For technology companies, bringing on new software development tools can be hard enough. Couple this with a period of intense hyper-growth and challenges will ensue. Back in 2013, Xero was in this exact position, where the business was rapidly growing and needed tools to support collaboration across all of our global teams. We rolled out the Atlassian tools, namely JIRA and Confluence, all while we had upwards of 80 percent growth in staff hires each year.
The Agile Systems team is responsible for internal development tools at Xero, and my role as part of this team is to collaborate with and support our development teams, so we can continuously improve and support the business; acting as the intermediary between the Product and Business teams.
Shortly after rolling out JIRA and Confluence, we realized that the pace at which Xero was growing meant the teams using these tools would need hands-on support to get the most out of all their features and process improvements alike. We needed to adapt the tools to the fast changing needs of Xero.
We established four principles that drive how we implement improvements while scaling and sustaining JIRA and Confluence; particularly in such a dynamic and fast-changing environment.
Find a balance between autonomy, freedom and standardization
We have an amazing culture at Xero that promotes flexibility, freedom and letting people do things that work for the individual and the team. The challenge with that is ensuring we continue to let our teams have this autonomy and freedom, but at the same time balancing that with the standardization required to scale our tools for growth. Sometimes these challenges aren’t only due to culture, but also how fast-changing our team sizes, priorities and interactions are.
To achieve this ultimate balance, we keep customizations of our Atlassian Tools in alignment with many teams, instead of introducing multiple and granular customizations that can later become restrictive. With the speed at which some of our development teams release – many do so multiple times a day – they need flexibility to support their rapid processes.
To validate that we’re on the right track with standardizing, we rely on some fundamental statistics from JIRA and Confluence which paint a picture of our customizations over time.
Design with scale in mind
With every consideration and decision we make in regards to the Atlassian tools, we think about how Xero and our teams are likely to evolve over time. A lot of this comes down to us maintaining the underlying platform and well as the applications. We’re constantly working on making the use of the tools a smooth experience for our users, and this is easily achieved when we think about how our users will be impacted over years to come, with everything we do.
Scaling JIRA and Confluence becomes easier when we ensure our setup and configurations are all value-driven and fit for purpose for a number of teams – not just one. For example, our workflows are mostly designed at a level where they are relevant for many teams within the same product group or business area. This often means workflow steps are role and behavior driven, instead of custom for each individual team.
Deliver value from change
Day to day, we manage multiple requests for customizations. It’s easy to make small changes and customizations when teams approach us, but saying ‘yes’ all the time, doesn’t necessarily result in value-driven change.
How many times have you been tasked with doing something, but quickly discover that the solution doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem? We strive to understand the problem that needs to be solved, and the outcome that our teams are looking for, working backwards to determine if a change to our tools is the best way to achieve the outcome.
We ask a few key questions like who will this benefit and how, and will this change create value for a large number of Xeros?
Group thinking & collaboration
Now that we’ve been actively supporting our global teams for more than 12 months, we can focus more on close collaboration with the teams that we support. We’ve built some strong and fruitful relationships with subject matter experts across the different Xero teams who have been engaged and excited about the potential of Atlassian Tools. These experts are the most valuable source of feedback which we now utilize for in-depth group thinking and prioritization of our efforts.
We use these collaboration efforts to validate the challenges our teams are facing, trial new add-ons, methods and processes. Overall this helps our most effective teams deliver good agile practices alongside JIRA and Confluence.
These principles, coupled with our values, keep the Agile Systems team grounded and help us to continuously improve and adapt development tools in a scalable manner.
Anika presented a session at this year’s Atlassian Summit titled ‘Xero-ing in’ on Global Collaboration During Hyper-Growth‘. Watch the video linked for specific example of challenges and specific solutions that could be applied in your team.