Our Work


It's Great To Be An Agile Stakeholder

By Samantha Kyrkostas on February 02, 2015
Ad-hoc usability testing

Greetings from snowbound Chicago! Samantha Kyrkostas here, Development Manager (the fundraising kind) at ILAO. My role in building the next generation of our websites and services is a little different from others you've heard from before on this blog. I am a Stakeholder, which means that I can communicate my needs as an end user (e.g. make that Donate button bigger!) and provide feedback at sprint demos but that I do my best to keep quiet when it comes to figuring out how things get done. It also means that when a call goes out for volunteers, I answer.

Case in point: A few days before the New Year, the Development team gathered volunteers to get some first-round feedback on wireframe layouts for the new website. As you can see from the picture above, I was pretty excited to get the chance to help out with the first round of usability testing.

Why so excited, you ask? Because I know that getting answers to these kinds of usability questions early on in the development process can have a huge impact on how useful our resources are for people trying to resolve legal problems down the road. (See Dina's great post about why usability testing is so important.)

After a team huddle, ScrumMaster Chris and I set out to get some answers to a few questions that the Development team had identified as part of this testing scenario. Where would you click to print this resource? Where would you find related video content? How would you email this resource to yourself?

Asking strangers for anything on State Street requires a brave face and I was a little worried that we'd be summarily ignored but it turns out that when you tell people that you work for a non-profit and that you're building a new website to help people, most folks will stop and help you out. We asked everyone: the doormen in our building, a visiting mom and daughter on break from college, a former Circuit Clerk employee, and a fellow legal aider we ran into in the Daley Center concourse. It took our team of 2 less than 40 minutes to talk with 10 people.

Using the feedback that each team received, the Development team will make updates to the page layouts in future sprints. And then, of course, we'll test again. Because that's what Agile is all about.

As a stakeholder, I love what Scrum does to keep me involved in to the process throughout development. Every two weeks, I get an update on progress. I get to communicate my needs and offer support when necessary. I get to be part of the team. And I love a good team.

Before we began using an Agile-style development process, I was never sure how things were being built or what they were going to look like or exactly who was in the driver's seat. All I knew was that there was some kind of development afoot. For much of my time at ILAO, I followed up a lot of time writing grant proposals about future plans with a flurry of reports letting funders know that we'd accomplished our goals. But I never had a deep understanding of the actual process. This made it easy for me to think of my colleagues as "wizards" orchestrating elaborate designs behind the curtain, but it didn't always make me feel like part of the process. Since ILAO adopted Scrum this fall, all of that has changed and I couldn't be happier.

When it comes to building a culture of continuous improvement and a more team-based work model, everybody has got to have skin in the game (even us stakeholders). Thanks to our biweekly sprint demos, the fact that we're building the next generation of our websites remains top of mind. So, when I talk to foundations and individual donors about our work, I have plenty to say about the kind of future their funds are creating and the new home for ILAO that we're building together.

Thanks for keeping up with our team (oh, and click here to invest in our work!)