So much theory has been said and written about the agile ways of working. And in the end when exchanging with companies about how to lead agile transformation, the first question that pops up is always “but what do you actually mean by working agile?”
After meeting and working with many different companies, we have now acquired the deep conviction that working agile, being agile, having an agile mindset varies a lot from one company to another: how far is it in using agile methods and processes? How long has it been using them? How embedded is it in the corporate culture?

Let’s dive into the example of Qwant and see what agile means to them…

Qwant was founded in 2013 in France and developed a search engine that respects privacy of its users. It is positioned as a European alternative to Google and has known a steady growth over the last years.

In 2016, as they needed to accelerate their scalability, Qwant IT department opted for the “agile ways of working”. They started with Kanban to organize priorities with the proper dedication of resources. They rapidly added the Scrum methodology, following it in the spirit of Spotify (see An Agile Software Platform That Rocks with Spotify) to optimize the organization and processes of production in a complex and changing environment.

Concretely how does it work?

Qwant’s search engine is segmented into sub-products: classical search, news, shopping, etc. Each sub-product has a dedicated team, or squad, that includes a product owner, a designer and developers. Each squad is managed autonomously and is responsible for developing its sub-product as well as its own KPIs.
This structure brings a healthy competition between the squads: each squad wants to achieve the best results and at the same time each squad benefits from the good ideas of the others. Some squads are transversal and are in charge of supporting all the other squads (for instance IT infrastructure).

Once priorities are decided by the top management, product owners define autonomously which functionalities should be delivered, with what timeframe and which resources.
To the difference of the classical Scrum method, Qwant does not use any scrum master. This role is split over product owners as well as other members of the squads. Each squad is free to organize daily meetings and sprint reviews.

Chaotic development with difficulty to prioritize;

Pyramidal structure with decision power at the top;

Difficult top down and bottom up communication on projects;

Linear development with longer project phases;

Heavy reporting on tasks and to-do.

Development structured in sprints with clear objectives and dedicated resources;

Flat structure with high autonomy in the squads;

Higher visibility on advancement and use of resources;

Sprint based development (one to two weeks), less rework;

No timesheets, trust rules.

Is it confusing to have several agile methods at the same time?

Qwant has split projects into two categories: existing projects that are going through permanent change, and new projects which have to be thought through properly from the beginning. For the first category, the most relevant method has appeared to be Kanban: it helps for prioritization and follow up of tasks. For the second category, Qwant has chosen an adapted version of Scrum.

Key learnings from Qwant

1. It is good to start with as many processes as possible at the beginning and to keep progressively only the ones that work and bring value to the organization.
2. The method has to adapt to the company and not the reverse.
3. Autonomy is key to the successful implementation of agile principles and methods.
4. When launching a new project, all that matters is the MVP (Minimum Viable Product)! The project has to be cut into as many pieces as possible to be able to iterate on the smallest functionalities.
5. When deciding to implement agile, the whole company has to move together at once. If some transform and some stay still, the potential efficiency of agility is killed.

Pretty much everything has been said about agile, what it is, how it should work, how great it is, how terrible it is… In the end, a key success factor in agile transformation is that it is for you as a company to define your own agile way of working. Find your own blend of methods, values and mindset that will make agile a reality for your organization.