Aegon Asset Management

Aegon Asset Management Unites Executives and Global Teams to Deliver Faster and More Predictably

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With roots going back 200 years, Aegon Group is one of the world’s leading providers of life insurance, pensions, and asset management. The global company operates in more than 20 countries with 26,000 employees and reports more than EUR 804 billion in revenue-generating investments. As part of Aegon Group, Aegon Asset Management (AAM) intends to retain its industry-leading position. AAM set some big goals, including digitalization and accelerating the pace of change. To achieve those objectives, and more, IT leaders realized that distributed teams in the UK, Netherlands, and the US needed to collaborate on a global level. AAM had begun bottom-up, informal efforts in Agile and DevOps, and yet, the teams still weren’t able to work together effectively.

AAM turned to SAFe as a means to expand the company’s Agile efforts and keep teams synchronized across borders. They saw SAFe’s Portfolio level as a way to align enterprise strategy with Portfolio execution and were able to establish a single, global backlog reviewed and prioritized by C-suite stakeholders. AAM is a model for showcasing the importance of executive engagement, Lean Portfolio Management, consistent expectations, and how a successful transformation needs all levels of the organization.

“We saw SAFe as providing a unifying structure to get our different units working together in the same way.”
—Philip Johnson, Global Chief Change Officer, Aegon Asset Management

Presented at the Global SAFe Summit, October 2020.

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Easterseals Northern California – SAFe for Healthcare

Easterseals Northern California -  SAFe for Healthcare

“We began seeing value within weeks or months of launching the first release train. Leaders and business owners could very quickly see we were working on the things that were important to them.”

Jeff Hallett, VP, Product Management

Challenge:

Tighten alignment between the business and IT in order to bring mission-supporting applications to users sooner.

Industry:

Healthcare, Non-Profit

Results:

  • Higher quality on a more predictable and reliable timeline
  • Lower defect levels
  • The highest employee engagement score in the company in the IT group

Best Practices:

  • Use a ‘velvet glove’ approach – Easterseals got leaders and business owners accustomed to the mindset and practices before introducing it as SAFe, which provided low-friction engagement for business stakeholders
  • Tie efforts to principles – They connected everything back to principles and shared values
  • Staff smartly – They put change leaders in key positions
  • Keep an eye on progress – Retrospectives with metrics demonstrated results

Introduction

Nonprofits are better known for their compassion than their innovation. But Easterseals Northern California is proving that being Agile contributes directly to its mission—to responsibly disrupt and transform home- and center-based health care.

For 90 years, the Bay Area nonprofit has been helping people with autism and other developmental disabilities address life’s challenges, achieve personal goals, and gain greater independence for everyday living.

SAFe for Healthcare

In doing so, Easterseals Northern California administers an impressive level of care:

  • 7,500 clients in an average month
  • 96,000 clinical appointments per week
  • 25,000 claims per week
  • 1 million managed treatments a year
  • 10,000 active health practitioners

To manage that volume, Easterseals depends on front- and back-office applications for clinical operations, case management, billing, and more. And it must do it all in a HIPAA-compliant security and privacy environment.

For the IT team, staying ahead of business needs has often proven daunting. In the past, staff and contracted team members across the U.S., Ukraine, and Vietnam used “scrum-like” practices, however, the different geographic groups didn’t work together or identify dependencies with other teams. And in the absence of stated priorities, teams were always tackling the most urgent ad hoc requests.

“It was a tyranny of the urgent,” explained Jeff Hallett, VP, Product Management. “Ad hoc requests were taken with no oversight or triage. We knew we needed better alignment.”

The Right Time for Real Transformation

For technology leaders, the vision was clear…

  • Tighter alignment between business owners and teams
  • Fewer surprises and reactive work requests
  • Less work-in-progress
  • More transparency
  • Consistency in portfolio intake, prioritization, and backlogs
  • And better accounting for capacity and business value

But the path to reach those objectives was littered with obstacles. Over the years, IT had pushed to adopt Lean-Agile practices, which included experimenting with the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®). However, early efforts at applying the Framework fell short—likely due to a variety of reasons, such as lack of business support and training.

But in 2018, the timing seemed right to try again. At that time, the nonprofit was beginning the transition from paper-based processes to electronic management systems. Concurrently, leadership was pushing for decentralized decision-making and network-based management. IT leaders believed in SAFe, but this time, they would take a different approach to rollout.

“Technology leadership liked the scalability and the business engagement of SAFe, and believed that it would make a difference,” said Hallett, who joined Easterseals at that time to help drive the transformation as a SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC).

First, Cultivating Mindset

SAFe for Healthcare

For a renewed effort at transformation, Easterseals would introduce some of the practices of SAFe to members of the business, but leave out some of the SAFe-specific terminology early on. Transformation leaders emphasized mindset—using the Agile Manifesto—to get the business on board and begin changing the culture.

Instead of training leadership immediately, the organization first began involving them in activities such as portfolio management, prioritization, and epic grooming.
Only later did they double back to train leadership and begin using terminology and practices with them. That was key to their phased, incremental approach to preparing for and holding the first Program Increment (PI).

Training started with the technology group and moved on to business roles. A few business members took SAFe® for Teams and SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager to build understanding and excitement. When they offered SAFe® for Teams, they explained that this was the exact process they had already been following.

A Phased, Incremental Rollout

Easterseals took a phased approach to the SAFe transformation, like building layers of a cake. It all rested on a foundation of Lean-Agile leadership. To that end, they filled key positions with “change leaders,” which included dedicated Portfolio managers and Scrum masters.

They layered the rest on top of that firm foundation: Lean-Agile principles; teams and Agile Release Trains (ARTs) that embrace the core concepts of SAFe; cadence and synchronization; DevOps and releasability; an architectural runway; PI planning; system demos; inspect and adapt practices; and IP iterations.

To pave a path for success, they began with the Portfolio SAFe configuration to secure commitment from internal business partners, standardize requests, gather needs from the business, and analyze for value.
About 75 people joined the first Program Increment (PI) planning event, from technology, clinical programs, business excellence, and the PMO.

At that first event, some grumbled about having to spend two days away from their regular work. However, by the second PI, they were so engaged that some people said two days wasn’t enough time. From the start, progress was clear.
“I noticed an immediate benefit,” recalled Trista Travis, IT Program Manager and the nonprofit’s Release Train Engineer (RTE). “Because the second someone put a Post-It note that had a dependency up on our Program Board, they realized, ‘Oh, we really do need to collaborate across teams.’”

As teams became accustomed to the new way of working, some learned the hard way. After one team committed to 150 story points, they soon found themselves in over their heads.
“We let them get to the point where white flags were raised,” Travis said. “Then we had a session where we took a step back, erased the white board, and started figuring it out from scratch. It was a lot of making the hard choices and throwing stuff over the side of the boat.”

Today: Excitement and Buy-in from Top to Bottom

In less than a year, Easterseals Northern California has successfully changed the organization’s mindset and way of working, and started seeing the fruits of their efforts.

“We began seeing value within weeks or months of launching the first release train,” Hallett said. “Leaders and business owners could very quickly see we were working on the things that were important to them.”

They now run two Agile Release Trains and five Value Streams. They are committed to holding ceremonies on cadence. Sprint goals are aligned with PI objectives. Teams are collaborating. They regularly use metrics and retrospectives to assess progress.

As Easterseals expanded its SAFe practices, leaders found that they lacked the tooling they needed as current configurations didn’t match the new ways of working. Thus, as they established a regular cadence and ceremonies, they implemented new tooling that worked in step with their practices.

Most importantly, they’re seeing excitement and buy-in across most teams and leadership. In fact, leaders have started asking to participate more after hearing positive feedback from teams.

In less than a year, they have achieved strong cross-team and cross-Value Stream collaboration, alignment, and management of dependencies—reducing unexpected requests for the IT team.

