Business Collaboration and Feature Prioritization
One of the largest dental insurers in the nation was struggling to deliver needed software capabilities to affiliates in an efficient, timely, and predictable manner. The rapid delivery of high-value capabilities was hampered by the company’s reliance on a hybrid waterfall-iterative software development methodology. CapTech was engaged to assess current methods, provide a transformation roadmap, and lead an agile transformation.
When CapTech began the engagement, IT and business priorities weren’t aligned. Business units and software development teams seldom collaborated. Software projects were prioritized by a traditional project management office (PMO) within the IT department. Projects of high value to the business could be stuck in PMO planning stages for months, awaiting scope sign-offs and budget approvals or awaiting the attention of development resources who were busy on other projects. Business units that requested new features had little input or visibility into the prioritization of software projects once these entered the PMO portfolio. Business and IT executives wanted to deliver the highest-value features earlier but were delayed by a waterfall planning process that didn’t quickly adapt to business needs.
Software Delivery Predictability
The executives also wanted to be able to predict when delivery of key software capabilities would take place. The company’s affiliates often waited several months past target dates to receive software features, and what was delivered didn’t always align with the affiliates’ priorities. High-value features that could be developed quickly might be delayed by lower-value and more time-consuming projects for long periods of time.
CapTech found that the lack of predictability was primarily attributable to three factors: overestimated IT resource capacity, underestimated workload, and failure to maintain fixed teams on development projects. Shifting to agile would enable the organization forecast more accurately.
Software Development Team Productivity
IT executives were concerned that software development teams weren’t fully utilized during each six-week release cycle. The developers used a hybrid iterative-waterfall model characterized by three weeks of development followed by three weeks of testing. The developers coded requirements for large or complex features through the end of the third week and then “threw them over the wall” to the testers for validation.
During the first three weeks of the cycle, the testers often were idle. Similarly, during the second three weeks, the developers could take a mini-vacation. The teams had no prioritized list of ready-to-work features to pull from during release cycles. This meant that if a project hadn’t been planned before the six-week release cycle began, it wouldn’t be coordinated and worked on until the next cycle. During slow periods, this left much of the development workforce focusing on individual IT managers’ priorities, technical pet projects, or, in some cases, nothing at all.
Assessment and Roadmap
CapTech assessed the organization’s software development methods and ability to respond to business needs, finding a lack of commitment to the execution of agile methods. Priorities were driven by IT instead of the business. During product development, ongoing collaboration between business and IT personnel was lacking. All of this led to lower productivity across the enterprise. CapTech recommended transforming the IT department’s development teams to agile Scrum teams that included full-time product owners who would represent the business, set priorities, and provide ongoing collaboration.
The resulting roadmap consisted of three phases: pilot, team-level transformation, and scaling and coordination.
Agile Transformation and Impact
Shortly after providing the assessment roadmap, CapTech partnered with key leaders to launch the agile transformation. During the pilot phase, CapTech successfully transformed two software development teams from the hybrid methodology to agile Scrum. Within the first 12 weeks of the pilot phase, company leaders noticed that CapTech-coached Scrum masters were facilitating more engaged teams, product owners from the business were continuously collaborating with the teams, and the productivity of the two development teams had increased substantially. The company quickly decided to execute CapTech’s recommended transformation roadmap for the remaining seven teams, and training of these teams soon began. With the initial successes, CapTech strengthened partnerships with business and IT executives within the company, increasing the transformation’s momentum on both the business and IT fronts.
To boost productivity, CapTech recommended and implemented three two-week development iterations, or sprints, per six-week release. This cadence fit within the existing release cycle but focused the teams on delivering only high-value software features prioritized by product owners. CapTech trained and then coached development team members on agile principles and executing fundamental Scrum practices. This included planning at the beginning of each sprint and delivering working software at the end of each sprint – a major departure from delivering and deploying once every six weeks.
CapTech’s persistent coaching efforts substantially reduced the “throw it over the wall” approach that the hybrid development method had propagated. The coaching efforts also fostered continuous collaboration among team analysts, developers, and testers throughout the six-week release cycle. In turn, the continuity of the development teams’ work reduced idle time, increased team productivity by approximately 33-50% across the enterprise and, most importantly, refocused IT on delivering value to the business.
Business Collaboration and Feature Prioritization
The appointment of dedicated product owners from business units to each Scrum team was key to establishing an ongoing business-IT partnership and prioritizing those software features most valuable to the business. With each new Scrum team, CapTech trained new product owners and established product backlogs, with the product owners building and maintaining the list of software features to be developed by their team. CapTech coached the newly empowered product owners on business-value prioritization, enabling them to help their teams focus on the highest-value features during the two-week sprints.
Increased Feature Delivery Predictability
The CapTech-led transition to Scrum created fixed “feature teams” that design, develop, and test all the software functions they are responsible for delivering. Instead of moving functional individuals to the work, the work was moved to the feature teams. This created a true measure of each team’s historic capacity, or velocity. Once teams could calculate their average velocity, the organization analyzed the work in the teams’ product backlogs and began to accurately forecast how much software each could complete in the next two-week sprint. As items from the PMO project portfolio were added to product backlogs, the newfound stability and consistency of technical delivery allowed the business to more accurately forecast quarterly software capability.
- Launched and coached nine Scrum teams and trained more than 100 business and IT personnel
- Increased satisfaction among affiliates as well as IT and business departments through frequent software demos and expectation management
- Increased development team productivity by 33-50%
- Established and aligned actual “feature team” capacity, or velocity, and project portfolio workload, enabling predictable delivery of capabilities
- Integrated product owners from the business into Scrum teams, providing for continuous prioritization of software capabilities based on business value
- Integrated PMO project portfolio capabilities into team product backlogs
- Created collaborative relationships between IT and business executives
- Increased business satisfaction with software development teams
- Increased software quality by reducing defects introduced into production
- Significantly reduced enterprise technical debt
- Increased the IT department’s engagement in solution development through greater understanding of strategic business impacts of software features
- Positioned the organization to respond quickly to changing business priorities and software needs
- Coached and facilitated Scrum of Scrums, which improved cross-team dependency coordination
- Created five self-organizing communities of practice, which help the company socialize and develop guidelines and standards across technology and business teams
- Launched Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) transformation to further align the work of the technology teams with the enterprise business strategy
Tools & Methodologies
- Agile methods: Scrum and Kanban
- Feature mapping
- User story workshops
- Scrum of Scrums (S2, SoS)
- Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)