SAFe® at AT&T What started with a small Agile group in 2012 has evolved into a growing effort to scale Agile across AT&T—a large enterprise with 200,000+ employees. In this episode, Mary Ellen Ferrara, who leads the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence, and Chandra Srivastava, an Agile coach in the AT&T Enterprise Agile Center of Excellence, share their SAFe journey at the company. Click the “Subscribe” button to subscribe to the SAFe Business Agility podcast on Apple Podcasts Subscribe Share: “Many people in organizations think they are just too complex to have that business agility. However, as a company, AT&T proved that we could pivot and establish new ways of working to meet an urgent need.” —Mary Ellen Ferrara What started with a small Agile group in 2012 has evolved into a growing effort to scale Agile across AT&T—a large enterprise with 200,000+ employees. In this episode, Mary Ellen Ferrara, who leads the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE), and Chandra Srivastava, an Agile coach in the AT&T Enterprise Agile Center of Excellence (ACOE), share their SAFe journey at the company. Tamara, Mary Ellen, and Chandra cover topics including: What model the ACOE adopted to extend its reach How COVID created a new sense of urgency at AT&THow the LACE identified its change championsWhat’s next for SAFe at AT&T Hosted by: Tamara Nation Tamara is a results-driven servant leader. She has a proven track record of motivating high-performing teams to deliver positive outcomes in complex, matrixed environments. To help organizations achieve their goals, Tamara channels her unwavering persistence to face and solve complex challenges. Find Tamara on LinkedIn. Guest: Mary Ellen Ferrara Mary Ellen is a SAFe SPC leading the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE). She taps into her extensive experience defining and leading enterprise-wide Agile transformations to help enterprises build trust, empower executives and teams to align and pivot to new ways of working, measure progress, and become self-sufficient in driving better business outcomes for their customers. Connect with Mary Ellen on LinkedIn. Guest: Chandra Srivastava Chandra is an experienced enterprise Agile coach at Eliassen Group, and a consulting enterprise Agile coach at AT&T. She enables digital transformation by leveraging Lean, Agile, and DevOps ways of working and helps shape outcomes that deliver value to customers. Connect with Chandra on LinkedIn. Transcript Speaker 1: Looking for the latest news experiences and answers to questions about SAFe? You’ve come to the right place. This podcast is for you. The SAFe community of practitioners, trainers, users, and everyone who engages SAFe on a daily basis. Tamara Nation: Welcome to the SAFe Business Agility podcast recorded from our homes around the world. I’m Tamara Nation, your host for today’s episode. Joining me today are Mary Ellen Ferrara, who’s leading the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE), and Chandra Srivastava, Agile coach in the AT&T Enterprise Agile Center of Excellence (ACOE). Thank you both for joining me today, Mary Ellen and Chandra, I’m excited to have you here. Mary Ellen Ferarra: Thanks, Tamara. We’re excited too. Chandra Srivastava: Thanks for inviting us, Tamara. It’s really good to be here. Tamara Nation: So today, you’re here to share your story about SAFe at AT&T. I am excited to hear this. Let’s get started. How did AT&T get started with SAFe and why? Chandra Srivastava: So, a small Agile group was founded at AT&T around 2012. This developed into an Agile center of excellence. After a few years, the Agile center of excellence started with SAFe to help the company adopt Agile at scale. Now AT&T is a very large enterprise with well over 200,000 employees. The size of the workforce means that a group like the ACOE is limited in how much of the enterprise we can help at any one time. So in the last couple of years, as part of our evolution, we have adopted a hub-and-spoke operating model at the ACOE in order to extend our reach to the whole company. We sit in the center of this model as the hub, supporting the development of different spokes across the enterprise that become Lean-Agile centers of excellence (or LACEs). Operating in this model, we are able to harness and grow the power of change agents in different pockets of the enterprise. This is how the ACOE fosters sufficiently powerful guiding coalitions, that form the LACEs, working on transformation backlogs of improvement items in their areas. Mary Ellen Ferarra: I absolutely agree with Chandra. Growing change agents across the enterprise using the hub-and-spoke network was really pivotal in our transformation to a new level at AT&T. I moved into the technical modernization and management department in May of 2021 to establish, build, and lead the AT&T Business spoke