Easterseals Northern California -  SAFe for Healthcare

Business partners are involved in planning and conversations from the beginning, ensuring solutions are more on the mark—upping the satisfaction in delivered solutions and increasing value delivered:

  • Easterseals hit 83 percent for achieved objectives in its first PI
  • 70 percent or more of the delivered story points in releases are directly traceable to items on the Portfolio strategic roadmap agreed on with the business
  • IT delivers also higher quality on a more predictable and reliable timeline
  • Defect levels are down
  • IT has the highest employee engagement score in the company

Ultimately, getting quality applications sooner enables staff and clinical practitioners to focus more on transforming home- and center-based health care.

“Now, there’s a direct line-of-sight between work in progress and how it helps with the Easterseals mission,” Hallett said.

Training At-a-Glance

Watch the Easterseals presentation from the Global SAFe Summit – October, 2019

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Suggested Case Study:

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Easterseals – A Unique SAFe Journey in Healthcare IT

Presented at 2019 Global SAFe Summit, San Diego Oct. 2, 2019

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Easterseals Bay Area, as a non-profit provider of behavioral health therapy, provided a unique challenge and environment for the adoption of SAFe for its IT department. In order to overcome some of the unique challenges of our environment, we embarked on a year-long incremental approach rather than a traditional implementation, adopting techniques and practices as they supported our growth and learning in scaled agility. Additionally, due to the large number of conflicting and dynamic inputs to the teams, we started our SAFe journey at the Portfolio level to get our flow and capacity under control while we developed the knowledge and maturity of our agile teams underneath. At Easterseals we will share with you how we took this innovative trail by focusing on mindset and principles that would enable the business and teams to partner with us without the initial intimidation of a radically new framework and terminology.

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Next: Standard Bank Customer Story

Johnson Controls

“SAFe brings so much more engagement, which has really been key for all parties. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”

Rajbir Bal, Program Manager, Access Control

Challenge:

JCI’s access control division needed to improve coordination among firmware and software teams across three locations with the goals of improving time-to-market, quality, and engagement.

Industry:

Information Technology

Solution:

SAFe®

Results:

  • The division releases at least 2-4X more frequently than before
  • JCI reduced the size of its bug backlog by at least 3X
  • Access control delivers on its commitments 100 percent of the time
  • Customers/stakeholders appreciate the chance to provide feedback during the process—instead of at the end

Best Practices:

  • Get help – Especially early on, partner with a consultant
  • Train leadership – JCI trained resource managers, product management, and directors to get buy-in before moving forward
  • Train SPCs – They serve as change agents and coaches
  • Follow progress – JCI used automated Agile dashboards in Team Foundation Server

The partner that made it happen:

Introduction

Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI), a global diversified technology leader, serves customers in more than 150 countries and reports $30 billion in annual revenue. The company’s access control division develops systems to help buildings achieve maximum security while increasing efficiency and lowering costs.

Johnson Controls - a Case Study of Implementing SAFe

Developing access control systems demands that firmware and software teams work together to deliver on a coordinated schedule. At JCI, those teams are spread across Southern California, Milwaukee, and India.

In 2014, the division began an effort targeted at improving time-to-market and the predictability of releases. They also sought to identify quality issues sooner, increase transparency, and raise team engagement.

“We were having very little success at planning, predicting releases and committing to and delivering on the timeline,” explained David Richter, Director of Engineering, Access Control. “We wanted to increase our flexibility and ability to react to change, and our ability to react to our customers’ needs in a positive and respectful manner.”
But Richter and other change agents knew they would have to contend with several roadblocks along the path to transformation:

  • Changing the established paradigm of working in waterfall
  • Aligning teams in three disparate locations

Taking the SAFe route

JCI identified the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) as the most promising route for instilling lasting Lean-Agile practices.

“SAFe brought all the practices for us to start and then learn and adapt as we go,” said Rajbir Bal, Program Manager, Access Control. “It also forced us to have tough discussions early and throughout development—versus down the road when we got close to release.”

To gain leadership backing, the Director of Engineering gave decision-makers clear reasons for deploying SAFe and the expected outcomes. Concurrently, Scaled Agile Gold Partner Icon Agility Services trained leaders in Leading SAFe® so they would fully understand the Framework. This worked well as change agents succeeded in securing executive backing.

They followed with Leading SAFe® for directors, product managers, and resource managers, bringing together 15 individuals from California, Milwaukee, and India. Next, they defined the structure of the various teams that would begin the first Agile Release Train (ART), and put all team members through SAFe® for Teams training.

Two individuals, including Bal, earned certification as SAFe® Program Consultants (SPCs) in order to serve as change agents and coaches. Following certification, they became authorized to deliver SAFe® Scrum Master, SAFe for Teams, and SAFe® for Product Owner/Product Manager training.

In addition to Bal, other coaches included engineering managers and the director of engineering, while Scrum Masters became coaches at the team level. When it was apparent that Scrum Masters and Product Owners had an overlap of responsibility, or at least their understanding of it, Bal brought them together in one location for a custom Product Owner/Scrum Master workshop to clarify roles and responsibilities.

Navigating the path to alignment

In 2015, JCI launched its first ART at a Program Increment (PI) Planning meeting with about 100 people and followed Essential SAFe. Bal and others knew they were taking the first steps toward progress, however, early planning events felt chaotic.

“The first two PIs were not fun and we did not come out with committed plans,” Bal said. “Some features were not well defined, people were not clear on the process, and we needed more time to break down user stories.”

Bal attributes the discord to a couple of factors. The company included some user interface teams in that first ART, but not others, which caused misalignment. Geographic distribution also created challenges.

For more cohesive teams, they tried several approaches. First, they brought representatives from India to present on behalf of their teams. However, in doing so, they lacked the voices of those not in attendance.

Johnson Controls - a Case Study of Implementing SAFe

Instead, they decided to start concurrent planning in the U.S. and India, with India beginning 12 hours ahead due to the time zone differences. As teams in India complete their planning days, those in the U.S. come in early to overlap with them. The Indian teams present their planning via videoconference. The same goes for day two of planning. American teams presented in what was the evening for their Indian counterparts.

Richter notes that, in those early months, JCI attempted to modify the Framework. Only some teams attended training and the company followed three-week sprints. “We tried to make changes to SAFe, but that was a disaster,” he said. “After that experience, we then started following SAFe exactly.”

Many people also insisted on continuing lengthy documentation of functional and design specs, after 50 years of following this practice. But that changed over several PIs. “We realized that documentation is not adding value,” Bal said. “Instead, we switched more to flow diagrams and writing code versus paragraph after paragraph of specs.”

With these tweaks, subsequent PIs progressed more smoothly as everyone became accustomed to the ceremonies and practices of SAFe. They made better use of their time at PI planning events. By the third PI, all teams also joined the train.

Over time, JCI found it more feasible to modify the framework to its own processes. In the access control division, developers must follow a specific process. They found that SAFe allowed them to implement Lean-Agile methods that worked in conjunction with these required processes. Other modifications included concurrent planning for India and the U.S., and face-to-face meetings between Product Owners and Scrum Masters to walk through the features radiator.

Acting like ‘One Big Team’

Richter and Bal saw a number of positive outcomes emerge during the transformation:

  • Increased ownership – Entire teams committed to goals in PI planning and delivered on those goals
  • Less technical debt – Issues were identified earlier in development, which allowed for course corrections along the way, instead of at the end of development
  • Greater participation – All levels joined in, including business partners and architecture
  • Earlier decisions – Using the Lean Startup Cycle, they make go/no-go decisions sooner in the cycle than they had before practicing SAFe
  • More automation – Automation reduced the overhead of testing and corrects quality issues earlier
  • Enhanced transparency – People bring up issues sooner, rather than at the end of a PI
  • Greater teamwork – Inter-team collaboration improved as well, with individuals reaching out to help others when needed

“We started acting like one big team, instead of a bunch of teams of teams,” Bal said. “We saw more engagement at all levels.”

