I’m an Agile Team Lead and I’ve worked at Kainos for a year on the MOT Project at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). Being part of the Data Science and Platform teams has given me the chance to work with some very talented people on very interesting topics. If you’d told me a year ago I’d be doing this job on such a huge project, I wouldn’t have believed you. Back in Christmas 2017 I was considering a career outside of IT after nearly 10 years of software development and 7 years of management. A trip to a Kainos recruitment event in Birmingham changed all of that.
The Recruitment Evening
Arriving at the 21st floor of Alpha Tower, Birmingham, I was greeted by a host of smiles and shown around by Sarah, the Talent Manager, who had personally looked after my application so far. Initially surprised by how many Kainos employees from a range of disciplines had taken the time to attend, I quickly realised why. It wasn’t just because there was a lot of hopeful candidates, but that the Kainos folk loved their jobs and spoke about them with passion – they wanted to be there.
The evening had a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with refreshments and food in the plush surroundings of the newly opened Birmingham office. A handy app built by Kainos ensured the underlying point of the evening (pairing candidates with interviews for suitable roles) didn’t get in the way of interesting, flowing conversation or turn into a repeated list of questions from one person to the next. Nobody looked bored or left out. The people I spoke to really wanted to know about my skills and experience, recommended others I should talk to and gave honest accounts of what they did on a day to day basis for a whole range of projects.
3 hours quickly flew past and by the end of the evening I’d spoken to software engineers, agile team leads, business analysts, delivery managers, software testers and solution architects (the list goes on) of whom all convinced me I was talking with some extremely talented people.
On the journey home my wife called to ask how I’d got on. Still a bit blown away I replied ‘I hope I get in there, they are all so switched on. They are really going for it, I want some of that!’
Feedback from the recruitment evening arrived quickly and I was asked to attend a face to face interview within the same week. I’d be meeting Helen and Darren, both delivery managers, for about an hour to talk more in depth about my experience as a scrum master and development practices. I was given some useful information to prepare for this – the particular skills on my CV that were of interest and that I’d be asked to do some diagramming to help explain my current development processes.
It was good to see some familiar faces that had also made it to the interview stage and the sessions were well coordinated with the same relaxed atmosphere as the recruitment evening. Before the interview I had a chat over coffee with Helen about the plans for the Birmingham office, the projects she was involved with and what I wanted out of a new role.
The interview itself was fun and helped me gain more insight into what an agile team lead does – it’s not just being a scrum master and facilitating the core events. You’ll be asked about the basics of scrum, kanban and agile ways of working and will need to show you actively lead those sessions and take part in the decision making process to ensure good outcomes. Technical knowledge of development processes, testing practices and continuous delivery concepts is very useful especially if you can explain how the processes you currently use have adapted over time and why. Knowing the fundamentals but showing you can adapt to real world situations when faced with distributed teams, specific government requirements, team dynamics and new technology will help show you are not just a spectator but fundamental to driving best practice and performance in your team.
The DVSA are undergoing a large digital transformation project and there are currently around 60 roles in a multi supplier environment to cover 5 main teams – 2 software development teams, a service design team, a data analytics team and a platform team. Supporting these teams are a variety of ancillary roles for delivery management and DVSA client side roles such as product owners. There is an excellent team ethos across the projects and as an agile team lead it is part of your role to maintain good relations with DVSA staff and other suppliers.
For such a large project with multiple work streams the first day on site can seem a little daunting. I was given a few weeks to observe how the project functions and spend time with different teams before being being placed as the team lead for the platform team.
The DVSA project operates on a 2 week delivery cycle and as an agile team lead you are given the autonomy to choose the appropriate methods to fit into that cycle. I’ve helped the platform team improve how we handle unexpected work and maintain delivery commitments by adapting a scrumban way of working. We’ve done this by improving our default ticket template, improving our definitions of ready and done and ensuring that we refine work into small stories. The change didn’t happen overnight and there was some ground work to embed first – as an agile team lead you need to ensure big improvements are well considered, have buy-in from the team and are executed smoothly to avoid disruption in the team’s delivery.
Learning and development is taken seriously at Kainos and I’ve been given new challenges and responsibilities as I have settled into my project. For the last 4 months I’ve taken on the additional role of agile team lead for the data and analytics team giving me a fascinating insight into their skill sets and the value they provide to the DVSA. The data team recently won ‘AI & Machine Learning Project of the Year‘ at the UK IT Industry Awards for their work on garage risk ratings. This integral part of the MOT service uses machine intelligence to to analyse garages and work out a schedule for inspectors to visit. I’ve certainly been inspired to look more into machine learning and learnt a lot about how it is used at the DVSA in areas like fraud.
Joining Kainos has been a fantastic opportunity for me and there are loads of other benefits to working for this company that I’ll cover in a future blog post. If you are considering the role of agile team lead or delivery manager and want to get stuck in to some large scale, big name projects, I highly recommend you put your CV forward. It’s refreshed my thinking of what it is to work in the technology industry and I look forward to what the future brings with Kainos.
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