It’s an exciting time for the travel industry. We are at the epicentre of a transformational shift in how customers search and shop. Invisible boundaries that used to exist between products and services have now all but vanished, opening up new opportunities across every segment of the travel industry.
For travel businesses, this development has meant that we have had to get smarter and adapt as customer expectations rise. Our mutual opportunity is to meet this challenge by innovating together and surpassing our customers evolving needs. In this article, we review the growing trend in adopting agile project management techniques for faster, more customer-driven results.
Commercial success today relies heavily on the speed and responsiveness of a company’s product and process innovations. Airlines, OTAs and hotel groups are at the forefront of a new era of disruptive online business models whose key commercial strengths lie in their ability to capitalise on the new opportunities presented by changes in stakeholder demands and preferences. The traditional project team structures that we’re all familiar with aren’t always practical if speed and flexibility are the core drivers at play. Given the sheer complexity and variety of some projects today, it’s not always possible at the outset of a project to identify the correct mix of knowledge and experience required and then assume that those initial requirements won’t change during the project. It is because of this that Agile has become particularly popular because it accounts for the fact that needs and requirements may change during a project’s lifecycle — something that almost always seems to happen, especially during big and/or long-term projects.
Simplicity wins out
The term ‘scrum’ refers to an Agile framework for completing complex projects and was originally formulated for software development projects. However, according to Scrum Alliance, ‘Scrum’ methodologies work well for any complex, innovative scope of work. There’s an emphasis on decision making from real-world results rather than speculation and time is divided into short work cadences, known as ‘Sprints’, typically one week or two weeks long.
Agile’s principal strength is that it is simpler to understand and follow than most other project management methods. Jim Bird, Software Security Expert and CTO explains, “There isn’t much to it: short incremental sprints, daily stand-up meetings, regular planning and review
meetings around the start and end of each sprint, some work to prioritise the backlog and keep it up-to-date, simple progress reporting, and a flat, simple team structure”.
Jeff Sutherland, co-writer of ‘The Agile Manifesto’ and the co-creator of ‘Scrum Technique’, explains that Scrum was founded on five values that each member of a team uses to guide decision-making. These values are critical to the success of Scrum and deserve mention here:
- Commitment: Team members must be committed to success and be willing to create realistic goals and stick to them.
- Focus: Scrum is built around the concept of focusing on a few things at a time and contributing to achieving the goal.
- Openness: Everyone’s goals and progress are transparent.
- Respect: Each participant must respect everyone else. It’s the golden rule of scrum.
- Courage: Scrum is all about change and team members are encouraged to challenge every idea.
The rise of short-term projects
In a recent article entitled ‘Teamwork on the Fly’, Harvard Business School academic, Amy Edmondson asserts that quick-fix/short-term projects are on the rise and often involve employees from geographically dispersed offices, diverse disciplines and divisions within the company – as well as external professionals and other stakeholders. Edmondson refers to this type of innovative teamwork as “teamwork on the fly” and explains it as “a way of getting work done while figuring out how to do it better; it’s executing and learning at the same time”.
“When no two projects are alike, people need to get up to speed quickly on brand new topics, again and again. And because solutions can come from anywhere, team members do too”, explains Edmondson.
Peter O’Donovan, Chief Product Officer at CarTrawler
Appointing such a team is frequently the only way to assemble the knowledge and breadth required to pull off many of the complex tasks businesses face today. A prime example of one of these types of short-term projects would be when the BBC covered the Olympics. A large team of researchers, writers, producers, cameramen, and technicians had to be assembled quickly, many of whom had not met before the project. These specialists worked together under the high pressure of a no retake environment, with just one chance to record the action.
And the travel industry?
According to Peter O’Donovan, Chief Product Officer at CarTrawler, “Short-term projects have certainly gained currency and momentum in the travel industry as they are an ideal means of tackling complex situations that need quick resolution. We usually have multiple Sprint Teams in operation at any one time – varying in duration and with a constantly evolving membership, tackling diverse and often times, live targets”, he explains.
“The sprint structures we utilise at CarTrawler really allow us to focus on and accelerate the delivery of high-value cross-company projects”, O’Donovan explains. “For us, a typical Sprint project usually comprises of six members but this can vary depending on the scope and importance of the project. We’ve found they tend to work best when solving a particular problem and we find one to two weeks is the ideal Sprint team duration”, he says.
SWISS have recently implemented a Sprint set-up for a joint project within the Lufthansa Group and according Parand Rohani, Head of Online Sales Development, “We’re choosing to go down the Agile route because our project needs to stay agile and flexible. We’re planning on creating a new user interface in parallel with our ongoing operations and we’ll have to make sure that all changes and learnings from our current setup will be incorporated into the new website”.
Greg O’Gorman, Director of Ancillary Revenue at Ryanair explains, “At Ryanair, we have moved away from a big bang approach [to projects], to a regular and continuous improvement cycle – which is a much faster and more effective solution. We will continue to enhance this rate of change and iterate to meet the demands of our customers and to ultimately improve our conversion rates and profitability”.
Organisations can reap important benefits from this highly efficient way of short-term project management and team leadership. However, they do need to learn how to efficiently “team” in this way, because, as with everything, there are challenges to this format.
“Short-term projects and Sprints require a different style of management”, says O’Donovan. “You need to be comfortable with ambiguity – the over-planned methods associated with traditional project planning can take you down a certain path that may not lead to the best outcome. We prefer to work with a high level set of objectives in mind and work through the detail and any ambiguity live as this often delivers more value to the business and maximises the potential success of a project”, he explains.
That may not lead to the best outcome. We prefer to work with a high level set of objectives in mind and work through the detail and any ambiguity live as this often delivers more value to the business and maximises the potential success of a project”, he explains.
One of the biggest challenges with any kind of project is keeping the momentum going, especially in busy environments. “The intensity of a short timeline is a great way of maintaining focus, O’Donovan explains. “For example, we did two separate Sprints, four weeks in duration, to deliver improvement to our conversion funnel. This included all planning, testing and go-live”.
The great benefit of this style of project management is that it provides employees with an opportunity to acquire a broader knowledge base, new skills and expands their professional network. To facilitate this kind of team work, CarTrawler have a number of designated areas in their Dublin HQ for sprint teams so that people from a mix of disciplines across the company can work and sit together with their own sense of identity and space.
 Scrum Values, Scrum Alliance. https://www.scrumalliance.org/why-scrum/core-scrum-values-roles
 ‘Teamwork on the Fly’ by Amy C. Edmondson, https://hbr.org/2012/04/teamwork-on-the-fly-2
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