Driving time-to-market, quality, predictability

Johnson Controls - a Case Study of Implementing SAFe

After early growing pains, JCI began seeing the results of its efforts:

  • Faster time-to-market – The division releases at least 2-4X more frequently than before
  • Higher quality – JCI reduced the size of its bug backlog by at 3 times
  • Predictability – Access control delivers on its commitments 100 percent of the time
  • Customer satisfaction – Customers appreciate the chance to provide feedback during the process—instead of at the end

“This wasn’t an easy process for us,” Bal said. “It takes time getting everyone jelling PI over PI. But SAFe brings so much more engagement, which has really been key for all parties. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”

For more details on JCI’s Essential SAFe implementation, download the supplemental PowerPoint presentation.

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Suggested Case Study:

Deutsche Bhan

Telia Finland

“SAFe seemed like a 1-to-1 match for us. Someone had already come up with a model to address our needs, which brought better requirements management, prioritization, governance, and a common language for the entire organization.”

Risto Reinikainen, Head of Lean Agile Center of Excellence, Telia Finland

Challenge:

In the competitive, fast-moving telecom market, Telia Finland sought to deliver more capabilities to customers, but that longstanding waterfall methods kept it from moving forward.

Industry:

Telecommunications

Solution:

SAFe®

Results:

  • 39 percent more capabilities than before
  • 34 percent less cost
  • 94 percent accuracy delivering on commitments for a major rebranding
  • Teams deliver incrementally and more often
  • People are more engaged in and satisfied with their work

Best Practices:

  • Don’t skip training – Telia trained as many people as possible on Leading SAFe and Implementing SAFe, with many earning SAFe® Agilist (SA) and SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) certifications. When they hit the critical mass, everything began running more and more smoothly.
  • Get help, especially in the beginning – Telia engaged partners for training and guidance for the first one to two years to speed up implementation
  • Prepare suppliers – The company provided way of working documentation (WoW) and training for suppliers
  • Plan ahead – Do your homework on epics and features, and prepare carefully for ceremonies, especially for PI Planning

The partner that made it happen:

Introduction

Telia is a leading telecom operator in the Nordic and Baltic regions with 21,000 employees and 84.2 billion SEK ($9.46 billion USD) in net sales. Telia Finland is a major player in the Finnish market with operations on mobile, broadband, fixed line, and TV.

Within the country, multiple companies compete for a share of the telecom market. To stay ahead of the competition, in 2011 Telia Finland began a transformation initiative to deliver innovations to customers faster. At the time, the company struggled with infrequent and often delayed releases—about every nine to 12 months—and quality issues, with various groups placing the blame on others.

telecom and SAFe

“The market, especially in the mobile business, is constantly changing,” said Risto Reinikainen, Head of Lean Agile Center of Excellence at Telia Finland. “To compete, we have to be very proactive and agile in bringing out cutting-edge offerings.”

To that end, individual teams and projects spent several years applying more or less homegrown practices to achieve goals, including improving communication, putting more emphasis on statements of work, better requirements management, and close follow-up of activities. Yet none of these disparate activities produced the results they sought and most projects continued in waterfall.

SAFe®: A Perfect Fit

Driven by an urgent need to change, Telia researched Agile methodologies. When they came across SAFe, it seemed like a perfect fit for their objectives.

“SAFe seemed like a 1-to-1 match for us,” Reinikainen said. “Someone had already come up with a model to address most of our needs, which brought better requirements management, prioritization, governance, and a common language for the entire organization.”

To begin the journey of adopting the Framework, Telia engaged partners such as Scaled Agile Partner CGI for training and coaching. Partners initially trained approximately 100 people on Leading SAFe®. The next natural step was to train Telia’s own people on Implementing SAFe®. During the fall of 2016, four people earned SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) certification and began leading training as well.

The company kicked off its first Program Increment (PI) in 2015. Since many within the company had worked with loose Agile concepts previously, most individuals were ready and willing to embrace a more mature framework. Yet, the first few PIs did not go as smoothly as hoped as people were still getting accustomed to the new terminology and method. The structure, however, kept people engaged and with a clearer vision about their roles.

“The First Planning sessions were more or less chaotic,” Reinikainen said. ”Epics and features were far too big and not mature enough; routines and tools were missing; some teams were still waterfalling their sprints; and areas such as test automation and configuration management were not ready for Agile operations.”

The company applied that experience and devised various steps to prepare people for PIs. They trained as many people as possible on Leading SAFe® with many earning SAFe® Agilist (SA) certifications. To that, they added their own ”war stories” to educate team members and give them more insight throughout the training.

To prepare suppliers to join Agile Release Trains (ARTs), Telia created a guidelines document on working with Telia and applying SAFe, and a workshop to reinforce the concepts. Every few weeks, coaches followed up with suppliers to ensure they were working in the new model. The common language of SAFe effectively unified the internal and external team members across locations.

Once Telia reached around 200-250 people trained, Reinikainen noticed a new synergy; people were using the same terminology and applying the concepts more cohesively and naturally. Today, the company has trained more than 400 people. They promote continuous improvement and best practices with Communities of Practice.

An Answer for Complexity: Large Solution Level SAFe

telecom and SAFe

Initially, Telia began with Program-level SAFe, but then moved to Portfolio-level SAFe. More recently, they moved to Full SAFe, including SAFe’s Large Solution level, to accommodate complexity, which includes more than 200 systems, many dependencies, and numerous external suppliers. Particularly, the Large Solution level offers the roles, artifacts, and processes for larger, multi-year projects such as those at Telia.

From Telia’s perspective, Full SAFe and SAFe’s Large Solution level brought much-needed additions:

  • More transparency to all development activities and resourcing
  • Coordination and synchronization between waterfall projects and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  • Control, visibility, and transparency to connect all trains, suppliers, and programs
  • Greater value creation with one prioritized portfolio backlog

“Large Solution SAFe brought a systematic approach to our complex environment that we definitely needed in order to coordinate our work,” said Nina Pakkanen, a Solution Train Engineer (STE) at Telia.

In Inspect & Adapt sessions at the close of PIs, comments from team members confirmed that the Large Solution level had achieved what Telia anticipated:

  • “Large Solution Level makes epics more concrete prior to actual implementation.”
  • “Capability and feature-level analysis are much clearer now.”
  • “Transparency and collaboration with the business has improved a lot.”

Additionally, Telia consolidated from seven development portfolios into a single operational one that includes all B2B, B2C, B2O, and channel solutions—resulting in better visibility into resources, activities, and priorities. Before, the various portfolios competed for the same resources and projects.

Pulling Off a Rebrand—On Time

In 2017, when the company rebranded under the name Telia Finland, SAFe provided essential structure to coordinate the many pieces. Overnight, everything had to be branded with the Telia Finland name, from the website to napkins.

With everyone committed to the goal, they delivered smoothly by the target date. What’s more, they did so with 94 percent accuracy on their commitments.

“At night it was the old name, and in the morning everything was under the new name,” Pakkanen said. “It was truly a success that we carried out such a big initiative on time.”

Delivering More, and More Often

Telia currently runs two Agile Release Trains and two Large Solution Trains with around 350 people. Since moving to SAFe, the company has noted quantitative and qualitative results to show its progress:

  • More capabilities – The development organization delivers approximately 39 percent more capabilities than before
  • Greater predictability – Telia has much-improved insight into what’s coming in the next one to two years
  • Cost reduction – Telia reduced the price per developed capability by around 34 percent
  • More frequent delivery – Teams deliver incrementally and more often
  • Higher engagement – Leaders note that people are more engaged in and satisfied with their work

Such results have helped earn middle management buy-in for the transformation; their commitment has increased in step with results.

