.
The other one is Lean, and I think that's part of the Agile "light bulb" thing. As a senior stakeholder, you want to achieve things; you're going to invest in things. But having an understanding of what a lean approach looks like, and how a lean approach can be executed, helps a senior executive who typically won't have the time to go out to Agile training. It helps them get a sense of how to structure work, make it small, deliver some value.
The Lean Startup book was what you used to advise before. What do you do now?
Michael: * jokingly * I tell people to get the book!
In all seriousness, there are a couple of principles that you need to understand, and they are similar but different. Waterfall has milestones, Agile has a release. Waterfall has a week of work, Agile has a sprint which you set yourself. For example, a sprint may be one, two or three weeks - we use weekly. You get up on a Monday and say "What are we delivering this week?"
The benefit of Agile is delivering value fast and getting feedback fast, to inform your next delivery. In Waterfall, you're following a predetermined plan that is resistant to change. I like to think of it is as "What are we doing this week?" in Waterfall and "What are we delivering this week?" in Agile.
Lean-Agile is the next step, coupling lean principles to Agile methodology. It's well worth understanding if you're looking to the future. The Lean Startup, it's a classic. People ask, "How do you start a business? What's the most you need?" The most you need is literally a piece of paper and a pencil, and he gives examples of this. You can then say "I don't need $100k to start a business. I need a piece of paper and a pencil." It becomes a lot more achievable.
With these lean startup principles, what have you seen in large enterprise or government that has been successfully deployed?
Michael: They will talk about it in The Lean Startup and call it a "Tiger Team", and that's how most organisations have ended up doing it. Find a team that is a bit more innovative, a bit more flexible and seed the practice. Then with executive support, go, "OK, we're going to change the methodology. How do we do this? How do we find a team who's up to it?" You then get them trained, get them implemented, get the process sorted, get a best practice approach, you roadshow it and roll it out to the organisation. I think that's happened for the executives that have decided to go to Agile. The rest are just fumbling through at the moment.
Where do they need help if they're fumbling through?
Michael: More of a realisation that the toolchain is really important. Agile means you still need to have a written process. You need to have an elaborated work breakdown structure, and make it clear to the team how they're going to break up the work and put it through the system, even though they're "Agile". It still requires a project management configuration and then portfolio reporting.
If you've got the teams running their own processes, it's highly ineffective. We see divisions such as, "Team A are using Story Points, Team B use Estimation, Team C use nothing... and Team D, well, they kind of do it their own way - I think they're Waterfall". What a mess!
The whole process requires someone responsible. Most organisations have this initiative going on called "digital transformation". It requires an individual who is in charge of digital transformation to be able to make decisions on methodology when it comes to project management and how that interrelates with the tooling.
Philip: I think of it like showing senior executives fire for the first time. They haven't ever had reporting down to the level we are talking about once you've got the bottom up using this toolset. Previously, the reporting culture was, "Can you provide us with five slides for the senior exec or the board pitch?" where now it comes to, "Well, you can report on everything now at the click of a button and you can see it in real-time."
So it empowers at the top level, and it frees people up to work on high-value tasks.
You mentioned Eric Ries with The Lean Startup. Any other thought leaders that you follow?
Michael: *laughing* McLaren.
Philip: Michael's obsessed with Formula 1. It's a bit of a driving force behind how we do things here.
Michael: Formula 1 certainly is an interesting analogy. I don't know if it is in terms of thought leaders, but in terms of an area of inspiration, definitely Formula 1 and how it works because there's a lot to it. It's teamwork.
It's high-performance teams, high-performance machines. I look at the way we configured the tooling, and it's our high-performance machine.
It's probably not as exciting as a Formula 1 car, but it's what we've got, and we certainly get to drive it - but it's not as dangerous either!
We know you love Easy Agile apps. Any other Atlassian Marketplace apps you love recommending?
Michael:Riada Insight Asset Management is really powerful. For a lot of organisations when it comes to ITSM tooling, the monitoring tooling, the asset management tooling, and the ticketing tooling aren't integrated. It is quite tangled. So when an organisation is looking at Jira Service Desk, it's a no brainer.
Then there is Tempo Time Tracking. When one of our clients want to bill their clients, or they need to manage their budgets effectively, it works perfectly. It also lends towards capacity management. A lot of organisations struggle with their capacity management. Using that suite makes it super easy.
Lastly, if a customer would ever like to get in touch, what's the best way?
Philip: They call us at 1300 736 363. They can also fill out a contact form on our website. The form gets responded to quickly. We generally respond within an hour. We usually then book in a call. If it is a relatively straightforward request, we can get a proposal back within 12-24 hours.