Don’t panic, keep delivering

Don’t panic, keep delivering

… even though strategy has just been turned upside down

This is a story of our Agile Transformation where the environment was a little … challenging and the strategy was changed mid development. We share how we were able to deliver in a changing environment. And how we had set up our organization to enable this feat.

Beate - leader in the transformation effort

How I feel as a leader

I am Beate and I have been managing this area for about one year. My responsibility is development of embedded software, I report to the department lead.

I have help: a brand new Product Owner with a focus to deliver the right product), an experienced Coach who helped me to set up everything. I can concentrate on the people: help them to become productive and being engaged.

What I believed – and what I know now for sure: investing in people – skills and trust – made us successful. Without accountable people with initiative … you cannot change fast enough. 

We have a digital service offering which enables consumers to connect to, and interact with appliances in specific work environments. Interaction means also integration in standard environments, our own hardware appliances and specific integration protocols. It can not only switch appliances on and off, it can also select programs, execute custom scripts, adjust timers, set appliances to eco mode and much more. A range of supporting digital services around this create an enhanced experience around connected appliances.

These intelligent appliances and services are a core part of our strategy and include some new challenges. Some are technical, but our biggest headache is the enormous speed of development of the new competitors we encounter. It puts a lot of stress on our traditional organization, which was used to “own” the market and did concentrate on high quality products, not speed.

How we started - our approach

To meet the increasing demand for innovative digital services to support and connect our appliances, we created an offering to establish a globally leading platform in appliance connectivity. A decision was made reorganize the development program around Lean Agile principles, and to use SAFe as a basis.

We brought in a consultancy which with we were already working with SAFe in other departments, to support the transition to scaled agile, working closely with internal stakeholders and coaches. The challenge was to support the transformation of a large number of teams and roles (both internal and external), spread across a number of countries, from a traditional organization into a lean agile team-of-teams.

A Value Stream Workshop was held to define the scope and define the first Agile Release Train, key roles, challenges and opportunities. A coordinating steering group, was established to support the initial set-up, staffing and training of the train. This includes champions who help steer the change through the organization. Key roles, such as the Release Train Engineer, were established and the people coached in their role. Team members went through SAFe for Teams training, and additional roles (such as product owners and product management) received role specific training.

While teams were previously working with Agile practices, they were component based. The decision was taken to shake-up the program and form the agile release train around self-designed feature teams. This was a fairly radical step at the time. A large team-forming event was organized where the participants formed teams (within certain pre-conditions) and took part in various team building activities. We now had teams, core roles and a backlog of features to form the basis of the first all hands “Program Increment (PI) Planning”.

The first PI Planning was a major success. A great team-of-teams atmosphere was created and the program got off to a good start. During the initial program increments (with a duration of 10 weeks), the train continued to build out its testing strategy, communities of practices, integration approach etc. to build a more robust end-to-end delivery train and learning organization.

The disruption

Six months into the development a strategic decision was made to place more focus on the “Connect App” and a major re-launch of the service and concept. This triggered two things:

  1. it was decided to reappraise the offering and,
  2. the release train was to be re-organised based upon learning gained so far.

The innovation approach taken was to run a set of Google Design Sprints (design-thinking based) to help identify new customer centric opportunities. This was an intensive time: we had to throw out a lot of work and deal with the insecurity and disappointment of the team members and other stakeholders. We managed to get the buy in of them by discussing relentlessly the reasoning in the disruptive strategy change.

Adapt to new challenges

We were able to build on the fact that we had openly discussed the business goals from the beginning and had not only involved the teams, but had delegated as many decisions as possible to them. The discussions in these intense times resulted in significant new customer and product insights that, in turn, were reflected in the program backlog.

A second Value Stream workshop was held to help redefine the program and to revisit the existing team structure. It was found that the initial decision to create pure feature teams was causing some challenges (and in some cases resulting in large teams) and therefore a decision was made to redefine smaller teams around product sub-parts/thematic areas – within which the teams would focus. At the start of the next PI, a second team-forming event was held where, again, participants were empowered to form teams, but within a new set of pre-conditions. This resulted in eight agile teams.

What we learned

So - where are we today: we are a success story

The agile release train travelled through 2019 and delivered the strategic goal of relaunching the connected offering with an exciting set of services. At the time of writing in Q1 2020, we are rolling out new customer value on a regular basis, and are improving with each Program Increment.