“People know the old way doesn’t work, and they are now seeing that SAFe is a better approach,” Pakkanen said. “We’ve demonstrated that, even on the largest projects, this creates more communication, more transparency, and more progress.”

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Suggested Case Study: Swisscom

Air France-KLM

Air France - Scaled Agile Practices with SAFe

“We wanted to experiment and demonstrate Agile principles and practices across domains. By empowering each business domain, acknowledging specific contexts in domains, fostering sharing, and ‘try and learn,’ SAFe has helped us get on the right track to success.”

Claire Charbit, Program Management NWOW Agile Adoption, Air France-KLM

Challenge:

Air France – KLM sought to scale Agile practices companywide to improve time to market and efficiency, but must contend with specific contexts and regulations in the different businesses of the airlines.

Industry:

Transportation, Aviation

Results:

  • SAFe teams released 17 times in the live environment in seven months compared to every six months previously
  • On average, SAFe teams release 20% more effectively than waterfall teams
  • The company gained 20% market share in the small and medium logistics market alone
  • On one offering, the company exceeded expectation by 25%
  • Air France – KLM is more intimate with its clients

Best Practices:

  • Focus on Transversal Topics for a sustainable adoption – “From day one, make them part of the adoption,” Moreau says. These topics affect all domains.
  • Let domains and teams define objectives – Teams are more committed and empowered if they set their own goals
  • Train continuously – The Core Team regularly holds Agile Booster workshops to help with specific adoption challenges such as how to deal with conflicting priorities from both airlines, and what does it mean to have an Agile mindset?

Introduction

One of Europe’s largest passenger airline groups, Air France – KLM operates up to 2,200 flights daily and carries over 93 million passengers annually. The company’s five airlines—Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Transavia, HOP! Air France and Joon—cover 320 destinations across 114 countries.

Air France - Scaled Agile Practices with SAFe

In a highly competitive industry, where information systems can be strategic competitive assets, Air France – KLM set out to reduce its time-to-market with business applications. To do so, the company decided to improve the business/IT collaboration by breaking down silos and expanding Lean-Agile practices.

“Before, in moving from waterfall to Agile, we were not able to make the leap on a broader scale,” says Edwin Borst, Program Management NWOW #agile Adoption, Air France – KLM.

Achieving its goals would require bringing together diverse cultures at French and Dutch offices, as well as contending with diverse contexts, operational constraints or regulations across the different business domains.

An Agile Adoption Empowering Business Domains and Teams

After the successful launch of three ARTs in the Commercial Digital business domain in late summer 2016, the company decided to leverage this success and create a broader-scale adoption. Pieter Bootsma, Executive Vice-President Commercial Strategy at Air France – KLM, noted: “We can all benefit from Agile in the whole group and not only at Commercial Digital.”  So, in late 2016, the company chose to foster and accelerate the adoption and scaling of Agile practices.

Prior to launching the broad adoption, a small group of transformation leaders spent several months defining the scope of the deployment, the way the adoption would be conducted, and preparing for adoption on a larger scale. The leaders decided to adopt Lean-Agile principles and values in the way the program would be set up and run. The goal: demonstrate the mindset and practices, and see the benefits of this approach in a Change Management context.

Air France - Scaled Agile Practices with SAFe
  • Empower each business domain via its own self-organized, multidisciplinary, “Agile adoption team”
  • Deliver the change in short cycles, enabling experimentation and quick adaptation
  • Start small with minimum viable products (MVPs)
  • Share and learn from each others’ domains
  • Differentiate and adapt to each domain’s specifications and context

In late 2016, the company chose the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to foster and accelerate the adoption and scaling of Agile practices across the various business domains.

“In order to manage our Agile adoption program across 11 business domains within Air France – KLM, we formed an Agile Release Plane (ARP, modified to fit the industry), inspired by SAFe,” says Didier Lavielle,  Program Management NWOW #agile Adoption, Air France – KLM. “SAFe gives us the framework we have been missing while at the same time empowering each business domain to define their own way to reach their goals.”

Each business domain (Commercial, Cargo, Flight and Ground Operations, Engineering & Maintenance, Finance, Human Resources) joined the ART with its own change team—named Agile Adoption Team—and self-organized as a product team. As a mix of IT and business, the Adoption Team defines the specific objectives, approach, and steps to take in its domain: people to train, Agile product teams to form, coaching needed, communication plan, monitoring progress, and more.

The company formed “Transversal Tracks,” (groups that tie into all business domains), which joined the ART: Human Resources (e.g. role description, training, and coaching), Finance and Portfolio Management (IT investment processes), Tooling and Capabilities, Communication, and “IT Readiness.” This setup brought value to the 11 domains by not having to reinvent the wheel and ensured consistency in harmonized solutions.

Air France – KLM engaged with BlinkLane Consulting for guidance and training. Around 150 team members in the Agile Adoption ART, from the various business domains and Transversal Track teams, attended Introduction to Agile training, with about 50% of them taking the Leading SAFe course.

Some of the Transversal tracks went through specially designed workshops regarding Lean Budgeting, Agile KPIs & Reporting, and Agile HR, for instance. Those supporting the various adoption teams either attended the SAFe Scrum Master training or were already certified SPCs. So far, more than 300 colleagues from the Adoption ART and from the regular ARTs have followed the Leading SAFe training.

Aligning the Stakeholders on a “Definition of Awesome”

Prior to kickoff, all business domains and Transversal Track groups aligned on a common definition of awesome with four themes:

Agile Enterprise – In the Air France – KLM enterprise, the autonomous, stable, and cross-functional teams are the cornerstones of the organization for driving innovation and continuous improvement. The Transversal processes support and stimulate an Agile way of working and mindset at all levels. This allows the company to focus on continuously maximizing quality and delivering value to the customer.

Value Creation – The Agile adoption aims to create more value—for customers and employees. Quality as well as effectiveness go up. The company succeeds by driving down the time-to-market, and increasing the Net Promotor Score.

Leadership – Air France – KLM develops servant leaders who empower Agile teams and value streams. They engender trust, work with a clear purpose, and provide direction to all levels of the Agile Enterprise. They are recognized for their Agile leadership, enabling others to succeed and drive the organization for continuous improvement. They focus on goals instead of tasks.

Employee Engagement – The organization is recognized as a best place to work. As a result, it attracts talented people. It works closely with customers. People feel responsible and autonomous for their products and results. Employee satisfaction is high and demonstrated by EPS (active promotors).

Big-Room Kickoff in Paris: PI Planning Event #1

Air France - Scaled Agile Practices with SAFe

The company officially kicked off the Air France – KLM New Ways of Working #agile ART at the first PI planning event in March 2017 in Paris. The Release Train Engineer (RTE), Odile Moreau from BlinkLane, was part of a small group of transformation leaders called The Core Team. The team, which includes three from Air France – KLM and three from BlinkLane, helps foster the adoption and structure; organize the program and its events; support the domains and the Transversal tracks; and monitor the progress and the results.

The five Transversal tracks, 11 business domain adoption teams, and the Core Team formed the ART, with 150 people. The company’s group CIO, Jean-Christophe Lalanne, and Commercial Strategy EVP, Pieter Bootsma, attended as executive sponsors and set the tone for the importance of the initiative.

At the first PI event, Air France – KLM introduced a logo created specifically for the program, which added strategic emphasis.

Team members from France and the Netherlands came together, bringing distinctive cultures and very diverse states of Agile: some were new to Agile principles and some brought several years of experience

“Although this approach and the PI Planning event was new for most people, everyone was really driven and motivated to share experiences, learn from each other, try and experiment, and work toward results,” Lavielle says.

Yet despite that excitement, many were hesitant to break out of their own groups and talk with those they had never met. Thus transformation leaders requested that anyone adding yarn to the program board—indicating dependencies—discuss it directly with the individuals involved.

