The award-winning Agile advocate hardly needs an introduction, but we’re going to anyway. With 35+ years in the industry, there is nothing 101 Ways’ Kelly Waters doesn’t know about Delivery. Being one of the brilliant keynote speakers at our next CTO Craft Con 2021: The Delivery One, we handed over the mic to hear his views on how the world of tech might change in 2021 as things pick up again.

Hi Kelly, thanks for chatting with me today, how are you and 101 Ways doing?

Hi! I’m pleased to say we’ve had a very strong start to the New Year after a year that was difficult on so many fronts for so many. 2020 involved a lot of difficult decisions and worries about what was going to happen once COVID took hold and the whole world came to a stop. But as of January 2021, we’ve got quite a few new clients so people are starting to look forward again. Think it’s best to say that we ‘survived’ it and it’s hopefully turning a corner now.

How has that shifted your focus for the rest of 2021?

The first thing is just making sure everyone’s still safe; considering people’s capacity, making sure they’re able to work from home effectively, and that clients are still seeing good delivery and are happy. So initially it’s making sure we can keep everything running during the ongoing health crisis and the first focus is always that.

From a business point of view, we have seen a big rebound in client demand in the last two months, where people perhaps put projects on hold during 2020. And despite now being in the middle of the second COVID wave, businesses are saying, ‘We can’t wait forever; we need to get back to those projects’. We need to be even better at digital transformation and producing digital products than before, because everybody expects everything to be online now. We’re seeing growing investment in tech, lots of new project opportunities, and hopefully a return to a better job market for everyone as a result.

In light of the tide change, how do you think your leadership and strategy will need to change?

Where before we might have thought about wider strategies like moving into new markets/sectors/regions, however the focus at the moment is entirely on making sure that we continue doing a great job for our current clients in our current regions. We’ve had to really double down on delivery and make sure we’re continuously delivering a good service and good products, and focus on eliminating any issues that get in the way of that, first and foremost. 2020 was about damage limitation, trying to make it through as best we could and sustain the business and making sure that people were (and are) doing okay. Much of the industry is in the early stages of recovery in this stage of recovery and it makes sense for there to be a sense of cautiousness.

This influx of demand is a great sign for anyone in the contract or job market because we are seeing things are picking up. As things continue to improve, we want to make the most of this ‘rebound’ and ensure 101 Ways responds well to the IR35 legislation finally coming in this April after being delayed last year.

So in the short-term, it will be’ hands-on-deck’: taking on new clients as demand increases, and bringing on lots more people again to meet those needs. We need to get those people onboarded and working well together as a team and delivering well, and navigating IR35 to prepare us for a successful 2021. What we’re hoping for, of course, is that in the next few months, the vaccine might have been rolled out enough that we see a bigger return to normal life.

Finally we’re also looking forward to being able to be more adventurous with new regions or new sectors again. But realistically, that’s looking more like the second half of the year.

With everything being remote now, have you seen an impact on delivery?

No, not really, which is a big surprise! In the Agile community, we always talked about the importance of co-location. One of my feelings about it is, when most of the team is together in an office (pre-COVID of course!) and a few people are working remotely, the latter often feel left out. This is because they can’t hear as well or don’t get engaged properly in meetings, or because they’re not in sight. They’re forgotten about in the little conversations that happen around the coffee machine or maybe they don’t get involved in the social activities which leads to ostracisation. So when you talk about co-location, in the past, it benefitted some more than others.

Now that everybody’s remote, everyone is equal again. I think it’s restored a bit of balance in the sense that if the whole team is together or the whole team is remote. It probably works better than a half-way hybrid. becasue now we have to do things in such a way that engages everybody remotely and therefore team working remotely is probably improved.

How do you ensure failures or mistakes from building a product aren’t fatal?

It comes back to delivering in small incremental pieces so the lessons are learned through making small mistakes. Frequent, small mistakes allow for constant course correction, so that you don’t end up going nowhere or making the catastrophic mistake of launching something that doesn’t fit or doesn’t work. Failure is part of learning and is essential. It’s going to happen, constantly. And I think if we can make them as small and frequent as possible so we have the opportunity to course correct then hopefully we can avoid the iceberg situation where you end up with a catastrophe. And I think an agile approach does that really well, obviously delivering small increments and having frequent retrospectives to look at what’s gone well and what hasn’t. If the team is in a healthy state and they’re really looking at what comes out of the retrospective and implementing changes to avoid those mistakes that can take them off in the wrong direction then I think that’s a good way of avoiding big problems.

With everybody now co-located, what’s your top tip for delivering projects remotely in 2021? Was there a method that arose in the last year that worked and has become intrinsic to the way teams deliver now?

One of the key problems with Zoom calls is that we only use it when we need to have a meeting with a purpose. We’ve lost that incidental communication that happens when you’re making a coffee, or when you’re chatting around your desk. In the past, conversation would develop from something casual into bouncing around ideas and you’d end up stumbling across something really important; a really good idea or an insight that can solve a global problem. When those conversations aren’t really happening – because you don’t book a meeting to instigate them – then that discovery just doesn’t occur.

So I think we need to try and schedule a few more social or informal calls that aren’t necessarily a ritual, but exist just to connect with one other and re-establish those ‘watercooler moments’. I do acknowledge that in reality this is more difficult, because people don’t want to be on zoom all day or have a call with no purpose. However, I did it recently with a few of our team – just to see how everyone was on a personal level – and we ended up moving on to work-related issues. Because of the informality at the beginning and knowing how people were really doing, we actually stumbled across a number of interesting points that could help us workwise. So even if the call isn’t ‘essential’, the more you know about your team and where they are, the better you can adapt.

Perfect. And lastly, can you recommend a book or podcast every Delivery Manager should read or listen to?

A couple of old favourites:

  • Lean Startup by Eric Ries – to make sure we keep delivery focused on small measurable feedback cycles: Build, measure, learn.
  • Drive by Dan Pink – A reminder of what really motivates people – autonomy, mastery, purpose – and how delivery managers can foster that environment to get the best out of the team.

Thank you so much, Kelly!


Catch Kelly and some incredible other speakers at our forthcoming CTO Craft Con 2021: The Delivery One on 23 – 25 March.

Find out more and get your tickets here!

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