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HP Software's community for IT leaders // September 2014

How Elance-oDesk uses Agile to quickly meet user needs

Virtual teams rely on two-week sprints, daily scrum sessions.

In our September exec section, we interviewed Elance-oDesk exec Jonathan Diller about the challenges of delivering services that are entirely mediated by software developed in-house. He said a key to success is defining a strong, customer-centric vision—then giving Agile development teams the autonomy to quickly pursue those goals. As a follow-up, we asked him for more details about the company’s approach to Agile.  

Between the Elance and oDesk halves of the recently merged company, more than 8 million freelancers worldwide find and deliver work for more than 2.5 million businesses, from mom-and-pop outfits to huge global brands. Behind it all are 15 “vertical teams” and also a few “horizontal teams,” globally distributed and working with Agile methodologies.

Each team is focused on a vertical, such as “private talent cloud for large enterprises” or “client matching via data science.” There are daily scrum meetings for the teams, who work in two-week Agile sprints, centered on clearly defined user requirements.

Jonathan Diller
"By following Agile methodology, we can quickly release updates and monitor their success,” says Diller, the company’s vice president of Enterprise Solutions. “We deploy new software every day, and A/B testing is core to eliminating guesswork.”

Agile seems to fit Elance-oDesk’s overall development strategy well, enabling the combined development team to respond to changing priorities and react to test results. The daily scrums help synchronize the efforts of the Agile teams, giving them a forum to regularly discuss progress and make adjustments to planned tasks.

“We’re a virtual team of more than 200 developers, and we rely heavily on collaboration tools,” Diller says. “But we also bring everyone together face-to-face whenever possible.”

The company’s Agile teams take features from idea to code to tested functionality. “A modular code base really helps us drill down to focus on specific user requirements,” he says.

Elance-oDesk is using analytics to help improve job performance and refine the user experience. “We’ve always had a lot of data to work with. A few years back we developed an entire performance management system that evaluated 25 different data points around performance to motivate behavior and engineer good outcomes,” Diller says. “But now we’re getting a lot smarter about how to use the data we have. … We have data scientists, for example, now dedicated to looking at potential success metrics by evaluating the talent, capacity, and availability of individual freelancers.”

Going forward, he says, data science will play a key role in driving the smartest results while maintaining a fast pace of development.

To learn more about how Elance-oDesk is changing the future of work, visit

For more insight into Agile success, read the Forrester white paper, “Better Outcomes, Faster Results: Continuous Delivery And The Race For Better Business Performance,” (reg. req'd). 


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