As the first PI progressed, teams achieved about 60 percent of their stated objectives, on average. In leading up to the second PI, they applied the lessons learned and set more accurate, quantifiable objectives.

At the start of the second PI, Air France – KLM began a new practice of having each business domain and Transversal Track share its business results with the entire group as a PI begins. At the same time, this served as an opportunity to Inspect and Adapt what worked and what didn’t.

By the third PI, in the fall of 2017, Air France – KLM had grown to 208 product teams and eight ARTs across Commercial Digital, Cargo, Commercial, and AF Flight Ops. The KLM HR division and the AF Ground Services have both organized Value Stream workshops to either launch new trains or reorganize their current Agile teams into an ART. The same applies to Digital Commercial. Following on the continuous Inspect & Adapt, Commercial Digital will also reorganize its current ARPs to allow for more alignment on the business objectives and improve its delivery model.

Lessons Learned and Best Practices

Along the way, they learned a number of lessons to improve their efforts going forward:

  • Have an approach for dealing with the diversity across domains, both in their Agile maturity and in their specific context and constraints (operational, security, and regulations)
  • Establish strong ownership in each business domain via an individual adoption team
  • Since most of the dependencies lie between Transversal Tracks (HR or Finance impediments) and business domains, co-create solutions for Transversal topics that facilitate exchanges and encourage learning from each other
  • Actively address the challenge of changing the managerial mindset and leadership styles
  • Understand that setting realistic goals for the next 15 weeks will be difficult for most, as is learning to set smaller, more realistic goals
  • Encourage individuals to ask for help from someone in a Transversal Track or the Core Team
  • Ensure that the team members who are not 100% dedicated and co-located commit to objectives and organize in a way to still be able to work together and produce results
  • Ask for regular feedback to respond to uncertainties and come up with valuable results
  • Leave personal egos at the door and achieve common objectives

Investing in Role-Based Training

Air France - Scaled Agile Practices with SAFe

Where it can, the company trains with the SAFe curriculum. All RTEs go through SAFe Release Train Engineer training. Scrum Masters with the PSM certification are offered the SAFe for Scrum Master training and certification when joining an ARP. The same applies for Product Owner. Team members also attend SAFe for Teams when they join an ARP. Additionally, the company developed training and workshops for Lean Budgeting, using the Weighted Shortest Job First, and other practical guidelines.

A community of 40 coaches support the effort at various levels: teams, domain, adoption, and enterprise. This community is growing in maturity and results. In the third PI, the company will focus on internalization and growth of the coaches, ensuring a more sustainable and economical support for the Agile community.

Results: 20% More Effective Delivery

Since deploying SAFe, Air France – KLM notes greater collaboration between business domains and Transversal Tracks. Within three months, their efforts began paying off in business results in the Cargo group:

Time-to-market – Each ART team delivers on its promises every three weeks. Since moving to SAFe, the company released 17 times in the live environment in seven months compared to every six months previously.

Quality – Of the 17 releases, the company had to delay just one due to a major incident

Productivity – SAFe teams deliver, on average, more than 20% more effectively than waterfall teams

Adaptability – With a PI cycle of 12 weeks, Air France – KLM has been able to pivot its vision three times in the past year, allowing the company to tap into new business opportunities much more quickly and easily

Market share – The company gained 20% market share in the small and medium logistics market alone with this flexibility

Predictability – The velocity of ARTs builds in more predictability and enables teams to take ownership and show greater craftsmanship. Team stability is also an important success factor in results

Business value – On one offering, the company exceeded expectation by 25%

Employee satisfaction – PI Planning results in better transparency and autonomy for the teams. Seeing the vision in the Cargo group encourages team members to contribute to the business value and increases their work satisfaction, as well as collaboration between business and IT

Customer satisfaction – Air France – KLM is more intimate with its clients. All Product Owners from the business side have a greater understanding of the demand. Going live with small changes and new functionality every three weeks gives them a faster feedback loop and more rapid pivoting, enabling groups to deliver greater value in its IT solutions

Air France - Scaled Agile Practices with SAFe

Air France – KLM looks forward to seeing ever-greater progress as it moves toward DevOps, allowing the ARTs to deliver end-to-end with an integrated team.

“We have started experimenting more with weighted shortest job first (WSJF) in our priority at the Features level,” Moreau says. “We also want to harness the work with Portfolio Management and Lean budgeting.”

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Deutsche Bhan

Fitbit – Benefits of Using SAFe in Consumer Technology

Fitbit Benefits of SAFe in Consumer Technology

“SAFe has been a successful story for us. It allowed us to grow our team in a seamless way that integrated cross-functional groups and aligned with the company’s long-term strategy. Fitbit has grown significantly since we adopted SAFe, and we were able to scale the process and still deliver high achievement every PI. My VP calls it the scaffolding that has helped moved our team forward.”

Damian Brown, Sr. Director of Program Management Office, Fitbit

Challenge:

With major consumer holidays as deadlines, target dates are immovable. Early Scrum efforts could not keep pace with company growth.

Industry:

Consumer Products, Information Technology

Results:

  • Fitbit achieved a long-term look-ahead on its product roadmap and a short-term look-ahead on team tasks
  • Teams now achieve five business goals per PI, compared to three previously
  • Velocity increased 33 percent year over year
  • Fitbit launched a record number of products last year

Best Practices:

  • Don’t miss retrospectives – After every PI planning event, Fitbit listens to feedback on what went well and what needs improvement—and integrates those changes for the next PI.
  • Establish long-lived teams – Long-lived teams provide more stability and predictability.
  • Collect metrics along the way – Collect as many metrics as possible, which could back up decision-making. These could include velocity, overall objectives completion rate and reasons for scope changes during execution.
  • Always plan for the next PI – Cadence is important to align multiple groups in the PI in preparation for the next PI planning event. Start early and make sure every participant is aware of the timeline, so all stakeholders are well-informed and prepared for PI planning.

Introduction

In 2016, consumer technology company, Fitbit, released four new products to the market that were positively received by consumers, and shipped over 22 million devices.

Delivering its highest number of products in a year is due in part to the company’s commitment to, and success in adopting SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework®) as a way to scale the team to meet target dates.

Challenge: Delivering for Consumer Shopping Seasons

Benefits of SAFe in Consumer Technology

Since 2007, Fitbit has helped millions of people around the world lead healthier, more active lives by empowering them with data, inspiration, and guidance to reach their goals.

At Fitbit, major consumer holidays drive the product delivery schedule, including the year-end holiday season, Valentine’s Day, graduation, and Mother’s and Father’s Days. For that reason, target dates are inflexible when it comes to developing firmware and software for every product for each major platform (iOS, Android, and Windows).

In working toward targets, Fitbit engineering managers, tech leads, and Scrum masters have collaborated closely in recent years, sprint to sprint. But as the company and user base grew, Fitbit had to expand and evolve this process to meeting company and consumer needs.

“With our growing team and global presence, we knew our Scrum efforts were not going to scale,” says Damian Brown, Sr. Director of Program Management Office, Fitbit. “The question was, ‘How do we keep the organic culture people like about Fitbit while addressing the needs of the business and our global community of users?’”

Always Planning, Always Delivering

At a previous company, Brown and colleague, Brian Hsieh, had been part of a successful Agile effort by deploying SAFe. When they arrived at Fitbit, they saw an opportunity to deploy SAFe once again.

“We had done research on the different models for scaling Scrum,” Brown says. “Brian and I had been to Leading SAFe training, and once you see that big picture, your eyes start lighting up. It’s a powerful story how the Program layer aligns with Scrum teams. We knew that SAFe was something that would work for us at Fitbit.”

