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Agile & Ways of Working at Salesforce HQ in San Francisco

On a recent visit to California I caught up with two enterprise lean agile coaches at Salesforce at their offices in San Francisco.

Any visit to Silicon Valley and San Francisco is always inspiring to anyone working in IT. Close by to where I stayed were the offices of Evernote, Sony Playstation and Oracle. A drive to Stanford University took me past the birthplace of Google. A visit to the mall saw me park opposite the head office of Survey Monkey. It would be impossible to be uninspired. Along the drive in to San Francisco city and in the distance you can see a prominent skyscraper that stands tall above all others in the city skyline – the brand new Salesforce Tower.

Walking into Salesforce’s offices you are met by the multitude of the Salesforce’s mascots – Astro, Einstein, Codey, etc. The inner techie in me made sure to pick up stickers for my laptop. Going up to the floors above I am greeted by coffee stops and a plentiful supply of crisps and candy.

I myself, am an agile coach based in Melbourne, Australia. Living and breathing agile, and often faced with the challenges of influencing agile ‘transformations’, my intent has always been to learn as much as I can from organisations who have made a mark on the global digital landscape. Ranging from the big banks in Australia to Spotify in Europe, what is it about Salesforce that has made them reach the top of "Greatest Places To Work" listings? What has made them such a powerhouse in their product space?

Making my way to the meeting room I noticed that the walls on this particular floor had been void of post-its, physical kanbans and the clutter I have become accustomed to in digital workspaces. I caught up with the enterprise agile coaches who brought me up to speed on how Salesforce works toward enterprise agility.

Culture is king. Salesforce employees are deeply committed to Ohana which translates to family in Hawaiian. Ohana is a deeply-seated support system nurtured inside the company. Everything done at the firm seems to stem from or lead to this value. Family brings with it the connotation of belonging and meaning.

Ohana is also tied close to the concept of Salesforce’s V2MOM. This is an acronym for vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures. Conceived by Marc Benioff in 1999, V2MOM are considered a driving force for Salesforce that saw them achieve a high level of organisational alignment and collaboration while growing at extraordinary speeds. All employees must align their work to the Salesforce’s V2MOM. This aligns individual objectives to the firm’s mission and purpose. While leadership eventually decide on the V2MOMs it is the bubbling up of ideas from all teams that form the Salesforce’s V2MOM. One could then assume that direction of the product, its vision and measures are owned by the teams at Salesforce who are privy to the voice of the customer.

Salesforce does not subscribe to one agile framework per say. They have their own agile way of working, referred to as Agile@Salesforce, at its core is a combination of XP, Lean Principles and Scrum. Speaking to the agile coaches they emphasise that the elimination of waste using Lean Principles and the adoption of XP techniques in coding has played a pivotal role. Any newcomer to the firm is taken through a core agile training course during onboarding to ensure alignment of terminology and ways of working. Teams are aligned logically along product lines, called clouds.

With many teams across the company, sourcing agile coaches has presented its challenges. Agile team coaches have been assigned to teams on a pull-basis, i.e. as and when required, rather than individual assignments to teams (taking into consideration the maturity of the teams). Enterprise agile coaches focus on strategy, e.g. curriculum for agile training and ad hoc coaching for teams without a permanent coach. A ‘working group’ (similar to a training dojo) for agile was established where leaders across the firm are coached in agile and these leaders are then released into the firm as agile / ways of working evangelists. This ‘train-the-leader’ method has proven to be an effective strategy as agile coaches cannot attend every ceremony.

Scaling agile at Salesforce is fluid. With Salesforce releasing 3 major software releases per annum–with many small releases daily–each major release focuses on the immediate next 4 months. Scrum of Scrums and regular roadmap planning establishes an aligned cadence across teams, with the whole process meticulously aligning up to the V2MOM.

With sprints typically spanning 2 weeks (not a hard rule as such!) team focus is on productivity, predictability, quality and happiness. Metrics observed include throughput, bugs from existing cards, code check-in rates and ‘Spotify-type’ team health checks often captured as dashboards and communicated to leads. The health check dashboards provide feedback on the effectiveness of agile coaching and pinpoint areas which require attention. Metrics are not a yard-stick to control and manage people but serve to bring transparency to the teams.

Retrospectives are considered critical at the end of each sprint with focus on responses to criteria such as: Were the sprint goals achieved? Did the teams feel supported? How is the team’s work-life balance fairing? Are our people happy?

Being part of a global agile community it was wonderful catching up with individuals from across the world and learning that we are all on the same journey. There was a lot of synergy between the way I see agile working in Australia and those at Salesforce. Though just like any agile process, improvements and iterations can still be made.

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