Lessons From My First Agile CRM Project

My first agile CRM client was Premier Medical Group. Their board of directors, after a nerve-wracking board meeting, gave us the go ahead to get started in late 2008.

My first agile CRM project team

My CRM consulting company, Increase CRM, only had a handful of consultants. None of us had ever implemented CRM using Scrum so we partnered with another consulting firm, CIBER UK. Paul Fox, a project manager with CIBER, was an experienced Scrum Master and calmly lead our merry band forward into sprint 1:

  1. Debbie Cragg - PMG Operations Director and Product Owner
  2. Benjamin Roles - PMG Business Analyst
  3. Neil Benson - Increase CRM Solution Architect
  4. Dan Barber - Increase CRM Senior Consultant
  5. Wei Chieh Soon - Increase CRM Developer
  6. Paul Fox - CIBER Project Manager and Scrum Master
  7. Mark Tolley - CIBER Development Architect

It was a perfect sized team with a blend of skills and personalities that worked well together from day one.

Setting up the room

We set up a project space in a meeting room in CIBER's offices on Portman Square in London. One of the team, probably Paul, had the genius idea of using a roll of dry-erase whiteboard film. The film sticks to the wall by electrostatic attraction turning it into an instant whiteboard. Now we could write and attach sticky notes all over the place without annoying the facilities manager. We had two rows of facing desks with enough room for everyone's gear. And we made it a team rule that phones calls had to be taken outside.

Here are a couple of tips from that room:

  1. Get a dedicated room for your CRM project team.
  2. Cover the walls in whiteboards. Use dry-erase whiteboard film if you have to.
  3. Have one or two projectors or large screens that anyone can easily use to demonstrate a feature.
  4. For your first Customer Agility project, sticky-notes and flip-board charts work better than agile project management software.

Setting up the backlogs

I can't recall whether Paul tracked our backlog in an agile project management system. (That's definitely a temptation I  hit at the start of every project.) Instead, we used the requirements specification document that we had written previously to describe the biggest requirements and wrote those down on big sticky notes.

We agreed with Debbie which requirements to start work on first. Debbie set the business priorities based on value and the team set the development priorities based on technical dependencies. We chose the first big requirement and then deconstructed it into smaller pieces of work that we could deliver in the first sprint.

Paul coached us through the Scrum events and practices, but there wasn't any formal Scrum training or instruction. We just set about estimating the size of the requirements to build our product backlog coached by Paul. We had a very rough release plan by guessing what our velocity might be. Then we figured out the tasks needed to deliver the first set of stories and estimated the hours involved, and that was our sprint backlog.

Just-in-time requirements analysis

Dan and I had already spent six weeks gathering user requirements, so we had a fair idea of some of the details behind each of the requirements. But the requirements specification was already a couple of months old by now and PMG's business was evolving rapidly. So Ben was kept busy using his operational experience and connections with the stakeholders to confirm and reconfirm details as we needed them.

Sprint reviews with stakeholders

Every couple of weeks at the end of the sprint we'd grab our release burndown chart and present the latest set of completed features to PMG's stakeholders either in either Hammersmith or Ludlow and get their feedback. The regular feedback from users and senior managers helped us tweak our future stories and deliver a great product.

Happy endings

As I rolled off the project in 2009 the team had built most of the core CRM features and started work on the custom offline client that synchronised data with CRM and SharePoint. After 18 months of development all the pieces were in place and the system was live. By mid-2010 Premier Medical Group was sold by Nomura to Capita Group who recognised PMG's capacity to scale their medical-legal operations in-part based on the Dynamics CRM "fully integrated IT-led medical reporting platform" that I was proud to play a small role in delivering.