But first, they had to gain executive buy-in. “I think the story we told of always planning, always delivering, was very powerful for leadership,” Brown says

A Big Picture—for the First Time

With leadership on board, in fall 2015 the company started with 12 Scrum teams at its first Program Increment (PI) planning event in San Francisco. They created a highly interactive experience with physical boards and red ribbon for a visual of team dependencies within the PI. In that first meeting, teams were energized and excited about their PI objectives.

Benefits of SAFe in Consumer Technology

“Teams reported that they could see the whole picture across company-wide initiatives and understood where they could contribute,” says Hsieh, Manager of Program Management Office.

But as early as the first PI retrospective, the company realized it had not included all the teams that would benefit from this process. Thus in the next PI, Fitbit added other teams, including firmware engineering groups.

With each PI—now up to ten—Fitbit folded in more teams and more functional groups, including some not typically part of an Agile transformation. Today, members of Firmware, Software, Design, Research, Marketing, Customer Support, Data Analytics and Infrastructure Engineering all participate in PIs. Fitbit trained all those who were leading PI events, with events extended to its other office locations, including Boston, San Diego, and Minsk, Belarus.

100% Delivery on Objectives

In adopting SAFe, Fitbit aimed to evolve its process for scaling development teams in many ways:

  • Create a fast and flexible flow across the entire Fitbit ecosystem
  • Create a system of teams across the ecosystem that work together to deliver quickly
  • Scale up to adopt team growth
  • Improve visibility with the objective of a two-month look-ahead on what each team will be working on
  • Create mechanisms for teams and stakeholders to identify cross-team dependencies and add items to other teams’ backlogs as needed
  • Align key business dates across all of the programs, including security, data center moves, compliance, and marketing programs

With the help of SAFe, Fitbit successfully achieved process evolution.

As for visibility, Fitbit achieved a long-term look-ahead on its product roadmap and a short-term execution plan at areas of work for the teams, supporting planning and decision-making for leadership. It’s a roadmap process that Brown and Hsieh credit SAFe with providing.

Velocity likewise increased; teams now achieve five objectives per PI, on average, “With the metrics that SAFe provides, combined with what we regularly report on, we can tell our CTO that velocity has increased 33 percent over the past year,” Brown says.

With higher cadence and velocity, Fitbit can more readily respond to market needs. For example, when the company noticed an opportunity to add a specific capability to its products, it brought the new feature to market in a very short time with no major bugs in internal and external testing.

Benefits of SAFe in Consumer Technology

In 2016, with an aggressive plan for launching four new products, Brown and Hsieh credit the SAFe approach with enabling teams to complete goals and objectives two to three PIs ahead of schedule.

Additionally, the integrated, measured approach contributes to the quality of the user experience. In particular, Brown points to that critical time between Black Friday and New Year’s Day when many new Fitbit owners activate products and visit the Fitbit app and website for the first time to create accounts and sync their new devices. In 2016, the company experienced no major impact to the site during that timeframe.

Just as critical, team engagement has gone up since deploying SAFe. As a result, teams now regularly hit their top objectives. “Having PIs and objectives really rallies us around something positive several times a year,” Brown says.

Now, as the company plans for next year, it’s working toward funding value streams rather than projects—a goal that SAFe 4.0 supports with its Value Stream level.

“SAFe has been a successful story for us. It allowed us to grow our team in a seamless way that integrated cross-functional groups and aligned with the company’s long-term strategy,” Brown adds. “Fitbit has grown significantly since we adopted SAFe, and we were able to scale the process and still deliver high achievement every PI. My VP calls it the scaffolding that has helped moved our team forward.”

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Suggested Case Study: Kantar Retail

PlayStation Network -SAFe: Enabling Value Delivery

SAFe: Enabling Value Delivery

“I personally believe we have delivered more in the two years we’ve been using SAFe than we did in the four years prior-not in raw code, but in value. Our downtime went down and that saved the company about 30 million over the course of the year. That’s real money and a really positive outcome.”

Tripp Meister, Director of Technology, PlayStation Network

Challenge:

Co-located teams across eight different cities found Waterfall and Agile Scrum fell short in bringing together members cohesively.

Industry:

Media and Entertainment, Consumer Products

Solution:

SAFe®

Results:

  • Delivered double the value compared to before practicing SAFe
  • Cut initial planning time by 28 percent
  • 700 team members across 60 Scrum teams actively using SAFe
  • In two years, launched six trains globally, shipped more than 350 production releases, completed 22 PSIs, over 125 sprints and 250 features

Best Practices:

  • Work toward a common theme—”We base our milestones on an objective set that goes across all thousand people doing this, giving them a common theme to work toward,” Meister says.
  • Decentralize decision-making—Empower individuals to negotiate decisions together, at all levels.
  • Gain full buy-in—”SAFe worked because everyone bought into it, top to bottom,” Meister says.

Introduction

Since 1994, millions around the world have chosen to game with PlayStation. Today, the gaming console made by Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) continues to lead with more than 150 million users globally. And most recently, it took the top spot among competing consoles in holiday sales.

SAFe: Enabling Value Delivery

PlayStation customers eagerly await new releases. Delivering a quality product on time requires tight collaboration across more than 1,000 SIE engineering team members. Co-located teams reside in eight different cities.

In meeting its targets, the SIE engineering organization found Waterfall and Agile Scrum fell short in bringing together hundreds of team members cohesively. These approaches failed to address the many dependencies across the organization and resulted in less than desirable business results. What’s more, disparate teams were able to plan only one or two iterations in advance.

“It can take 700 people to make one screen available,” explains Tripp Meister, Director Technology, PlayStation Network. “Coordinating this work and having it well organized so the company can release new features and updates is critical to success. If we just follow processes like Scrum and Agile, things can fall through the cracks, especially with the highly connected systems we build at PlayStation.”

SAFe®: Enabling Value Delivery

In early 2014, SIE leadership chose to deploy the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to bring greater organization and collaboration to development.

“SAFe gives us top-down prioritization based on senior management direction, pulls disparate groups together into common timeframes, and enables us to manage dependencies much better,” Meister says.

SIE engaged a SAFe coach and began with the 2-day Leading SAFe® training for managers. By February of 2014, the company launched its first Agile Release Train (ART), and then followed that with ART launches every 12 weeks.

For every launch, team members come together in person. “Every 12 weeks, about 500 people coalesce in San Diego,” Meister says. “While it’s not cheap to bring everyone together, it’s what allows us to deliver value because you walk out of there and know you can get your work done. For 12 weeks, you are unimpeded.”

Prior to adopting SAFe, cadence varied across groups. Some iterated daily, while others did so weekly or bi-monthly. Now, SIE consistently adheres to a cadence of two weeks with 12-week iterations or PSIs, potentially shippable increments (identified now as Program Increments (PIs) in SAFe 4.0). They run six or seven iterations at a time, which comprise a major release.

SIE program managers serve as Release Train Engineers (RTE), which Meister refers to as the “ringmasters.” They oversee designers, user experience developers, systems architects, systems engineers, and product managers in executing on work in manageable increments and in adhering to the vision.

With the move to SAFe, the company made demos optional for developers. And when they do attend, demos remain high-level and limited to just 5-10 minutes—compared to all-day demos presented previously. “If developers do attend demos, it’s an opportunity to read the face of the product manager they delivered to,” Meister says.

Clearer Vision, Predictability and Priorities

At SEI, SAFe has fundamentally changed the culture of the engineering organization:

Greater visibility/transparency—Developers have more insight into broader company initiatives and activities. “Now, every planning session we do, every single employee practicing SAFe knows our financial results,” Meister says. “The work we do isn’t usually visible, so when you see that you impact the bottom line, it resonates better.”

SAFe: Enabling Value Delivery

Better coordination—Prior to SAFe, collaboration wasn’t necessarily constructive. Now, from Tokyo to San Diego, everyone speaks a common language when it comes to Agile. Disparate groups work together more cohesively, and SEI has enhanced coordination between Portfolio and Program management activities.

