Claire Fitzpatrick, Liberty IT
Claire Fitzpatrick, agile lead at Liberty IT. Image: Liberty IT

‘My favourite thing about agile is the marriage of IT and business’

22 Feb 2017

There’s far more to working in tech than being a coder or data scientist. But do you know anything about the other roles on offer?

If you don’t already work in agile, you might not be aware of what it entails. Claire Fitzpatrick, agile lead at Liberty IT, gives us an insider look, taking us through her daily work.

What is your role within Liberty IT?

I’m an agile lead in eService, which is a large enterprise platform accessed through the Liberty Mutual website in the US. Our application is used by personal insurance customers to service their policies online. The teams I work with have responsibility for several distinct products within the application, and spend their time developing new features and optimising existing functionality.

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

After a hectic start to the morning, including school runs and contending with Dublin traffic, I’ll make a big coffee and catch up on my emails and our Slack channels. Working with our US teams – who are five hours behind us – always means plenty has happened since I left the office the previous day.

Next, I’ll catch up with the developers. I work across three delivery teams, and the developers are based in Dublin and Belfast.

We have a quick catch-up each morning to discuss any issues that arose the day before, and their plans for that day in terms of focus time, any tasks that are suited for pair programming and any other support that they need from me.

Generally, mornings are more Liberty IT-focused, and we sometimes use this time for team bonding, which regularly involves food – ‘Bun Thursday’ is a new favourite.

‘We get together once a month for a company-sponsored social event, which is a great way to meet people that you don’t work with every day’

I try to get my own focus time in then until lunchtime. I try to keep on top of the performance of our applications – for my specific product areas – and also the defects that come in and are being worked on. I’ll spend time some days updating our status reports and team wiki pages, and reviewing our backlog to prepare for team meetings. For 2017, we are exploring opportunities to advance the technology for our application, so that’s a big focus for me and my teams.

I usually have lunch with the team, or I’ll pop over to Blanchardstown shopping centre for some Penneys therapy!

After lunch, the US arrive and the afternoons pass in a heartbeat. I’ll attend stand-ups with each of my teams, and then there is generally a team ceremony, or a workshop that could last for a couple of hours.

We’ve started using behaviour-driven development recently, and we’ll run example-mapping sessions, whole-team testing and new feature demos on a regular basis. Where there’s a meeting-free afternoon, I’ll just work through my task list.

I try and wrap up the day with the US teams, answering any questions they have, or ensuring they are set up for their work while we’re gone, and then it’s back in the car and home in time for crèche pick-up.

What types of project do you work on?

I work across two product areas for eService: online access and online policy change. Everything we do is focused around making it quicker, easier and more secure for our customers to access our site and manage their insurance policies.

We have product KPIs set each year by our product owners, and it’s up to the teams to work out the best way to meet those KPIs. These are generally influenced by customer engagement levels, reducing call centre expenses, reducing manual work for customers and application performance.

I am also a member of the Liberty IT charity committee in Dublin. We organise fun events and competitions to raise money for our chosen charities. Last year, we had bake sales, 5k and 10k runs, a Hallowe’en party complete with pumpkin carving, and a PS4 raffle, to name a few.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Communication and organisational skills are at the heart of everything I do.

Also, my technical skills. These are limited in relation to writing code (I don’t!), but I do need to keep up to date with technology and particularly, what the teams are involved in and the direction that Liberty IT wants to move in.

I ask the developers a lot of questions. Luckily they’re very patient!

What is the hardest part of your working day?

Keeping focus on one thing at a time. There’s always so much going on, I have to focus on finishing the task at hand before moving on to the next thing.

Working with different teams is challenging too – running from one meeting to the next and having to switch into the right context quickly.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

Lists, lists and more lists! I write everything down. I get a great sense of achievement having a clear(ish) plate by the end of the week – or at least a clear view of what else needs to be done.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

I’ve never worked somewhere before where the IT and business teams were so closely engaged. Having come from waterfall project teams, the idea of working with the business on a daily basis was new to me. It’s one of my favourite things about agile.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

Before Liberty IT, my job as project manager used to be about project plans, budgets, status reports and constantly pushing the teams to hit deadlines (that were often unrealistic). The focus wasn’t on quality; it was on cost and on getting the job done as quickly as possible.

An agile environment is totally different. It’s about working as a team to decide on the best way to deliver business value and getting it into production as efficiently as possible – no more project plans. I’m part of the team now, no more command and control. Being an agile lead is more about understanding your business, understanding your teams and empowering them to deliver good quality software.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I love working with the developers. They are a clever and interesting bunch who love what they do. They keep me constantly entertained with their quirks and stories!

I also enjoy the social side of Liberty IT. Not content with all of the eating that we do in the office, we get together once a month for a company-sponsored social event, which is a great way to meet people that you don’t work with every day.

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