A Vision of Delivery Agility & Innovation

Technology in the banking and financial industry advances at break-neck speed. Companies must continually update existing technology and launch innovative products to keep up with the most disruptive competitors, while also providing end users with ways to work faster and more efficiently. To accelerate speed-to-market, enhance quality, and increase flexibility while reducing costs and complexity, our client needed to significantly improve and replace prevailing legacy methods used throughout the organization. SolutionsIQ worked with the infrastructure business unit as a start, embarking on a two-year journey. The client was focused on improving their delivery agility by decreasing the delivery time of services this BU provided, increasing release predictability and cross-team collaboration, as well as significantly improving service automation.

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Introduction

As part of a yearly initiative to decide the vision for the next year and in an effort to improve efficiency, automation, innovation and customer satisfaction, the leadership at the client decided to revamp their processes, starting with a particular infrastructure business unit (BU). The client’s vision was to become one of the best infrastructure service providers in the BFSI segment. Leadership recognized that Agile transformation could help them achieve their goals and reached out to SolutionsIQ for guidance. Our transformation approach has four dimensions: Vision, Learn, Transform and Sustain.

Four dimensions of SolutionsIQ’s transformation approach

Vision

Our first course of action was to establish a vision for what the future organization would look like. Our consultants began the client engagement by gathering baseline data about how the teams of this BU perform work. We discovered that the BU goals were crucial to the client’s larger transformation goals and toward increasing visibility across the teams. At the team level, an understanding of the overall goals was lacking, and teams couldn’t prioritize their work. These impediments were keeping the BU from delivering quality products and
services to end users quickly in response to their needs.

As a result of our discovery and strategy sessions, we were able to demonstrate how enabling team success at this layer would support and bolster the wider transformation effort. This helped us do two things:

  1. Craft the transformation vision and business value proposition
  2. Identify clear success metrics for the BU’s transformation, including:
  • Increased release predictability
  • Increased cross-team collaboration
  • Significantly improved service automation

SolutionsIQ coaches conducted separate transformation workshops for teams belonging to different portfolios. The intent of this workshop was to help the teams map the larger BU goals to their individual team deliverables. This was a great starting point, as the teams were able to not only relate to the BU goals but also to clearly visualize how each of their deliverables impacted the larger goal of the BU and by extension the broader organization. Our coaches needed to quickly develop and implement an approach to educate, launch, and support the teams, so they could effectively execute work items and thus contribute to the BU goals.

Learn

Building on initial learning and stakeholder feedback gathered in the Vision stage, we were ready to begin the two-pronged learning process:

  1. Helping the client learn and experiment with new Agile concepts that would enable transformation success
  2. Learning for ourselves where agility would have the deepest impact in the client organization and how best to approach making that impact

Through team-level discovery and assessment, we helped the BU understand team readiness, the work the teams do and its impact on the business results. The outcomes from this activity helped the coaches set a path of learning, autonomy and continuous improvement. The teams
learned to understand their work and contribution to the entire product value stream.

Teams were able to not only relate to the BU goals but also to clearly visualize how each of their deliverables impacted the larger goal of the BU and by extension the broader organization

By identifying value streams, teams could clearly visualize their work and the dependencies between their own work and that of other teams. What emerged during this process was a hybrid framework drawing from different Agile frameworks and based on the Agile principles. Team members proactively managed dependencies through process changes and role-based mentorship.

After 3-6 months, teams were on the path of self-organization and self-motivation. The coaching process also placed equal emphasis on eliminating waste and automation as much as possible. In this way, the teams saw improvement in efficiency of between 50% and 400%! This paved the way for stronger leadership support and expanding the scope of coaching and the transformation program.

Maturity Assessments

In order to ensure continuous learning, teams underwent quarterly maturity assessments, which assessed their knowledge of Agile processes and improvements in their work. After each assessment session, the teams would come up with the top 3 areas that they would work on and improve. Many teams saw tremendous success through these assessments, improving their flow efficiency, waste reduction and success with automation. The assessment covered a range of areas like:

  • Leadership
  • Backlog visibility
  • Role definition and clarity
  • Team practices and frameworks
  • Delivery adherence
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Giving and receiving feedback

Transform

In the process of identifying value streams, it became evident that certain portfolios had hard inter-team dependencies and that managing and mitigating risks and dependencies created an additional layer
of complexity. Thus evolved the process of coaching teams to scale. The scaling process was not plug and play. Instead, each program adopted a scaling practice that best suited them. Portfolio owners chose a different framework, such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Scrum of Scrum (SoS), or Spotify model, based on their needs and work complexities.

Furthermore, the Transform stage focused on developing internal Agile coaches who could iteratively and incrementally expand transformation beyond just teams and this particular infrastructure BU. Leadership
also recognized that they needed to maintain engagement and champion the transformation program, ensuring it did not lose steam and lead to teams backsliding back into waterfall practices and traditional thinking. What was clear throughout our engagement by this point was the necessity to help the corporate culture evolve so that business agility could take hold and expand organically.

What was clear throughout our engagement by this point was the necessity to help the corporate culture evolve so that business agility could take hold and expand organically

Developing Internal Coaches

While SolutionsIQ provides extensive coaching during our transformation engagements, it is of paramount importance to help our clients develop their own internal
coaches, so these coaches can sustain transformation momentum.