Dependency management—In an environment with many dependencies, SAFe serves as a dependency management system, improving predictability.

Clearer priorities—With weighted shortest job first (WSJF), SAFe brought a new approach to prioritizing. “SAFe has really allowed us to work on the most valuable thing at the moment,” Meister says.

$30 Million in Savings

Today, approximately 700 team members across 60 Scrum teams actively use SAFe. Since 2014, the company has launched six trains globally, shipped more than 350 production releases, completed 22 PSIs, over 125 sprints and 250 features. With the Framework, SEI also cut initial planning time by 28 percent. Instead of 1550 man-days to plan, it now takes 1125.

“I personally believe we have delivered more in the two years we’ve been using SAFe than we did in the four years prior—not in raw code, but in value,” Meister says. “Our downtime went down and that saved the company about 30 million over the course of the year. Before, we had done similar things, but they were not nearly as effective as SAFe.”

The following summary is based on a public presentation by Tripp Meister of PlayStation Network.

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Northwestern Mutual – SAFe for Financial Service

“We had been challenged a number of times in changing our underlying CRM platform. After implementing SAFe, our overall effort actually came in $12M less than originally estimated and 18 months sooner than predicted.”

Bryan Kadlec, Director, Client Digital Experience

Challenge:

Market leader Northwestern Mutual sought to apply Lean-Agile practices to remain competitive, though previous efforts had been stymied by a longtime Waterfall culture.

Industry:

Financial Services, Insurance

Solution:

SAFe®

Results:

  • Collection Feature Cycle Time improved 30-50%
  • IT delivers requested capabilities 80-90 % of the time
  • The overall effort on a project came in $12 million less than originally estimated and 18 months sooner than predicted

Best Practices:

  • Support experimentation—Leadership at NWM fostered an environment, and provided resources, to enable this transformation. “Our forward-thinking leadership knew we needed to bring in some changes so they invested in continuous learning and improvement,” Schindler says.
  • Use proxies for offshore teams—NWM pre-plans with offshore teams and then brings proxy representatives to PI planning events.
  • Customize SAFe—NWM increased engagement with its own spin on the program board, with the Transformation Railway Station.

Introduction

In business, staying ahead of the competition inevitably requires taking some risks. But how do you do this, when a key part of your success depends on keeping risk at bay? That’s the question Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual (NWM) had to answer while seeking new ways to maintain and build on their 160-year history of helping families and businesses achieve financial security.

To maintain the leadership position NWM has built over nearly 160 years, the organization has taken an innovative, entrepreneurial approach to business. It’s paid off: The past year (2016) was one of the company’s strongest. The company reported record-level revenue ($27.9 billion), was named by FORTUNE® magazine as one of the “World’s Most Admired” life insurance companies, and has maintained the highest financial strength ratings awarded to any U.S. life insurer.*

300-Day Cycles

In 2012, the company reached a turning point. In addition to a company-wide push for continuous learning and improvement, IT needed to move faster.

“It took over 300 days and many instances to deliver value to our customers,” says Jill Schindler, Manager, Client Digital Experience. “We were getting a lot of questions around, ‘Why does it take so long and cost so much?’ We knew we needed to be more flexible, adaptable and responsive, and it didn’t take us long to realize that Agile was a big part of that.”

SAFe for Financial Services

NWM had tried to adopt Lean-Agile practices before, experimenting with a few Scrum teams in the mid-2000s. However, those efforts ran headfirst into a deeply ingrained Waterfall culture.

“We didn’t start with much training or coaching, and teams worked on the aspects they wanted instead of the aspects that we needed,” says Bryan Kadlec, Director, Client Digital Experience. “We fell woefully behind and then were slammed by a waterfall world to put out the fire.”

A Second Attempt at Agile

Northwestern Mutual shelved its Scrum efforts until 2012, when the company embarked on a more methodical approach to Agile. This time, they set out to train as many people as possible. “We wanted to do this and senior leadership believed in it, so we pushed forward,” Schindler says.

At the time, three or four teams experimented with Agile but the organization simply was not set up to accommodate it.

For next steps, they held their first rapid improvement event (Value Stream mapping). The weeklong event brought together Scrum teams and specialized teams with the goal of addressing the challenges of these distinct groups working together. The end result: a better understanding of the problems and a systematic way of approaching them. Key to that was engaging the IT strategy team to help remove barriers.

The Missing Piece

About that time, NWM found the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) and quickly saw it as the missing piece. “SAFe totally lines up with what we were already trying to do but we just didn’t have a platform for it,” Schindler says. “This was the framework we needed for delivering Agile at scale.”

“In SAFe, we could see Agile and Lean together and had this sense that it was a very powerful thing,” Kadlec adds.

Schindler and Kadlec went back to the leaders or their respective organizations and secured resources to try SAFe—becoming pioneers not just for their own company, but also establishing NWM as the first large company in Wisconsin to take this course. They believed firmly in their chosen path, but it still felt risky to apply new practices to a large chunk of the company’s portfolio.

“It shaved a few years off our lives!” Kadlec quips. “We believed that the path we were taking would deliver high value, but it still felt high risk. But if we’re going to compete, we had to have quicker response time.”

The First Program Increment (PI)

SAFe for Financial Services

Schindler and Kadlec trained as SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) and additionally tapped Al Shalloway, CEO, Net Objectives, along with SAFe Fellow Jennifer Fawcett to facilitate the company’s first PI planning event. NWM asked 270 people to come together for the first two-day event—in January in Wisconsin—where they launched their first four Agile Release Trains (ARTs).

The response was heartening. People were engaged and ultimately on board. “At the end of the day, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment,” Schindler says. “Everyone understood what was expected of them.” Northwestern went on to train as many people as possible. In fact, for some team members, training was the first sprint.

Making the shift in the company’s longtime waterfall culture wasn’t easy. Coaching was key, especially at the beginning. As teams went through cycles of Plan, Do, Check and Adjust, old behaviors would emerge—and need to be addressed. In truth, some individuals chose to leave—but most chose to dedicate themselves to the new way of working. The “new era” behaviors the Agile mindset fosters have taken such a firm hold companywide that they are now a factor in performance reviews.

By the second PI event, again with Fawcett facilitating, Release Train Engineers had a sense of ownership.

Transformation Railway Station

Northwestern Mutual took a clever twist on the ART program board, dubbing it Transformation Railway Station. On its board, a tunnel image represents the funnel of new work/ideas and cows represent impediments. The former is particularly apt given that, in 1859, two policy owners were killed when a train hit a cow and derailed. When the new company lacked the full funds to pay out those first life insurance claims (for $3500), NWM’s president at the time personally borrowed the funds.

On the board, laminated trains make their way along the track (the Portfolio level) from the departure station through various stages:

  • Identify—Communicate change vision, and determine Value Stream, ARTs, scope, PI planning date and training
  • Prep—Perform SAFe training
  • Launch—Conduct final prep and first PI planning event
  • Mature—Coach and develop the ART
  • Inspect and Adapt—Hold Inspect and Adapt workshop, plus second PI planning event
  • Aftercare—Complete coach strength, weakness, opportunity and threats (SWOT) assessment; discuss future coaching engagement

Through the PI, all parties keep a close watch on progress and metrics. “Leadership can walk up and know where we are at any time,” says Sarah Scott, Agile Lean Organization Coach at Northwestern Mutual.

SAFe for Financial Services
Transformation Railway Station

Cycle Time Improvement

Since deploying SAFe, and beginning its first earnest Agile efforts, Northwestern Mutual reduced Collection Feature Cycle Time by 30-50%. And surveys of business representatives indicate that IT delivers what they requested 80-90 percent of the time.

