Customer Interview: SAFe Improves Predictability and Team Collaboration at Nokia Software
Dean Leffingwell sits down with Juha Rossi and Johanna Reunanen to talk about leading an agile transformation inside one of the world’s most recognizable technology brands. In this candid interview, they share the story behind Nokia Software’s transformation, and what it’s like implementing and practicing SAFe in such a large and complex organization. They also describe the challenges of aligning 40+ ARTs and many solution trains, and how agile practices bring improvements in productivity, customer experience, and quality.
Presented at the Global SAFe Summit, October, 2020
“Having a clear methodology and training in place has been very helpful when hiring people: Good developers expect a modern methodology. Being able to tell candidates that we take Agile principles seriously, by mentioning that we have trained and certified product owners and Scrum masters, and that we follow a clear Agile path-definitely makes a difference.”
—Walter Bauer, CTO, censhare
As the company reached 150 people, locally developed variations of Scrum were no longer effective.
Faster time to market of the company’s latest product version
Greater alignment between product management and development
More team spirit
Enhanced employee satisfaction and an edge when hiring
Prepare thoroughly for PI events – Before the first real PI planning meeting, Improuv organized a training session that simulated the event-leading to very successful early PIs.
Train product managers – Product owners and the Chief Product Owner attended the SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (PMPO) two-day workshop, to help prepare the overall backlog.
Show the Program Board – The program board hangs in an area of the office seen by all, and provides a focal point for Scrum of Scrum meetings and PO/PM meetings.
Munich-based censhare is an international software firm deploying innovative technologies that enable companies to master the next generation of digital communication. For more than 20 years, the company has offered comprehensive digital platforms geared to creating, shaping, and designing engaging customer experiences.
While censhare was not new to Agile principles, their experience was limited to locally developed interpretations of Scrum. That approach worked to an extent when the company was small, but not as well when it reached 150 people.
“I used to have regular personal contact with all people in the company, but now it’s even hard to keep this up within my own department,” explains Walter Bauer, censhare CTO.
Train, then Launch the Train
Bauer and a product manager attended Leading SAFe® training, where they discovered the thinking and practices behind scaling Agile via the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®). Bauer saw how censhare could adapt the SAFe “Big Picture” to provide a flexible and scalable Agile way of working that would help not just development, but the organization as a whole.
Following training, the CTO decided to bring SAFe to censhare. The goal: solidify Agile across the organization and prepare it for future expansion.
With the support of Scaled Agile partner, Improuv, censhare followed the concept of “train everyone, then launch an Agile Release Train:”
Management Executive leadership attended a one-day workshop to discuss agility, scaling Agile, and to set and manage expectations. The leadership team bought into the approach and gave the green light to introduce scaled Lean-Agile practices.
Scrum teams Before focusing on scaling, censhare decided to further develop the core Agile strengths of their development teams. Scrum teams received training and coaching on Scrum and SAFe to help develop team potential and prepare them for working together at scale. All Scrum Masters received Certified Scrum Master training (CSM).
Product management Product owners and the Chief Product Owner attended the SAFe Product Manager Product Owner (PMPO) two-day workshop, becoming certified as SAFe PMPOs. This, along with coaching, helped product management prepare the overall backlog.
In SAFe, the Program Increment (PI) planning meeting sets the objectives for the coming 10-week increment. To bring the organization up-to-speed before the first real PI planning meeting, Improuv organized a training session that simulated the event. This turned out to be key to the eventual success of the first planning sessions.
censhare then formed an Agile Release Train (ART) and launched it on a 10-week planning and alignment cadence. Within the 10 weeks, Scrum teams work in synchronized two-week sprints. The kickoff PI planning event followed the SAFe model.
The company introduced Scaled Agile portfolio management, aided by Portfolio-level Kanban, to add transparency to the Portfolio backlog and match demand with capacity. However, censhare is still implementing this level since there is currently a clear demand process—which is now matched to the capacity of the ART.
Improving Time to Market, Morale
The CTO points to a number of positive outcomes resulting from SAFe:
Faster time to market-censhare released a new version of its product to the market (something that would have been challenging had the company not adopted SAFe). The development and release of the product was significantly faster than previous releases.
Greater alignment—SAFe succeeded in improving alignment between product management and development teams. Cross-team dependencies are better managed and made transparent.
Common vision—The Agile Release Train and 10-week cadence helped the teams develop a product globally, rather than local team deliverables.
More team spirit—The “we are a censhare team” spirit improved through the development team-of-teams thinking. Teams feel more empowered and involved.
Enhanced employee satisfaction—An employee survey revealed that employees appreciate that censhare now has a more professional way of developing products.
“Having a clear methodology and training in place has been very helpful when hiring people: Good developers expect a modern methodology. Being able to tell candidates that we take Agile principles seriously—by mentioning that we have trained and certified Product Owners and Scrum Masters, and that we follow a clear Agile path—definitely makes a difference,” Bauer says
In the complex and competitive communications industry, many of the world’s largest telecom and entertainment players turn to Amdocs for customer care, billing and order management systems. At the $3.6 billion company, more than 24,000 employees serve customers in over 90 countries.
The Amdocs portfolio includes a full set of BSS/OSS capabilities on a variety of platforms and technologies to support communication service providers. Projects can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to complete, requiring close collaboration across widely distributed teams. The Amdocs Delivery organization comprises approximately 5,000 professionals around the world.
In this challenging environment, Amdocs sought ways to improve quality and delivery times. The time from initial scoping to delivery simply stretched too long for the rate of change happening for Amdocs’ customers. Amdocs Delivery had been experimenting with ways to be Agile; however the need for a more structured approach was evident given projects’ scale and complexity.
