Building high-performing teams using Lean and Agile Path 2

Building high-performing teams using Lean and Agile

by Dan Corbin

November 13, 2019

Over the last 114 years, H-E-B has set and achieved some big goals—growing from one small storefront to over 400 stores across Texas and Mexico featuring thousands of our own products uniquely designed just for our customers. 

Our goals for H-E-B Digital are just as big, which means we're focusing on building high performing teams that rapidly respond to solve the challenges our customers face. We believe it's that long-standing commitment to making the lives of our customers better that have helped us thrive for almost 115 years.

So how are we empowering our teams to solve problems quickly, while focusing on making our customers' lives better, and also setting us up for success later? 

By making our engineers' lives better by following Lean and Agile best practices and principles.

First, let's define what we mean by Lean and Agile. Lean is a series of principles that outline workplace efficiency. We use that framework to decide what to build and why we should build it. Agile focuses on optimizing scalability and sustainable development. We use its frameworks (Scrum, Kanban) to determine how we build something and when it will be delivered.

When we use these two frameworks together, we allow our teams to make fast decisions and build products our customers love, while avoiding wasted effort along the way. 

Product Discovery and Validation

Before we write even a single line of code, our design researchers, experience designers, and product managers perform extensive research, discovery, and experiments on customer problems. It's critical that we confirm our hypotheses and assumptions to ensure we're building products and solutions our customers will love. 

By holding design sprints, building prototypes, talking to customers in our stores and conducting user interviews, we're able to efficiently validate our ideas. These practices inform our immediate next steps as well as our long-term product vision. They enable us to intelligently iterate as we work towards our ultimate goals.


At H-E-B Digital, we're polyglots. We speak multiple design languages and use various platforms. Because of that, we focus on building systems and services that are loosely coupled, can be tested easily, and then deployed individually. We prioritize Lean practices over specific technologies, which is why we trust our teams to decide the best technologies and architecture based on the specific problem they are solving. We're all about the best solution, not the one we already have. 

By adhering to core Lean and Agile principles, we're building applications that are both reliable and highly scalable. Tenets like empowering the team to make decisions, eliminating waste, frequently delivering software at a sustainable pace, and most importantly, respecting people, drive the way we work. Ultimately, we want to choose systems and pathways that will grow with us—and that will grow our business.

Iterative Development

When building new products or features, our product managers and engineers always start with the customer and work backward. To do this successfully, we set up feedback loops to quickly incorporate customer input. We partner with our customer support call center to track issues and we swarm to eliminate pain points. Monitoring and alerting tools (like Crashlytics, Firebase, and PagerDuty) help us discover what's impacting customers and quickly resolve those issues.

We've seen great success with these tactics as we've rolled out our new Curbside and Delivery site. We phased our launch on a region-by-region basis, with each iteration addressing any problems encountered in the previous locations. As a result, we've seen higher customer satisfaction and fewer calls to the support center. 

This iterative approach also means we eat our own dog food. We've done extensive alpha and beta testing for our new mobile app. The first 100 orders were from our team. We're empathizing with our customers because we are our customers, and we're working to find and fix pain points before they do.

Why It Matters

From the beginning, H-E-B Digital has used these principles to support and ease collaboration among teams. We believe these practices lead to less burnout and higher morale. 

We're solving problems that affect families across Texas. We want to empower our employees to to deliver real solutions to real customers' problems. Along the way, our teams are finding new and innovative ways to improve our customers' lives (and our employees' lives too). 

Dan Corbin is a Principal Product Manager. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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