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Agile for Startups: SendGrid's history with Agile (2013)

SendGrid has used Agile practices since 2011 to manage their growth from 20 employees to over 90. They initially adopted Scrum and trained their engineering team with help from Rally Software. Over the following years, they refined their Agile processes through experimenting with different roles, ceremonies, and tools as the company scaled rapidly. Key events included adopting pair programming in 2013 and establishing consistent product management in an effort to balance new features and technical improvements. While leadership and tool changes posed challenges, SendGrid continues setting goals like increasing innovation and building an ecosystem to support future growth.

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Agile for Startups
SendGrid’s history with Agile

Victor Bonacci MBA, PMP
Agile Coach @SendGrid
@AgileCoffee
SoCal Code Camp -- November 2013
Agile for Startups: SendGrid's history with Agile (2013)
SendGrid powers your app
Cloud-based email service
– delivers email on behalf of your app/site
– increases deliverability
– improves customer communications
– via SMTP or REST API
We grow with your site
• scalable email infrastructure
• metrics on outgoing email
• handle the time consuming tasks involved
with implementing unsubscribe links,
abiding by anti-spam regulations, and
maintaining corporate branding
Stay out of the Spam folder
SG has sent over 160 Billion emails

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Agile for Startups: SendGrid's history with Agile (2013)

