Agile Dev Ops East 2023

The Agile + DevOps East Conference 2023, a TechWell Corp event, was full of innovative ideas, methodologies, and learnings. This annual gathering serves as a melting pot for industry experts, thought leaders, and practitioners, all sharing invaluable experiences, revelations, and strategies essential for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of software development.

Among our PhoenixTeam attendees was Noah Krueger, Senior Practitioner and Senior Software Engineer. Noah attended numerous sessions jam-packed with cutting-edge Agile methodologies, DevOps practices, and the impact of AI on software development.

Let’s dive into his key insights and takeaways from the event ranging from AI, Agile, Leadership and much more:

  1. A company’s digital transformation is an inevitable journey that must be handled with care and includes planning and discussions around the tools used, how the teams will pivot to accompany the transformation, and flexibility on the price and timeline. Platform engineering is a necessary role in companies that want to produce and support home-grown tools needed to maintain a digital presence and be at the forefront of their industry.
  2. Healthy leadership requires fostering a team culture of purpose, co-intelligence, and autonomy resulting in a resilient learning community.
  3. AI has the potential to enhance various aspects of a low-performing engineering team by analyzing metrics, identifying problem areas, generating mockups, and creating better unit tests. It can positively impact deployment frequency, failure likelihood in production, lead times, and recovery time.
  4. #GenerativeAI will be a crucial tool (not a replacement) for quality assurance teams as it speeds up the ability to create unit tests and other automated scripts. Understanding how to leverage this tool will help differentiate tech workers in the future. Still, we must also be mindful of its biases and make sure we are not blindly trusting the artifacts that it generates.
  5. Generative AI is a tool that can be used across every aspect of the software development lifecycle, including generating requirements with acceptance criteria and supporting UI mockups, system architecture design, and generating code.
  6. Large technology organizations that want to scale can easily become hampered by slow team member onboarding, inconsistency in tooling across different teams, high cognitive load demands, and a lack of reusability across the organization. Partnering with a digital modernization partner, like Stackspot, can smooth out these challenges and maintain a high level of productivity and satisfaction amongst technology teams.
  7. GitHub actions are a feature that many teams are not taking advantage of, even when their code repositories are stored in GitHub. By streamlining and automating most DevOps steps, software teams can eliminate many tedious tasks, go to market faster, focus on product innovation, and implement features that increase customer satisfaction.
  8. There is a growing fear in the tech industry that AI will replace developers, but this concern conveniently forgets that we have leveraged intelligent tools for decades, such as drag-n-drop components, Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), IntelliSense, and many more. The trend has been that the tools are getting better, but more is needed to offset the growing responsibilities of developers. Generative AI will simply become another tool that lifts the tedious tasks off the team’s shoulders, allowing them to focus on the more innovative and challenging work.
  9. Estimating is a common task in software development that usually relies on our past to guess the future but has two major issues: our biases and the tendency to rely on averages. Instead of relying on averages, using the data from start and end times, one should be able to provide ranges and probabilities about when projects will be completed.

Our team’s engagement in this event showcases our dedication to our clients. We remain at the forefront of innovation and agile methodologies, leveraging transformative technologies to elevate our software development practices. These takeaways will be inputs to PhoenixTeam’s strategies and culture of continuous learning, adaptability, and empathy. As tech continues to rapidly advance and new exciting opportunities come our way, we will adapt accordingly, responsibly and transparently.

Follow PhoenixTeam on LinkedIn for the latest news and updates.

Sessions Attended: Lead Without Blame – Building Resilient Learning Teams ◆ Digital Transformation Pitfalls, and How Cloud Development Environment Platforms Can Change Everything ◆ How AI is Shaping High Performance DevOps Teams ◆ The Potential of AI & Automated Testing: Conquer Test Script Challenges with AI ◆ AI-Powered Agile + DevOps: The Future Starts Now ◆ Case-Study – IT Delivery up to 70% faster ◆ Coding at the Speed of Business: Impacts of Modernizing and Scaling the Developer Experience in a Large Bank ◆ Automating Repetitive Tasks with GitHub Actions ◆ AI and the Future of Coding ◆ Chasing Predictability with AI: The Model of You Outperforms You

By Rob Smith, SPC, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, PPO, ICP-ACC, Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach, PhoenixTeam

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines done as “no longer happening or existing.” It seems straightforward until you look at it from a situation or project, such as software development with numerous moving parts and ever-moving targets. The simple definition of “done” does not apply to delivery, program, and portfolio teams, which all define “done” differently. The term can be subjective according to the project, the company’s standards, and a laundry list of other variables that pose a challenge when setting expectations to achieve the desired outcome for the client. With so many evolving goals and moving pieces, how do teams of tech experts deliver valuable solutions for their clients, company, and community?

