Agile Culture in Design Strategy: Webinar Recap

Written by 
Ward Bullard
Adam Kallish
June 15, 2020

Agile Culture in Design Strategy

Agile culture is about the clarity of purpose and that all work directly supports the overall value delivered to markets and customers. See how the Institute of Design used Mural along with Slack, GitHub, and ZenHub to teach students how to break down a strategy into key tasks and to connect all tasks back to the strategy.

In this session, we’re joined by Adam Kallish who is a design practitioner and an adjunct at the Institute of Design Illinois Institute of Technology which focuses on how design can address contemporary complexities at the macroeconomic level.  

Adam teaches a seven-week course for masters and PhD students on how design thinking and agile work together. Design Thinking is about defining the right work, and Agile is about doing the work right. Agile culture stresses to students to have clarity of purpose and that all work directly supports the overall value delivered to markets & customers. Agile culture balances understanding key agile principles, values, culture/behaviors, and practices and applying them through learning by doing with peers on an actual problem to create a prioritized backlog of work.

The goal of the Mural session was two-fold:

  • Orient participants on what agile is and the role of teams in breaking down strategy to the task level
  • Discuss how Mural was used in Agile culture and how it worked with Slack, ZenHub, and GitHub

To demonstrate the flexibility of the Mural platform, Adam created a Mural presentation for the session with embedded links and video to showcase how a custom designed workspace can quickly communicate concepts, which is key to Mural's value. The course used five key platforms that do very specific things in order to support the goals of the course: Slack, Mural, GitHub, ZenHub, and Google Hangouts. APIs linked certain platforms together for greater transparency and communications.

While Agile started out as a way to do better software development, it has branched out into many industries as a way to break down strategy into small tactical sprints and iterating to learn.  Both design thinking and agile focus on users and customers and that teams bring their diverse skills and experiences through unity of purpose. Agile takes it further by improving the cadence of teams (called velocity) that they efficiently get their tasks done.

Agile Scrum focuses on how a team, led by a product owner defines a backlog of work and prioritizes supporting tasks. Tasks are pulled from the backlog by a team and completed in two-week sprints and then communicate in real-time to burn down the backlog, which leads to a showcase of what was accomplished. The amount of work that can be completed in a sprint is dependent on a team being able to work more and more efficiently through a series of sprints to use less effort to get more work done. Course tasks were moved to done and then closed and a team does a reflection of how they think they did over the sprint: what they did right, wrong, and what can be improved for the next iteration.

Mural played a central role in Agile culture. Adam always starts his courses with a hopes and fears exercise. Based on the course description and their motivation for signing up for Agile culture, what are individual hopes and fears. The class used the voting function in Mural to determine which hopes and fears were the most important. That let Adam know as an instructor how to manage student expectations. 

From hopes and fears, the class defined a social contract based on the five values of Agile. They then narrowed down the desired behaviors that were used throughout the course to make sure all teams were honoring the course contract. 

To break down an abstract goal into real work, IBM's Hills/Sub Hills framework was used. This is very hard to do, but teams iterated and actually began to understand the goal at a deeper level by linking them to the details to achieve the goal. 

Teams then needed to size the difficulty of all their stories through relative estimating. Mural was used as a visual way to do T-Shirt sizing, a popular analogy so teams define what stories are small, medium, and large. They can then define their sprint and velocity and group different combinations together in order to work on a sprint. 

Lastly each week teams reported on how their velocity was improving (or not) 

Mural was an indispensable platform for both ideation and definition for Agile culture. Its simplicity and elegance allowed Adam and his students to quickly map and communicate in order to better use GitHub and ZenHub effectively.

About the authors

About the authors

Ward Bullard

Ward Bullard

VP, Education and Nonprofits
Ward is the Head of Education and Nonprofits @ Mural. Additionally, he teaches as an adjunct instructor at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the, where he developed the course, “Testing at Scale: The Sports Fan Experience.”
Adam Kallish

Adam Kallish

Instructor, Illinois Institute of Technology
An articulate, proactive practitioner with entrepreneurial abilities, Adam has an established history of leading creative and technical teams for consultancies and enterprises.

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