  • 1. Agile for Startups SendGrid’s history with Agile Victor Bonacci MBA, PMP Agile Coach @SendGrid @AgileCoffee SoCal Code Camp -- November 2013
  • 3. SendGrid powers your app Cloud-based email service – delivers email on behalf of your app/site – increases deliverability – improves customer communications – via SMTP or REST API
  • 4. We grow with your site • scalable email infrastructure • metrics on outgoing email • handle the time consuming tasks involved with implementing unsubscribe links, abiding by anti-spam regulations, and maintaining corporate branding
  • 5. Stay out of the Spam folder
  • 6. SG has sent over 160 Billion emails
  • 11. Flat Org Structure Board (6) CEO | VP Engineering | Developers, QA Engineers, Project Mgrs Founders (3)
  • 21. Scrum
  • 23. Agile… … is a discipline … is not a silver bullet
  • 24. SendGrid’s Agile practices, 2009 - 2011 FIVE YEARS OF CHANGE
  • 25. Five Years of Change • • • • • 2009 – inception (sweat equity) 2010 – ramp-up (turning on the spigot) 2011 – going Agile (aligning strengths) 2012 – hello, Scale (massive growth) 2013 – future-proofing (more growth)
  • 26. year 1: 2009 inception • 3 founders • 1 customer • Scrambling to start something up
  • 29. year 2: 2010 Lift Off ! • $$$ – Received funding – Customers – A lot of opportunity came at once • Staff size = 20 – sales, support, dev relations, accounting, marketing – ENGINEERS
  • 30. year 2: 2010 how did we prioritize? • Skype culture • Customers had direct access to developers (SnapChats) – Asked for customer feedback > Rapid response • Flood of tickets • Pivotal Tracker (without any basis in Agile understanding)
  • 31. year 2: 2010 Engineering organization • Ad Hoc • Devs branched into features – became experts based on skillset – Organic • Tim (co-founder, backend expert) would give direction – No real timeframes (due dates) – Devs would figure out how – no documentation or requirements
  • 32. year 2/3: 2010/2011 tools in the early days • • • • • Skype Google Docs Pivotal BaseCamp RedMine
  • 33. year 2/3: 2010/2011 urgent questions • How can we do more faster? • Where are we with regards to Roadmap? • What’s the ETA of features?
  • 36. Transition to Agile • First acceptance criteria: “Make Shit Not Suck”
  • 37. year 3: 2011 Training from Rally “SendGrid is one of my favorite groups to have worked with. I always love checking in to see their progress.” - Ann Konkler, Rally Software – Week 1: execs for one day – Week 2: full Engineering staff • No tools, only cards on walls – Week 4: follow-up with full staff
  • 41. year 3: 2011 new VP Engineering • • • • Brought Agile experience Encouraged experimentation Was available to all Engineers Huge motivating force
  • 42. year 3: 2011 Agile roles • ScrumMaster (SM) duty rotated among team members • Product Owner (PO) was usually a VP (Finance, Sales) or founder
  • 43. year 3: 2011 Geography • Tom organized Eng staff seven into teams – All co-located: four in Anaheim, one in Boulder, one in Romania – Plus new Ops team split between CO & CA • POs and non-Eng in Boulder – Support – Sales, Mktg, Finance, HR… • Specialists / contractors – Newsletter team in Romania – Graphic Designer in Phillipines
  • 44. year 3: 2011 Agile ceremonies • Daily standups in the morning – Overlapping time – Vic floated to observe, capture dependencies • Retrospectives included full Engineering staff – Vic facilitated • Demos lasted up to two hours – Every team demo’d every story/bug/task
  • 45. year 3: 2011 Dev Days • Mid-sprint Wednesday • Opportunity for engineers to work on “something cool” • Not well organized • Tech Debt / Bugs • Low accountability – Abused by some – Gone after 8 months
  • 46. year 3: 2011 Bug Sprint • Succeeded in cleaning up large backlog of accumulated defects • Rewarded with K1 Racing day • QA engineers on each team
  • 47. year 3: 2011 Spice up the Experience • Named the sprints • Team banners
  • 48. 25 Billionth email sent In just over two years, 25B messages passed through the pipes SCALE had not yet begun to show itself…
  • 49. year 4: 2012 Kickoff in Mexico • All employees (~90) met in Cancun for three days of – Tacos – Tequila – Teamwork • Payback for the pre-Agile demands – Heroku & Rackspace integrations
  • 50. year 4: 2012 Another Tool change • Switched from Rally to Pivotal Tracker
  • 51. year 4: 2012 2nd VP of Engineering • Isaac (founder) as interim VP • Additional Eng team in Boulder • Second Project Mgr / Agile Coach hired (Anaheim) – Each PM was SM of three teams • First POs hired (Boulder)
  • 52. year 4: 2012 Agile Education • Tech Talks • Conferences
  • 53. year 4: 2012 SendGrid Labs • R&D in Rhode Island • Loader.io
  • 54. year 4: 2012 Weekly Stakeholder meeting • • • • Weekly?!? Started as status update Priorities get set, reset No consistent focus on either Scalability/Stability or new features
  • 55. year 4: 2012 Engineering & Ops • 3rd VP of Engineering hired – Formerly of Amazon – Metrics-driven – * Not great culture fit • Director of Ops hired – Ops now out of Engineering
  • 56. year 4: 2012 Agile changes • Agile training “Refresher” – 2-days with all Eng & Ops staff in Anaheim • Team retros after each sprint (not full dept) – Quarterly Eng retro • Include sprint metrics (velocity, etc) in team’s Demo
  • 57. year 5: 2013 Mike Cohn, then Mexico
  • 58. year 5: 2013 Yet Another Tool change
  • 59. year 5: 2013 Changes • Team restructure – Eight Eng teams – Team Leads • 3rd PM/AC hired • Overlapping sprints (every other week) • Smaller demos (groups of teams) – Goal of increasing attendance / participation by non-Eng
  • 60. Pair-programming • 2 programmers solving one problem – 2 chairs, 2 monitors, 2 keyboards • Saves time – Knowledge transfer – Better coding practices – Built-in code review
  • 62. year 5: 2013 Camp SendGrid • Replaces Agile refresher for full staff • Quarterly visits to offices to train new staff (not just Eng)
  • 63. year 5: 2013 New VP Eng • Joe (employee #4) as interim VP Eng • “Going Green” – 20% of items each sprint – Bugs, tech debt, security, stabilization • 80% new features
  • 67. year 5: 2013 Director of QA • Director and four QA engineers
  • 70. 2015 Goals • Getting to Innovation vs. hardening / strengthening • Build an ecosystem for 3rd-party developer community
  • 71. Challenges • Leadership turnover • Long-term planning • Tool change
  • 73. Victor Bonacci MBA, PMP Agile Coach @SendGrid @AgileCoffee THANK YOU