Senior Practitioner at Blue Phoenix and Agile Expert Robert (Rob) Smith credits implementing an Agile-based strategy for Blue Phoenix teams’ successful delivery of world-class, customer-centric technology solutions. Blue Phoenix specializes in shredding through problems and churning out solutions to deliver impact and value to its clients. “Our disciplines require our practitioners to be adaptable and quick on their feet due to the fast-paced nature of what we do,” said Rob, “We understand that the only constant in our work is change, so our practitioners always embrace and anticipate it—so much so that we even have a company-wide saying—pivot or die! This strategy ensures we think ten miles down the road, consider all obstacles, expertly adapt to change, and get things done.”

The Definition of Done (DoD) is a fundamental element of Agile that ensures every member of the Scrum Team knows precisely what is expected of them to deliver and when. Establishing a clear DoD at each level of the organization is vital and should be agreed on before any work begins on a project. Be clear. Be consistent. Have a shared understanding. This approach creates transparency, ensures quality aligns with the product and purpose of the organization, and avoids repeat processes by providing everyone a shared understanding of what work was completed as part of the increment. “We must integrate quality into our development processes by meeting the definition of done to prevent user stories that don’t meet the agreed upon standard from being promoted to higher level environments. It will prevent features that don’t meet the definition from being delivered to the customer or user,” advised Rob.

Keep in mind business and technology must be aligned to strike a balance between quality, risk, and speed of delivery. For instance, a manned spacecraft will require much more rigorous testing than an unmanned recreational drone. If the DoD demands exhaustive testing, it may slow down the delivery of the project. While the scope may change, it is important to maintain a consistent level of quality and effort unless a conscious decision is made to prioritize speed over quality. The bottom line is that the scope of the work may be impacted by the team’s DoD.

Rob took on the challenge of defining what it means for a project to “be done,” the Blue Phoenix Way, implementing an Agile-based strategy for outcomes that delight their clients. “The Phoenix definition of done (DoD) is when all conditions, or acceptance criteria, that a software product must satisfy are met and ready to be accepted by a user, customer, team, or consuming system. There are three steps to defining something as done,” says Rob:

  1. Start with the end in mind. What do we want our product to be like in production? What are all the things that must happen before a quality product or feature gets into the users’ hands?
  2. Determine the items the team has the capability and the capacity to complete during the given sprint or timebox. This becomes the team’s definition of done.
  3. Assess the tasks that fell off in the second step to determine how to accomplish them “now” and create a consolidated list of items the team can use to improve the efficiency and quality of their process and product over time.

These fundamental steps allow teams to align on what “done” means right now and what further development is needed to improve the process. The DoD for an increment is part of the organization’s standards that all Scrum Teams must follow as a minimum. If not clearly defined, the Scrum Team must create a DoD appropriate for the product. The Developers must conform to the DoD, and if multiple Scrum Teams work together on a product, they must mutually define and comply with the same Definition of Done.

“A team aligned on the ‘definition of done’ is a team that can identify improvement opportunities and build in greater quality and efficiencies. As impediments are removed, the team improves, and built-in quality improves,” said Rob. Phoenicians continuously collaborate and strategize to determine where they can build quality into their process while completing different tasks and corresponding criteria for assignments to be considered done. The team creates checklists for determining the completion of stories at the end of a sprint and releasing a code to production. The resulting checklists allow for a more efficient, streamlined sprint and product delivery. Just as Rob’s team redefined what it means to be done, Blue Phoenix redefines industry standards and practices daily through unwavering value delivery.

Rob Smith is a retired military officer with over nine years of experience as a Lean-Agile Trainer and Coach. He is a Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach at PhoenixTeam. His distinct and adaptive international experience, combined with his military service and ethos, give him a unique perspective that applies to anyone who desires to succeed. Rob is passionate about sharing how his experiences in the service translate to success as a civilian. Please stay tuned for more articles on Veterans in the Workplace and how Blue Phoenix can help you leverage the power of our Nation’s Heroes!  

Connect with Rob | Connect with PhoenixTeam | Connect with Blue Phoenix

By Rob Smith, SPC, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, PPO, ICP-ACC, Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach, PhoenixTeam

How a Veteran found his purpose and belonging in the civilian workforce after decades of military service. A story about a mission to succeed with a military mindset of lean-agile.

The launch of Blue Phoenix earlier this month caused me to reflect on my own transition to civilian life after 22 years of service in the military.  

Just over nine years ago, while taking off my uniform for the last time, I had big dreams for the future ahead. During my tour, I led hundreds into battle and accomplished some of the toughest missions imaginable. I demonstrated extreme flexibility by changing mission sets and even geographic areas of operations overnight. My capabilities and skills were put to the test, not only on the front lines but also among numerous IT professionals, demonstrating my ability to excel both in action and behind the scenes. With this multi-faceted experience, future options seemed unlimited. At the time, I had no idea this marked only the beginning of an extensive journey back into civilian life. 