LACE. And as Scaled Agile indicates, creating a LACE is often one of the key differentiators between companies practicing Agile in name only. And those that are fully committed to adopting Lean-Agile practices and getting the best business outcomes. So, this was a huge undertaking, and we all know that accepting change is hard for many people, but defining what needs to change and leading an organization to mobilize and adopt new ways of working is even harder. Tamara Nation: So, how did you get started with that? Mary Ellen Ferarra: Fortunately, I was dedicated to the effort. I had a VP sponsor and the support of the Agile COE to help get the LACE off the ground. So how did I get it started? Well, that was easy. I used the SAFe implementation roadmap to define our path forward. As we know, reaching the tipping point is the first crucial step in the SAFe implementation roadmap. And at AT&T, like Chandra had indicated, we’ve been practicing various levels of SAFe and Lean-Agile for several years, but when COVID came, this gave us a renewed sense of urgency to react quickly and have the business agility to meet those changing needs of our business customers. When COVID hit in March of 2020, it was truly amazing how quickly AT&T Business pivoted to provide the connectivity needed by businesses, schools, hospitals, and the community. Our new and existing customers needed to establish and grow their online presence to survive and thrive. In our new reality, we didn’t have six to nine months to build out new offerings to meet the changing market demand. We had to be Agile, quick, and give our customers what they needed in the shortest sustainable time to be able to operate their businesses. This renewed sense of urgency was very helpful in gaining buy-in that we needed. Tamara Nation: I think that’s really amazing, those moments when the company can change because you don’t think a company of 200,000 people can pivot like that. I think that’s such a good story. Mary Ellen Ferarra: It really was amazing. Sometimes I find that many people in organizations think they are just too complex to have that business agility. However, as a company, AT&T proved that we could pivot and establish new ways of working to meet an urgent need. And now we need to take these learnings, establish a Lean-Agile culture, and consistently and predictably deliver faster, better business solutions for our customers. So how did we do that? The next steps in the roadmap are to train Lean-Agile change agents, train executives, managers, and leaders, and create a Lean-Agile center of excellence. I didn’t follow the steps in exactly that order. Instead, I started with the LACE toolkit and we performed a LACE workshop. We included key people on our leadership team in the workshop to define our charter, target our initial stakeholders, and identify our LACE members. As Chandra indicated AT&T is very large and AT&T Business is also a very large organization with approximately 46 VP areas. So it was important to level-set on which areas we would target first to get the LACE going and then pull in more areas. As we gained momentum, we were basically building the LACE minimum viable product. We started with six VP organizations, which were a mix of business teams and solution delivery teams. And we included members from these six organizations and trained them as SAFe Program Consultants, otherwise known as SPCs or SAFe trainers and coaches, to form a guiding coalition of LACE champions. Chandra Srivastava: So, Mary Ellen, as you spoke, getting to a tipping point to form a LACE can be crucial. Helping people get the training they need is a very important step. The Agile COE in collaboration with the AT&T Business LACE brought the Implementing SAFe course in-house, which was a first for us. Jennifer Fawcett from Scaled Agile and Charlene Newton were our instructors for this class. We trained 30 SPCs in this SAFe certification course. I’d like to share an experiment we adopted for this class. We set up coaching cohorts from the ACOE and with Mary Ellen for each of the five breakout rooms to enhance the virtual classroom experience for the learners. This is how we extended the ACOE’s reach and provided additional coaching support for the class. After the SPC class, there has been a great deal of interest in what’s going on with the AT&T Business spoke as part of the hub-and-spoke operating model. We at the ACOE hold monthly sync meetings to help all spokes across the enterprise to network and connect. Several groups in the enterprise are seeking out Mary Ellen for her advice on how to model their spokes and advance LACE formation in their areas. Tamara Nation: I think that’s pretty inspiring as you were talking about what happened in March of 2020 for you, the way you were able to pivot. I know I personally benefited from AT&T supporting us as we were moving to