In the case of this client, internal coaches would need to be able to embody agility, address the BU’s transformation concerns, learn from the industry and curate a mix of practices and processes that would work for this particular organization. SolutionsIQ coaches identified and helped to develop adynamic and dedicated full-time employee of the organization to perform this role, while establishing a process for developing even more internal coaches that leveraged one on-one coaching, training and mentoring.

Leadership Effectiveness

Agile transformation is not just about coaching teams and helping them improve. It also concerns changing the very DNA of the organization. Leadership is a core part
of the culture of the organization. To help empower leaders to be more effective, we organized multiple coaching and training sessions to demonstrate to leaders how to approach and lead change and influence teams to become Agile. After we started coaching them, we observed a significant rise in their enthusiasm and shift in their
personalities and mindsets.

One notable example – while in an all-staff meeting, one of the VP’s of the organization was talking about the roadmapping for the year. At one point, he referred to associates as “resources”, which he quickly corrected, calling them what they really are: “people”. He then said, “We need to start looking at our associates as autonomous and self-driven people, rather than calling them resources.”

Sustain

Once the teams were coached and put on the path of continuous improvement, it was essential for the teams to have a community structure to help them sustain their hard-earned delivery agility and to continue their future journey. The coaching office put in place several practices to accelerate the growth of communities among teams:

Weekly Cup of Agility

To address the concerns of teams that had finished their coaching cycle but wanted more guidance, we established a weekly interactive coaching session where teams could bring up any challenges that they were facing – for example, better estimation, prioritization, daily standups taking too long, etc.

Agile Community of Practice

What binds people together is a sense of community. At this client, we helped a strong community of practitioners (CoP) of Agile to emerge, and it included leadership
presence and participation. All Scrum Masters and Product Owners were members of the community by default. Anyone who was enthusiastic about agility was also free to
be a part of this community. The CoP would undertake and drive Agile practices across the BU. It also grew into a forum where members would discuss and help each other resolve day-to-day problems, or learn from each other.

Champions for Sustained Agility

The champions of sustained agility were enthusiastic agilists from across the BU who took on the responsibility of helping to sustain agility. They were trained and mentored to play this role. To keep them motivated, these champions also enjoyed perks like attending an external event such as the Scrum Gathering.

Key Learnings

  1. Ask yourself, “What are my business goals for Agile transformation?” – because Agile is not the goal, but just an engine to achieve it.
  2. Flavors and techniques from different frameworks can also be amalgamated to create an ideal set of practices that suit your organization’s culture, and not vice versa.
  3. Maturity assessments can add value to retrospectives, provide a view of where you want to be, and help in defining the path to continuous improvement.

Agile Coaching

To support this ongoing transformation initiative in the infrastructure BU, we established a coaching office at the client site early in the engagement. This was where coaches new to the engagement were brought on board and received the vision and strategic goals of the overall coaching program approach. The virtual setup across geographies and time zones helped with managing funds, enabling knowledge sharing and ensured that teams and team members across geographies were in sync.

We adopted an embedded coaching model to accelerate this effort: for three to four months, a SolutionsIQ coach served as an active member of a team. Coaches mentored the team through various aspects of establishing delivery agility, such as creating backlogs, prioritizing work, planning work execution, retrospecting on and continuously improving the delivery process, as well as beginning coding practices like behavior-driven development (BDD).

We also implemented a rolling wave model of coaching where more than 40 teams across three geographies received coaching. Each coach worked with three teams concurrently for a period of three months. The focus of coaching was not only on Agile transformation but also helping teams deliver on the BU level goals set for the year. As a result of this coaching program and in conjunction with other transformation initiatives, team time to market and quality improved.


Game Changer: End-to-End Server Build Board

In our work with this financial services client, we impacted every touch point in the entire value stream of this BU through an end-to-end server build board. The purpose of this board was to help several cross-dependent teams, like vendors, procurement, finance, and integration, to plan their work better while dealing with issue requests.

Here’s an example of how impactful this was: When an application team requests a new Dell server with 500 petabytes of storage, a number of teams come together to service this request. The facilities team that manages the space for this server allocates a space for it in one of the racks  in one of the data centers. The network team manages connectivity (even backup connectivity)  for the server, and the vendor management team has to procure the hardware from the vendor, etc. In this case, the end-to-end build board reflected the status of the request across all these touch points.

Introducing the end-to end-server board provided complete transparency across teams, helped to improve planning and predictability, speed, and trust among teams. This surfaced powerful conversations about team structures, processes, automation, etc. It also made the work visible, such that employees started to see what others were doing and appreciating one another’s work.


The Bottom Line

This transformation engagement lasted two years, starting with a strategic assessment of the organization that finally led to an implementation phase were Agile frameworks were applied to improve time to delivery, build a culture of collaboration & innovation, and increase focus on automation. We were excited and proud to learn that, at the end of the first year, the BU successfully achieved its goal of achieving higher resiliency, reduced downtime, and improved automation.

Here are a few more key results our client achieved with our guidance and support:

  • Scaling practices implemented for highly dependent teams resulted in almost zero issues from dependencies.
  • Cross-team dependencies for teams that were not part of a scaling framework and portfolio were made visible through a portfolio-level JIRA board. Any issues arising out of these dependencies were regularly triaged and dealt with.
  • Automation, increased 30% to 70% in different teams, resulted in huge cost savings for teams. Cycle time reduced from 37 days to 19 days, and the product backlog, which began with 120 items, ended up with just 10 items.
  • Services and tools were successfully standardized for multiple BUs

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