Blog post

OpenTent's Newest Experiment: The Portfolio Team

By 
Kristen Tippit
June 1, 2022

Is the workplace a good space to try experiments? Shouldn't a company already know how they are doing their work? Is it ok to change course if a team isn't able to work effectively across multiple projects?

OpenTent believes in agility when it comes to the work process.

We are big fans of trying something out and pivoting if needed. Sometimes you just don't know how something will work until you try it out! So that's what we did when we instituted a new approach to team work last quarter. We knew we wanted to be working in with a more Agile approach (more on that later) and wanted to see what it could look like to be intentional about the process.

Enter "The Portfolio Team"!

What we have called the Portfolio Team is a team made up of an Agile Coach, a Project Manager, Lead Engineer, and Solutions Engineers who all work on the same group of clients together. This was different than how we had been operating before, where one Engineer could be working with multiple different Project Managers across different clients. It was difficult to plan capacity properly that way and teammates didn't feel a strong sense of teamwork and cohesiveness across their different projects.

We could get very technical describing all the different "events" that reoccurred each day to discuss and plan work, and the checklists they created to be clear on what they were scoping and building. We could lay out the whole process, talking about user stories, future iterations, and chartering conversations.

But we think it's more interesting to hear about how the team felt about the experiment, how it helped them understand, plan, and feel successful in their work, how much more supportive, encouraging, and collaborative the team dynamic was. And, it was framed as an experiment which the team says helped them feel less pressure to have a perfect outcome.

And before we do that, let's go over the Agile approach and why so many companies are instituting it for their team work.

Atlasssian.com says, "Agile is an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches. Instead of betting everything on a "big bang" launch, an agile team delivers work in small, but consumable, increments. Requirements, plans, and results are evaluated continuously so teams have a natural mechanism for responding to change quickly."

This approach values planning and predictability so that companies can more easily manage uncertainty for project work and client expectations.

The OpenTent Portfolio Team had a quite a bit to say about their experiment at a recent Friday Hike (see previous post about Friday Hikes!)

Audrey, Lead Project Manager:

"This experiment allowed us to leverage our work going forward and figure out how each of us best work. We were able to have a series of high trust, high quality conversations at our meetings."

Kara, Senior Project Manager:

"What I liked is that no one is in charge. We all come with a plan but know to be open to change. We were able to take work off other’s plates by talking about it and could be supportive and accountable to each other."

Angie, Senior Solutions Engineer:

"It felt really self-organizing with no hierarchy or ego. It allowed us to be more intentional by taking away assumptions about other’s workload and saying what we needed to say to help each other."

Stephen, Senior Solutions Engineer:

"This experiment felt like showing up for each other and having more people in the room to talk about the work with. We could really understand where everyone was at and utilize other’s zones of excellence"

Connie, Senior Solutions Engineer:

"It was great to hear from teammates on a regular basis and trust you had a set of people that know what your day looks like. I felt the team was set up to encourage collaboration."

Chris, Lead Engineer/Agile Coach

"Overall, I would say that having dedicated time makes space for better collaboration."

When asked about advice the team would give others attempting to shift their work using this approach, this is the list they came up with:

  • Lean into discomfort and talk about it
  • Be generous with your time
  • Be honest about your energy level and headspace
  • Don’t take any bit of pain or frustration for granted. Try something and then try again
  • Be honest about what you need and what your preferences are for working
  • Keep an experimental mindset, let go of fear of failure
  • Embrace it but don’t perseverate
  • The How is hard, lean into difficulty, embrace not being in control
  • It’s gonna be ok
  • Be silly
  • See this group as your team, your people
  • Together you can do anything

There was a very powerful and consistent theme that came out of this experiment - when you're in a safe environment, it's okay and encouraged to say I was wrong! Let's learn from this together.

And if you are going to attempt something new in the workplace, it doesn't get any better than that!

To learn more about OpenTent's way of Working Out Loud, get in touch here!

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