© 2021 – intoAction
How do you streamline the way a digital department works when you’re right in the middle of a complex takeover process? This was what we had to grapple with at De Telegraaf, the Netherlands’ largest daily newspaper. The team there was responsible for maintaining and upgrading the websites for De Telegraaf and underlying brands such as Vrouw.
The almost 50 digital specialists in this team had endured many changes over the past few years: takeovers, stakeholders who came and went, an IT landscape that had lost its flexibility as years went by. As a result, gaps had appeared in knowledge and the collaborative workflow. The organisation’s objective was to have a stable website that could withstand peak loads and would be protected from external influences.
Collaboration between the editorial board (the business) and IT was not going well at the start of this project. The backlog wasn’t prioritised properly; decisions were based on instinct. And the team failed to look sufficiently at the exact benefit the end user – the reader – would derive from certain new functionalities. A group of smart, capable people were working there very independently but they had little sense of aiming for a common goal.
Because releases were a constant feature, but there was no well-organised process, too much went wrong. We needed to calm things down. During the month-long “code freeze”, we only addressed a few crucial items in the backlog and checked that the code was correct and secure. Apart from that, we took a breather to give ourselves time to thoroughly explore the current situation. We analysed the process down to the last detail. We then created a complete picture viewed from various angles: we looked at the people, the team, the product (the websites) and ways of working together. We compared them with various best practices: development models which have successfully made their mark in the digital world. We chose the most appropriate model and picked out the things that were most relevant for De Telegraaf.
In the client’s words:
‘intoAction assisted us in interviewing important stakeholders in the organisation. “How do you do the things you do?” “Why do you do it that way?” “If you need to make a change, what do you do?” We asked these questions without making any value judgements. The answers gave us a good impression of the current situation and the existing process.’
Chris de Groot, Operations Manager for Digital Innovation & Development at De Telegraaf
The following step was to reorganise the team structures and processes. Previously, major releases were the driving force in the department. We started working much more agilely. We began with sprint planning and specified the definition of done, working very pragmatically.
Changes are happening and the team is already producing output: sites are going live, functionalities are being developed. In the meantime, we are continuing to develop and the process is becoming increasingly refined.
As our colleague, Willem Corbijn says: ‘When you start from scratch, it takes ages before you see any results. But by following a best practice, you can make rapid progress. It’s not a good idea to implement the best practice indiscriminately, though. You’ll come up against things like limited relevance, which arouses resistance.
So we picked out a few items to implement immediately. One of those was to make the roles explicit. People suddenly became aware of where their place in the organisation was and who was responsible for what. That got the team moving and united them.’
The working methods and the phase of a release have now become much more comprehensible due to clear descriptions. And that helps: if you know exactly what your role is the organisation and you know what you have to do, you make fewer assumptions and therefore fewer errors. Team members also feel much more involved. The atmosphere in the team has brightened tremendously and the relationship between IT and the business has also improved considerably.
De Telegraaf can now develop and release systematically. Management is on the basis of data; collaboration on the basis of emotion. The company now takes much more rational, data-driven decisions about upgrades and new functionalities.
The development process has become more scalable and more secure. The backlog can be eliminated much more efficiently; the stability of the websites has improved and they are faster. And finally, the digital department can now respond much more effectively to the wishes of the internal organisation.