The Transition to Civilian Life 

When I ventured out of the military into the civilian world, I never thought I would struggle as much as I did to land a job. I was quickly humbled when my professionally written resume resulted in zero interviews. After five months of searching with no success, an unexpected turn of events unfolded, thanks to my two-year-old son. His innocent conversation with a stranger proved to be the catalyst for an incredible opportunity. As fate would have it, Tony, the stranger, made a life-changing introduction to his business partner, Ed, a lean agile coach, and trainer. This was the start of a new career path where I could use my skills and experiences to impact businesses worldwide significantly, and my next chapter began.  

I leaned into the skills I gained during my tour of duty for our great country and used them to deliver successful outcomes in the business world. While this story is my own, it illustrates Blue Phoenix’s mission of empowering Veterans to leverage their experiences and leadership in civilian roles and how those skills can deliver greater value realization to your organization.     

Summarizing My Transferable Skills and Experience 

It is nearly impossible, to sum up the translatable skills and experience I gained over 22 years of service leading teams of 8 to 800! I think of the various mission sets throughout my military career in Korea, Kuwait, Europe, Albania, Kosovo, and Iraq and the countless positions and additional duties I held at various levels. I served as Fire Direction Officer, Platoon Leader, Fire Support Officer, Battery Commander, Maintenance Officer, Training Officer, Ground Liaison Officer, Targeting Officer, Distinguished Visitors Bureau Deputy Chief, Joint Air Ground Integration Instructor, Operations Officer, Executive Officer, Director of Technology Solutions, and the list goes on. It is important to mention the Army provided formal training for the first four positions only. The other roles were all OJT (on-the-job training) and experience based.   

Describing the transferable skills from my distinct military career can be just as daunting, but for starters, the most obvious: leadership, team building, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, teamwork, adaptability in the face of diversity, flexibility, self-sufficiency, dedication, and integrity. Others might not immediately come to mind, such as continuous learning and improvement, the ability to coordinate and influence external stakeholders, integrating the value of multiple team efforts, coaching individuals and teams to improve, innovative and predictive, strategic planning, and compliance. I learned and perfected all these skills in the armed services, which I now use to coach organizations and leaders on the fundamental components to deliver technology-related initiatives successfully.  

Finding Purpose After Service 

Technology excellence has never been in higher demand, and organizations, tech included, need to adapt to respond to the demand. Successful software delivery is not only achieved because of industry knowledge or skill in functional areas such as product management or architecture. Without question, those are key elements to success, but not the only elements. In my experience, teams that are precise, adaptable, well-coordinated, and have synergy are those that consistently deliver with quality and speed to market. Our country’s veterans live and breathe these fundamental skills and not only can they drive initiatives to success, they are experts in continuous learning, growth, and servant leadership. 

Blue Phoenix sees the value veterans bring and found a unique way to merge military fundamentals with technology and industry expertise to supply the tech excellence demand. Led by a Marine Corp Veteran advised by a board of accomplished business and tech experts, together they know how to tap into the intrinsic skills of veterans to deliver value efficiently and effectively for any organization. And that, my friends, is the best of both worlds.  


Rob Smith is a retired military officer with over nine years of experience as a Lean-Agile Trainer and Coach. He is a Senior Practitioner and Lean Agile Coach at PhoenixTeam. His distinct and adaptive international experience, combined with his military service and ethos, give him a unique perspective that applies to anyone who desires to succeed. Rob is passionate about sharing how his experiences in the service translate to success as a civilian. Please stay tuned for more articles on Veterans in the Workplace and how Blue Phoenix can help you leverage the power of our Nation’s Heroes!  

Connect with Rob | Connect with PhoenixTeam | Connect with Blue Phoenix

An exhausting, but amazing experience that brought a cross-functional group together to form a team to create and test an amazing prototype that set the direction for our next release within a week. 

Senior Business Strategist

The Challenge

Our client is a major mortgage lender who, similar to others in the industry, struggles to aggregate and display data in an intentional and useful way. As part of a hackathon, a team of developers recognized a need, and over a period of nine to 12 months, created a performance insight tool that provided up-to-date personalized metrics on individual team member and user performance. This tool increased efficiency, replacing the time spent manually extracting and analyzing data across disparate platforms, but was developed and delivered without a User Interface and Experience team, product leadership, or end-user feedback. When the enterprise product team learned of the effort and efficiencies the tool could deliver, they jumped in to understand the scope and value of the upcoming beta release and start shaping the next release of the tool. PhoenixTeam was engaged to help discover the end-user’s problems and ideate on solutions for the tool’s second release.

