Month: July 2016

Sprint Planning with Time Separation

Poland TimeHere is a short post on a practical problem for my readers who use agile.  My client is in Dallas, and most of the developers are in Poland.  That’s a seven-hour time difference.  We have enough overlap that daily scrums are not a problem.

“What I’m fixing to do today,” in Texas, comes at the end of the team’s workday in Poland.  This is a little weird, but not a problem.  Sprint planning is a problem.

With everyone in the same time zone, I like the rhythm of closing the sprint on Friday, doing the review, and then sprint planning on Monday.  If your idea of “sustainable pace” includes working weekends, the team gets that weekend off.  Then, we start Monday with a fresh scrum board.  This is probably everyone’s favorite rhythm, if you have the luxury of cotemporal teams.

By the way, I write “cotemporal” here instead of “collocated” because it’s the time zone that matters, not physical distance.  I know of at least one F&I company based in New York with developers in South Florida (an F&I “tech cluster” thanks to AutoNation and JM&A).

Replacing the initial eight-hour session with two separate four-hour sessions conducted over consecutive days is more practical.

With widely separated time zones, the problem is that you can’t leave the scrum board empty.  Unless the next sprint is planned immediately, one team or the other will have a day with no work.  So, we have adopted what Mike Cohn calls the two-call method.  The quote above is from his book, Succeeding with Agile.

We close the sprint on Friday, do the review, and begin sprint planning with the Dallas cohort.  We have the scrum master here, the product owner, and the lead developer.  So, that’s a quorum.  The downside is that the Polish team misses the initial discussion of the sprint goal.  Cohn lists pros and cons in the book.

Relating the big picture falls to the lead developer, who conducts a second session on Monday during the overlap period, and develops the sprint plan.  This approach doesn’t allow much debate over scope, so it places a premium on good stories with good estimates.  For more on agile, read my post Sales Driven Development (or buy Cohn’s book).

Owner Loyalty in the Service Department

I was asked recently to explore the service retention space.  This is a little outside my F&I comfort zone, but everyone knows why service retention is important.  Parts and service make up 40% of a typical dealer’s gross profits.  And, there is actually some overlap with F&I.  Consider, for example, a service contract with “zero deductible at original dealer.”

Here, I present my impressions of the space in workflow terms, plus some thoughts on the features I found technically interesting.  The workflow has a natural break between the onsite procedures of the service department, and marketing procedures which may be a different department (or outsourced).

The space is dominated by two recent mergers: AutoPoint, which acquired DME about a year ago, and Dealer Track’s Service Pro offering combined with Xtime.  See Cox Strategy Redux.  There are some pure play marketing firms in the space, but these two vendors cover the full cycle.  They are able to exploit not only workflow synergies but technical ones.


For example, you want your telematics to feed information to both the shop and the invitation process, and you want your intake procedures to include information from the accepted invitations.  Also, if the vendor has analytics that can drive a marketing program, maybe they can optimize shop loading as well.

If you are looking at a full-cycle vendor, then the distinction I am making about workflow may seem arbitrary.  Here are features and functions commonly associated with software support for the service department:

  • Greeting boards and RFID tracking
  • Mobile greeting/CRM tools with write-up capability
  • Service menu with “loyalty products” as well as shop services
  • Scheduling and shop loading
  • Status tracking with text alerts for customers and technicians

Pure marketing, on the other hand, brings in additional vendors and different offerings.  In addition to the usual mailers and campaigns, these might include a box of cookies, owner loyalty “membership” programs, and prepaid maintenance.

If you’re in F&I, you may have sold the Ultra Care prepaid maintenance product.  The provider of Ultra Care is not a normal warranty company, however.  Performance Loyalty Group (PLG) offers this product as a service retention play.  Here are features and functions on the marketing side:

  • Multichannel marketing campaigns including call center support
  • Analytics to plan and evaluate the campaigns
  • Telematics interface
  • Geo-fencing and mobile apps

The service invitation process is well established, and now understood to include all media from cookies to WhatsApp.  What is interesting is the use of analytics to make best use of the media.  Text messages may be cheap compared to mailers, but there is a cost in terms of the customer’s attention.  AutoPoint has an advantage here, because they do original research on aggregated data.  Analytics is only as good as the data you put in.

Strategically, telematics is not only a powerful tool but a barrier to new entrants.  It reminds me of how the big DMS vendors once had a lock on OEM dealer communication systems.  For updates on the “battle for telematics data” follow Bob Chabot.

The holy grail of owner loyalty marketing is having the customer run your app on his smartphone.  This may even compensate for not having telematics data.  You can push invitations to it, and then manage service visits from scheduling through payment, along with geo-fencing and notifications.

Owner loyalty, of course, is not confined to the service department.  An app can be the touchpoint for new and used vehicle marketing as well.  Here, I am thinking specifically of the “velocity” method, in which the dealer is actively seeking vehicles to remarket.  For a list of popular app functions, look at AutoPoint or My Own Auto.