remote work in various ways through their mobile work. So, I’m really curious. How did you find the people who wanted to be change agents? Mary Ellen Ferarra: Well, our grassroots efforts only got us so far when you bring in a coach from an outside organization. A lot of time is spent understanding the organization, how it works and establishing trust with the organization before you can really make an impact. I decided to take a different approach to establish trust between the LACE and our VP organization and leaders. With the support from my VP sponsor, I reached out to the VPs and asked them to identify one to two people in their organization to take the SPC certification course. I did advise that these people would be responsible for championing the change within their organization. This gave the VPs the opportunity to select the people that they trusted as change agents. I honestly expected to only get five to 10 champions. I was amazed at the response and the different roles that stepped up and were interested in becoming champions. Mary Ellen Ferarra: We had people from AT&T Business take the SPC training along with others at AT&T in mid-October 2021. This included assistant vice presidents, directors, product managers, architects, RTEs, and scrum masters—a very broad scope of people. Additionally, we reached out to all SPCs across AT&T Business to join our guiding coalition. And currently, we have 46 LACE champions. Once trained, we established our meeting cadence, strategy, and initial goals before we pulled in our AVPs and VPs to show them the progress that we had made in three to four months. These LACE champions have become influencers and the organizations they’re guiding have just taken off. Tamara Nation: That’s pretty impressive, Mary Ellen. So, tell us a little bit more about how you were using these LACE champions and how they were leveraging the SAFe implementation roadmap. Mary Ellen Ferarra: Sure, Tamara. Following our SPC training, we had a VP organization ready to go SAFe. So, we trained their executives, leaders, and managers, and we followed up with the next step in the implementation roadmap: identify value streams and ARTs. Running a value stream and ART identification workshop was very rewarding. Going through the silos that impacted their flow of value was an eye-opening experience for the team. We all left with a collective view of the end-to-end operational value stream, the steps the organization supported in that end-to-end flow, and the systems and people that supported those steps. And we were able to define our development value stream and supporting ARTs, otherwise known as Agile Release Trains, to optimize team and ART size, minimize dependencies, and really improve the flow of value. We recognized that initially, we would slow down before we could go faster, and we were able to set expectations accordingly. Mary Ellen Ferarra: With a defined solution train, we set our launch date, created our implementation plan, and prepared for launch. The next step in the implementation roadmap was to train teams and launch the ART. I facilitated the SAFe for Teams class with 157 virtual learners. This was our first big room virtual training, and a little bit intimidating how we were going to do this. But what really made this successful was pulling in SPCs from our LACE and the Agile COE to help coach each of the nine breakout groups, similar to what Chandra had done in the Implementing SAFe class earlier. And these newly trained LACE champions launched a solution train with four ARTs and suppliers in February. It’s amazing to see the enthusiasm and drive when you equip your organization with the knowledge and framework to drive better business outcomes. And we were also very fortunate to have the Agile COE coaches to help us with our big room training. Chandra Srivastava: Yes, Mary Ellen, the Agile COE coaches that participated in this training workshop were instrumental in helping train such a large virtual group, and they enjoyed it. And this training has also been a key step in your implementation roadmap. The AT&T Business LACE has established momentum and has engaged their leadership successfully. And I believe this has been the secret sauce for them. Mary Ellen Ferarra: Absolutely. Engaging leadership is the main ingredient in the secret sauce to building a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition. Our LACE champions are excited and motivated to support the change, but you can only go so far without leadership leading the change. To engage our leadership, we performed a two-day Lean-Agile executive workshop for AVPs and VP executives across seven organizations in AT&T Business. And this was in early January of 2022. Our LACE sponsor kicked off the meeting with an inspiring discussion around, why SAFe, which I followed up with speed-to-market metrics for 2021 showing how