The Solution

Understanding the urgency to define, prepare, and deliver value quickly, PhoenixTeam recommended a modified design sprint that allowed for rapid feedback of the soon-to-be-released beta tool and identification of the highest-priority features for the second release to a larger group of end-users.

PhoenixTeam modified the traditional five-day design sprint to kick off with testing the beta version. This approach allowed the team to learn the most valuable functionality and pinpoint improvement opportunities. PhoenixTeam provided a trainer and expert facilitator to coordinate and lead the five-day session. The facilitator empowered the team to think creatively and kept the team on track to achieve the planned outcomes for each day. The facilitator assisted in trend analysis and provided guidance to streamline future discovery and delivery efforts for the tool. To achieve the desired outcomes of the design sprint, PhoenixTeam organized a cross-functional team with the right skillsets to identify product market fit of the next release.

Here was our gameplan for the next five days:

With a beta already in play, our goal was to obtain immediate end-user feedback to understand whether it met our client’s needs and delivered them value. The team spent the first day reviewing the beta, revisiting personas and journey maps, and aligning on interview roles and questions. On the second day, the facilitator welcomed end-user testers and set the stage—introducing the purpose, objective, and desired outcome of the beta testing activity. The Interviewer introduced the end-users to the tool and asked them to use it as they would on any business day. The rest of the interview team watched and listened to the testers, capturing observations in a feedback log.

In what would traditionally take place throughout the first three days of a design sprint, Day Three of the modified sprint was dedicated to analyzing and understanding tester feedback, brainstorming solutions, and prioritizing the most valuable opportunities. The team synthesized feedback, created artifacts (Crazy Eights, storyboards, etc.), and conducted lightning demos.

Figure 1: Modified Design Sprint for Existing but Untested Prototype. Where the traditional Design Sprint begins with Understanding, Solutioning, and Deciding, when a working prototype exists without an understanding of the problem, the team can prep for interview to learn if the prototype solves the problems or addresses the needs of the end-user.


On Day Four, the team self-organized into prototype creation roles—Interviewer, Maker, Stitcher, Asset Collector, and Writer—empowering them to collaboratively build the prototype, develop new interview questions, and outline specific scenarios testers would complete during testing to prove or disprove the team’s hypotheses. The final day of the design sprint culminated with testing the prototype the team developed based on the first round of interviews and subsequent ideation.

The Outcome

PhoenixTeam understood the client’s challenge and turned it into an opportunity the team could solution quickly and collaboratively. Despite the additional challenges of a unique design timeline and working with an existing beta prior to collecting user feedback, the team realized the value of continuous feedback at every point of the development lifecycle. The cross-functional team worked together to develop a reimagined prototype that would result in a more impactful second release of the tool.

The interview team gathered over 400 pieces of individual feedback from the end-user interviews and identified the following themes:

  1. End-users did not have independent visibility into key performance and business metrics
  2. Users performed work differently, focusing on different metrics at different times
  3. There was a lack of trust on the quality of the data and metrics
  4. End-users had an inconsistent work prioritization processes
  5. Users expressed desire for peer-to-peer performance stack ranking
  6. New users faced training and adoption challenges
  7. Users wanted visibility into “effort” metrics
  8. End-users wished for more intuitive icons
  9. The tool’s expected functionality was not consistent across all users

The team rounded out the five days with a prioritized roadmap and confidence that the next version of the tool achieved product market fit. The week’s efforts resulted in a tool that would bring higher value to end-users, eliminating tedious manual data extraction and analysis, and saving them precious time, money, and resources. The team shifted its mindset from “just build it fast” to a mindset of “build the right thing fast” and embraced the iterative approach of ideate, prototype, and test with a continuous feedback loop. PhoenixTeam utilized Lean-Agile practices to help create solutions as unique as the challenges. In doing so, we continue to adapt industry standards and techniques, resulting in motivated team members geared up to make homeownership an easier dream to achieve through better mortgage technology.

PhoenixTeam Can Help!

The Phoenix Way begins and ends with client delivery. We are front-line leaders in the mortgage industry through product, technology, strategy, and additional leadership disciplines. We do what it takes to bring our clients amazing outcomes while simultaneously sharing our lessons and experiences along the way.

Looking for results in your next design sprint? PhoenixTeam takes the lead in:

  • Facilitating Design Sprints
    • We validate assumptions, accelerate learning about users and their environment, and generate viable and valuable solutions to users’ most urgent challenges.
  • Modifying Traditional Design Sprints
    • Our team can help identify the next set of valuable features for existing products or prototypes with limited testing, validation, or user feedback behind them.
  • Designing Organizational Structure
    • We streamline processes to allow for small cross-functional teams to accelerate discovery and delivery of value.
  • Crafting Customized Rapid Prototyping
    • We host workshops to identify, validate, align, and communicate around value and functionality of products and their features.