Ippon Technologies teamed with a partner to conduct an Agile Transformation to fundamentally prepare the people, processes and technology to operate with greater efficiency and agility. The key tenets of the engagement were training to instill an agile mindset amongst the IT team, creating an ecosystem for collaborative and visual teamwork, launching an Agile Playbook to guide process consistency and shared best practices, and the start of a series of pilot projects for transformation. The ultimate goal was for the agency to create its own agile center of excellence to continuously improve its process and continue coaching teams through Agile process evolution.
AGILE TRANSFORMATION SUCCESS STORY
With the climate crisis growing daily, the mission and success of a large environmental non-profit has never been more critical. Like nature, survival depends on their ability to adapt - the agency needs to modernize their internal processes and streamline inefficiencies, increase speed to market, introduce innovative tooling and provide world class support to field resources.
The job of protecting the environment isn’t becoming easier, and the to-do list for the environmental agency lengthens daily. Success hinges on the ability to set focused objectives, conduct experiments around the world to measure impact, and rapidly broadcast results to further catalyze the donors it relies on for financial investment. This requires a highly efficient IT organization to support global field resources, analyze metrics and translate trends into data-informed decisions, and develop modern digital applications for efficient operation.
The agency reached a critical point, inhibited in its ability to demonstrate environmental wins, introduce innovative tooling and provide world class support to their boots on the ground. Driving effective change at all levels and a cultural shift to new ways of working and thinking were required. However change would face uphill winds from a workforce that had weathered numerous unsuccessful transformation attempts. Ippon was selected for its clear and tactical coaching plan to demonstrate quick wins and its competency aligning varying opinions. Ippon’s flexibility in adapting to change resistant team and technical capabilities in the cloud and software engineering space were also key factors. Ippon teamed with a partner to deliver the agile and scrum training, and to partner for success on this large scale agile transformation initiative.
The qualitative and quantitative results demonstrate significant progress in key Agile metrics of Aging and Cycle Time. These metrics decreased 46% and 40% respectively. Comparing Agile events before and after Transformation it is clear that meetings are more focused, trade off conversations are occurring regularly, blockers are being tackled quickly and the whole team is talking more about value more than tasks.
While even the IT leadership was skeptical about Agile adoption, one leader shared this: “The work with Ippon/[and partner] and the transformation efforts for the [IT support] teams has exceeded my expectations. As a former skeptic of how a highly technical [operations] team can transform from our tried and tested working model to Kanban, I’ve been nothing short of impressed. Personally, I’ve learned a year worth of [...] techniques from the coaches and even my own teammates.”
The Ippon team quickly got to work by partnering with key stakeholders and technical leaders to oversee the transformation. A three phase strategy was constructed and mapped to an agile roadmap:
- First: Launch steering committee, complete discovery of existing teams & processes, deliver Agile mindset training, begin development team pilot
- Next: Assess learnings & adapt, promote agile through lunch & learn series, build playbook to drive process consistency, and launch additional pilot teams
- Later: Strategize best way to scale transformation to all teams, Launch Agile center of excellence to develop internal coaches and create continuous improvement loop for Agile process
After assembling a steering committee, members were indoctrinated as a true Scrum team with a Jira project and Agile events. The goal was to encourage leadership to rapidly adopt an Agile mindset by giving them hands-on Agile project experience. Agile Mindset classes were conducted for the entire IT staff to align everyone on the principles and terminology of Agile.
The initial Discovery surfaced a variety of ad-hoc processes and tools across the organization, some general excitement from the development teams, and skepticism about Agile’s applicability from IT support teams. We subsequently selected the initial pilot team, being careful to understand the team’s history and perceptions about strengths and challenges. Leading change within teams means changing things that make a difference to its members, not just course correcting for the purpose of adherence to an agile framework.
During the next phase, Ippon coaches embedded on teams to train members on new ways of working, measure progress, energize them to challenge their process and test out tweaks to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness. Ippon delivered highly collaborative and hands-on workshops to keep engagement high so that team members were aligned on continuous change. Visual canvases and online whiteboard tools made these sessions both fun and productive, as well as budget friendly in the virtual setting, and resulted in a visual map of team evolution and meaningful decision points.
Ensuring process consistency, shared best practices, tactical guidance and elimination of redundant tooling were the key themes that drove the creation of an agile playbook. The scrum learnings and practices that proved successful with the first pilot were encapsulated into an online playbook to be used for reference and to guide new teams. A second pilot team was selected as a critical operational/support team to prove Agile’s absolute relevance to kanban style teams. This team was incredibly stretched to manage work coming from all over the organization through an array of channels from tools to telephone calls. Ippon coached the team to design a new kanban style workflow and invent new ways of categorizing, visualizing and measuring work.
The Agile Transformation has sparked many shifts and dialog at all levels about change, efficiency and improvement. Four pilot teams have gone through, or are underway, in the journey through discovery, embedded coaching and transition. Team members are quick to comment on the positive effects. Jira projects have been thoroughly cleaned out. Engagement during team meetings, productive conversations around important topics and removal of impediments is happening every day. What was previously a sea of backlog to-dos is now organized and mapped to a focused set of initiatives (epics) that describe the value of what is desired. The value focus gives context to technical team members so they can think more holistically and creatively about the use of innovative technology to solve real challenges. Dashboards and roadmaps bring visibility to the work in progress and keep the entire team informed about timelines and expectations as well as next up priorities for discussion. Most importantly teams are having meaningful conversations about process during retrospectives and have a framework for continuous improvement.
Managing large scale organizational change is never easy and there are still challenges ahead. The limited number of pilots underway has left many in IT feeling somewhat left out of the agile action and leadership continues to struggle with how to spread engagement in a productive way at a reasonable pace. Truly scaling the transformation across the entirety of the organization requires the agency to develop its own coaches and processes for continuous improvement and adaptation, and a new Agile center of excellence must take on the mission of managing their process and treating their process as a core product.
This environmental agency is working hard to adapt and change among growing pressures of environmental priorities that rise every day. The Ippon/partner team has supported impressive progress in rapid time and the shifts in culture are evident in team events and by employee satisfaction scores. Successful pilots have positioned the organization for increasing autonomy as they embark on the next leg of the journey to scale their Agile transformation!