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06 Mar 2014

Agile Project Management at Gumtree

by Melanie Franklin

Agile London hosted an event starred Gumtree, a subsidiary of Ebay, who gave us a comprehensive picture of how and why they have implemented agile project management over the last few years.


Hearing these experiences is thought provoking as they offer new ideas, and reassuring when you realise other firms have taken the same steps! This is because my own implementations of agile have shown me that:

  • No two implementations are the same as agile project management is not a tightly controlled methodology but more of a way of thinking
  • Adopting agile project management has far reaching effects across the organisation as this way of working affects how projects are originated and how they are delivered back to the business

Best learning point from the event

My most important takeaway from the Gumtree event was the recognition that agile should not apply to every piece of work. Agile project management is best suited to those projects where the solution is not clearly defined up front, and that an approach to evolving the end solution through multiple deployments of smaller elements will lead to products that meet customer need.

What does this mean in practice?

In practice this means running two streams of project management:

  1. Agile project management for those projects that innovate and are based on new ideas that are not completely understood at the start of the project lifecycle
  2. Infrastructure projects that create the environment which innovative projects need to have in place.

These infrastructure projects include all those initiatives that improve existing architecture and address the technical debt created by other projects. Infrastructure projects are not an unknown quantity, their requirements can be clearly articulated up front, usually from a list of things that need to be fixed!

Does a Two-Tier Project Management approach work?

Increasingly I am seeing this two-tier approach and in some organisations I am seeing a three-tier approach, where the infrastructure projects are divided into housekeeping and are not treated as projects but as the business as usual for any IT department, and infrastructure projects along with the innovative, customer driven projects.

I was also really interested in how Gumtree scope their projects. A key part of their process is to avoid broad ‘business improvement’ aims. At the start of their project process, the team narrow down the scope specifically which keeps projects short, focused on business improvements and empowers the team to adjust the deliverables to meet these aims.

Sharing Key Performance Indicators

In conjunction with this is the principle of shared Key Performance Indicators, where the business and the development teams share the same improvement targets in specific market segments. In a lot of organisations there is still a lot of resistance to IT being measured by the same improvements in the business that those with more customer facing roles are assessed, but if we do not have that common ground, then developers and project originators will always be looking at the project from different perspectives (business value versus technical integrity perhaps?).

Assessing IT performance on business improvements encourages developers to become empowered by taking on a more entrepreneurial responsibility for their organisation, rather than working in a project specific bubble which ignores the wider context of why the project is being undertaken in the first place.

Who are Agile London?

These events are well organised by Agile London, and whilst the beers at the start and the pizza at the end are great, the real value is in the insights that those working in agile organisations are willing to share, so thanks to all who are contributing. Do visit the site and join in the discussion.

What will I do differently?

During my next Agile Project Management and Change Management courses I will raise this issue of two-tier project management as a way to help my delegates be more effective when back in the work place. I am always seeking out ways to allow agile thinking to be incorporated into strategic project planning and this may just tip the balance for a few clients and delegate to buy into the agile concept.

Melanie Franklin
6th March 2014
agile london, gumtree