Ultimately, the changes affected the bottom-line—for the better. “After implementing SAFe, our overall effort actually came in $12 million less than originally estimated and 18 months sooner than predicted,” Kadlec says.

Now in year three, with 12 PIs behind them, the company has five SAFe instances and 14 ARTs in progress across a wide range of product areas. Northwestern Mutual provides leadership for SAFe in Wisconsin, even hosting a Scaling Agile Meetup Group that draws as many as 300 attendees to its monthly gatherings.

“We’re at a tipping point now, continuing to break down barriers,” Schindler says. “The whole organization is in the heart of a major transformation and we’re leveraging SAFe to accelerate our Lean-Agile IT transformation. We’re at a whole other level that I don’t think would have happened as quickly or with as much impact if we’d just had a handful of Scrum teams.”

* Ratings are for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and Northwestern Long Term Care Insurance Company, as of the most recent review and report by each rating agency. Northwestern Mutual’s ratings: A.M. Best Company A++ (highest), 5/2016; Fitch Ratings AAA (highest), 11/2016; Moody’s Investors Service Aaa (highest), 1/2017; Standard & Poor’s AA+ (second highest), 6/2016. Ratings are subject to change.

Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (NWM), Milwaukee, WI and its subsidiaries.

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Suggested Case Study: Fannie Mae

Kantar Retail – Benefits of SAFe in Retail

Kantar Retail - Benefits of SAFe in Retail

Our time to market is impressive for an enterprise solution. It’s a competitive advantage in the market that we can make major product changes every two months.”

Cédric Guyot, CEO, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail

Challenge:

Implement a more formal Agile approach while preserving the company’s innovative culture.

Industry:

Technology, Retail

Solution:

SAFe®

Results:

  • Delivery of major releases down from 6 to 2 months
  • Time to market decreased from 9 to 3 months
  • Time to respond to client feedback down from 3 months to 1 month
  • 27.5% decrease in cost per epic
  • 41% to 28% decrease in the attrition rate
  • 36%-43% increase in team productivity due to clear job responsibilities and processes
  • Easier talent acquisition and retention due to openness and transparency

Best Practices:

  • Gain buy-in through results—To sell leadership on SAFe, managers frequently demonstrated value. “Once we started to improve and measure our results, upper management came on board,” Vavriv says.
  • Be patient—Change takes time. Once implemented, you’ll begin seeing progress, accelerating the pace of change.
  • Involve HR—Clearly define roles and performance standards (KPIs) for each role. Kantar Retail’s HR representative attended SAFe training.
  • Gradual implementation of SAFe framework—“Start implementation with basic things on the Team level after starting with the Program level and constantly improve Portfolio-level decisions,” Yevgrashyn says

Introduction

Kantar Retail develops Virtual Reality (VR) solutions that enable their retailer and manufacturer clients to research and design retail experiences to meet the needs of shoppers and keep up with the constantly changing retail landscape. Retail design and research in virtual reality drives time to market and more effective collaboration, and is faster, more economical and confidential than prototyping in physical stores.

Benefits of SAFe in Retail

Part of WPP Group, the world leader in marketing communications services, Kantar Retail is a leading insight, technology and consultancy company that works with retailers such as Walmart, Target and Marks & Spencer. They also work with global consumer goods businesses including Kimberly-Clark, Unilever & GSK.

In 2013, Kantar Retail set out to develop a new VR solution for the retail and consumer goods industry. The company had explored using Agile practices with small teams, but the effort was “disorganized and disjointed,” says Dmytro Vavriv, PhD, Delivery Unit Manager at Kantar Retail. As a small company that prides itself on innovation, members across the organization were concerned that a more formal Agile approach could stifle ideas.

Prepping for PI #1

When Kantar Retail began developing the latest version of its solution, the company made a key decision to build its capacity and chose to deploy the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to support that effort.

Development teams are located in Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. For road-mapping the first Program Increment (PI), Kantar Retail engaged just one, six-person team in Kiev. As the team prepared for its first planning session and PI, the Delivery Unit Manager and the Release Train Engineer (RTE) took the four-day Implementing SAFe 4.0 course and earned SAFe 4.0 Program Consultant (SPC4) certification.

Leading up to kickoff, Kantar Retail faced some tough questions. First, they were uncertain how long the PI duration should be. While the business was pushing for a short timeframe, team members felt like they needed a longer window.

They also had concerns about the planning session itself. Past sessions typically covered just one sprint. This time they would need to cover seven sprints, decide on features and analyze dependencies with other teams. They also needed to develop a vision for the next two PIs. Would two days be enough?

“From a product perspective, the first PI was a challenge because the team had just started working on the product, and from a technical perspective the teams didn’t know the code well yet,” Dmytro Tsybulskyi, RTE says.

Ultimately, the group covered everything in a 2-day session. They settled on a 3½-month PI, but didn’t quite meet the planned scope on the first try—requiring 4½ months. Yet, they still delivered under the usual six-month timeframe and took away valuable lessons for the next round.

PI2 ran significantly more smoothly. Kantar Retail brought in more teams and trained all team leads beforehand. Prior to the PI boundary, teams discussed possible roadmaps and dependencies, as well as technical questions. That made it so that, in planning, they found it easier to put features on the program board and establish a vision for upcoming PIs. Plus, they had greater confidence in setting a shorter PI timeframe—this time 3 months.

Enhancing Innovation

As of now, half the company is trained in SAFe, and Kantar Retail has completed four major releases. “We started out with a small team of 6 engineers in Kiev and have grown to 30 now, including all aspects of software delivery, QA, Scrum Teams, and UI/UX,” says Paul Gregory, Chief Technical Officer, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail.

With the help of experienced SPC and Agile coach Timofey Yevgrashyn, Kantar Retail has also implemented SAFe fully on the Team and Program levels. To their surprise, Kantar Retail found that teams were more proactive regarding innovation on the product—due to the sharing of responsibilities, and by separating activities on business deliverability and innovation.

Benefits of SAFe in Retail

“Participation of all team members in the Leading SAFe class helped to clarify roles and responsibilities and simulate key activities in the SAFe framework,” Yevgrashyn says.

The newly implemented SAFe methodology additionally resulted in a shared vision, more visibility and predictability, a higher-quality solution, and an increased ability to respond to market and customer demands.

“We’ve adopted an enterprise framework for agility, the SAFe framework,” says Eric Radermacher, Product Manager, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail. “We’ve been more consistent. We’ve been able to articulate a roadmap to the business and to our clients and deliver in time and in full, which is a really positive milestone.”

Sharpening the Competitive Edge

With the help of SAFe, Kantar Retail brought the latest version of its product to market. Cloud-based Kantar Retail VR Infinity™ provides all the content for the creation of virtual store projects. It puts VR technology directly in the hands of the users, and connects teams and customers to understand issues and opportunities quickly, leading to faster and more effective retail decision-making.

The company measured very clear benefits from its Agile journey:

Delivery

  • Delivery of major releases down from 6 to 2 months
  • Time to market decreased from 9 to 3 months
  • Reduced time to respond to client feedback from 3 months to 1 month
  • Greater predictability, which enhances client satisfaction

“Our time to market is impressive for an enterprise solution,” Cédric Guyot, CEO, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail says. “It’s a competitive advantage in the market that we can make major product changes every two months.”

Finance

  • 27.5% decrease in cost per epic

Human Resources

  • 41% to 28% decrease in the attrition rate
  • 36%-43% increase in team productivity due to clear job responsibilities and processes
  • Easier talent acquisition and retention due to openness and transparency

Given those metrics, top management is now fully behind SAFe.

SAFe not only elevates internal team satisfaction and hiring; the sales team now brings the company’s time to market into conversations with prospects.

“The sales team uses this as a way to engage with clients,” Dmytro Vavriv says. “We can say, ‘Here are stats showing our predictability and here’s our vision.’”

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