“We were working in big blocks,” says Levana Barkai, a Lead of Center of Excellence in the Amdocs Israeli office. “Even scoping requirements with the customer could take a year. Only after we closed in on the bits and bytes of customer requirements (long phase of ~8 months) we started the next phases of design, development and testing. But then we would realize that the customer already has new requirements we needed to address. We needed to be more flexible to customers’ changing needs.”
Choosing a Proven, Enterprise-Level Framework
After evaluating several options to scale Agile, Amdocs Delivery decided to adopt the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) for a number of reasons. For one, the Framework offered a proven, public-facing method of applying Lean and Agile practices at an enterprise level. The Framework also offered the level of detail the company needed to truly roll out the practices at every level of the organization, and to do so quickly.
In late 2014, executives, managers and leaders began SAFe certification training, followed by teams. As they began applying Agile practices to real projects, the Delivery Transformation team, comprised of Agile Coaches, guided the implementation and execution. Unlike previous efforts at applying Agile methods, this time the company took a more disciplined approach to more closely align the implementation to the framework to reap the benefits of industry learnings.
Barkai said, “This time we’re doing it differently. We’re taking industry best practices and not modifying them for Amdocs. We set the expectation that we are implementing SAFe as is.”
Upping Adoption through Gamification
Gamification played a big role in the change management strategy, especially to drive the adoption of new practices at the Team level. One of the successful gamification techniques included “FLIP,” a game that requires teams to check items off a checklist to ensure Scrum ceremonies are done in the true spirit. Teams earn points based on how quickly they complete the checklists.
FLIP stands for:
Finish–The team finished the current iteration fully
Learn–Teams performed a retrospective to learn for the future
Improve–The retrospective resulted in specific items that teams can focus on to improve in the next iteration
Plan–Teams completed the iteration planning ceremony and are ready to begin execution for the next iteration
As teams “FLIP-ed,” they took selfie photos and posted them on physical boards with their marked checklists. Only the teams themselves checked whether criteria were really achieved—to prevent the game from being perceived as a monitoring tool.
The FLIP game drove several successful outcomes:
Deeper understanding–To win, teams had to review the checklist, encouraging them to delve into the details of the process broadening the number of people with a detailed understanding of the new process.
More discipline–More teams began following Scrum in a disciplined way, helping Amdocs Delivery achieve the new status quo much faster.
“Using gamification for Scrum adoption resulted in better outcomes,” says Hrishikesh Karekar, Lead Agile Coach. “It helped us boost motivation, better the engagement and drive positive behavioral change in teams. Most important of all, the teams loved the process and had fun.”
Team members also found reward in seeing the new process produce customer satisfaction and real results. After initial hesitance to share early and frequent demos with customers, team members were pleasantly surprised by customer reactions.
“Customers were really delighted,” Barkai says. “They have been giving us great feedback about seeing the system in such an early state. Now teams understand that this is the key to success.”
“We reduced the time to take an idea to production,” adds Karekar. “Our time to value has gone down using the SAFe process. If reaching production would normally take 1½ years, now it could be eight months with the new processes and approach.”
On average, the company has quantified delivery for user acceptance testing 30 percent faster—a major indication of value for Amdocs. Demos take place every two weeks to two months, instead of the previous four months at a minimum.
Likewise, system stabilization time has shortened in step with quality improvements, from six weeks to less than a week. And with more stability comes greater predictability in the early stages.
Word has spread quickly about early teams’ success, with many initiatives now running on SAFe. And management is encouraging company-wide rollout of the Framework, a goal coaches expect to reach by early next year.
“It’s not theory anymore,” Barkai says. “Now we have a lot of evidence that SAFe works. The success with SAFe implementation has generated a lot of interest in raising the bar for excellence, and laid a great foundation for the DevOps journey.”
NAPA Group is a leading software house providing solutions for ship design and operation with the mission to improve safety and eco-efficiency of the global maritime industry. Headquartered in Finland, NAPA and NAPA for Operations (Onboard-NAPA) have established themselves as the de facto standard for ship design. They are used by shipyards, owners, designers, classification societies, research institutes, authorities, consultancies and universities around the world.
In 2012, with nearly 400 user organizations for design application and 2,000 installations onboard, they found themselves suffering from growth pains stemming from major annual releases, a large volume of projects, variable scope and schedules, and lack of a framework of best practices needed to support their fast-paced expansion and development. In other words, release schedules were slipping, and it was becoming difficult to get software out.
“95% of ships built annually are designed by our customers using NAPA.”
With guidance provided by Scaled Agile Gold Partner, Nitor Delta, NAPA embarked upon a 2-year journey of dramatic organizational change that included a combination of Scrum integrated with a full SAFe implementation that ultimately led to their first Release Planning event in 2014.
The results from their 2-year journey are impressive:
• Transparency increased on all levels • Delivery cycle time down from >12 months to 3 months • Increased predictability (2014 92% successful releases) • Need for patches decreased • Less defects in main branch • Good basis for further growth
The NAPA experience is a classic example of how the principles of SAFe and Scrum can work in harmony for successful business agility to produce measurable business results. They have demonstrated that the strategic planning enabled by the Portfolio level in SAFe in no way diminishes the value of Scrum, but in fact, illustrates the complementary aspects of both practices.
Many thanks to Toivo Vaje, SA, of NAPA Group for sharing your Lean-Agile experience, and to Maarit Laanti of Nitor Delta for your role in this successful SAFe implementation.