SAFe improves speed to market by well over 50 percent. And that having the LACE support to grow that competency within each organization really supports their ability to drive better business outcomes. We had 24 people attend over the two days and they were focused and engaged. Tamara Nation: Well, that’s hard to do for anyone in this setting these days. How did you get that kind of commitment from so many executives and what did you do to keep them engaged over those two days? Chandra Srivastava: Magic, Tamara. I think the magic ingredient has been Mary Ellen’s ability to be very contextual and make things relevant to AT&T. She brought in customized material that the executives could quickly relate to. Also, our enterprises at an inflection point and is driving a new way of working. We have the rollout of a Lean portfolio management approach, and that has provided a sense of urgency and helped us pivot for transformation. Mary Ellen Ferarra: Absolutely. To demonstrate that SAFe is not a one and done, it’s a journey of relentless improvement, we performed a business agility assessment on day one of the Lean SAFe workshop. Establishing this baseline really provided a collective view of where we are as a LACE and as an organization. They’ve really enjoyed talking through the assessment questions to determine collectively where we were on the business agility scale. We also performed a silos exercise that looked at all the elements impacting flow so that the executives could clearly see what issues all the organizations were facing. And it was really telling that all the VP organizations were facing similar issues. Tamara Nation: So you’ve really come so far in this journey. What’s next for SAFe at AT&T? Chandra Srivastava: Well, we are encouraging all business units at AT&T to form LACEs and build their transformation backlogs very much like the AT&T Business LACE. Mary Ellen Ferarra: Yes, absolutely. And at the LACE level, we’re even taking it a step further and encouraging each VP organization to form their own LACE team and build their transformation backlog. We’re also using a business agility scorecard and assessments across AT&T Business to measure adoption outcomes, flow, and competency, and setting key performance indicators to measure and showcase the value of the AT&T Business LACE in driving these better business outcomes. I’m also working on becoming an internal AT&T SAFe SPC trainer. And currently, I hope to complete the nomination requirements by the end of this month. If I am selected and complete the certification requirements, that will allow me to train more Scaled Agile change agents across AT&T Business and the company using our hub-and-spoke model. Tamara Nation: Well, good luck in that journey to an iSPCT. That’s great, Mary Ellen. So, what have you learned so far and what advice do you have to give the folks listening to the podcast today? Mary Ellen Ferarra: This isn’t necessarily in order. Having seasoned SPCs that are dedicated to the LACE and each organization to coach, train, and drive relentless improvement—establishing trust and engaging varying levels of leadership as LACE champions. Following the SAFe implementation roadmap and leveraging the toolkits and resources that are available on the SAFe Community Platform. And last but not least, meeting teams where they are and working with them to become more Agile. Chandra Srivastava: Great points, Mary Ellen, it’s definitely a journey. What I really feel is that transformation needs to be intentional. Not only does it require supporting change agents in the enterprise, it also requires sponsorship and support from leaders along the business agility journey. We are constantly working to get buy-in from leadership in other business units, in order to keep moving forward. Mary Ellen Ferarra: Regarding leadership, we took the approach: build it, and they will come. So, get your LACE team trained as SPCs, and then encourage each organization to form their own internal teams to drive transformation forward by coaching and training internally. Having trusted champions in each organization is key. When the leadership starts seeing the results, they will come to you to understand more. Tamara Nation: Oh, Mary Ellen and Chandra, thanks so much for sharing your story. And we are really looking forward to hearing about the next chapter of SAFe at AT&T. Mary Ellen Ferarra: Thank you, Tamara, for giving us this opportunity and having us on your podcast. This was great. Chandra Srivastava: Yes. Thank you. It was really a great conversation. Tamara Nation: Thanks for listening to our show today. Be sure to check out the show notes at scaledagile.com/podcast. Revisit past topics at scaledagile.com/podcasts Speaker 1: For more than 75 episodes. You’ve heard us mention how relentless improvement is in our DNA. 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