Deutsche Telekom: Mission Possible – Story of SAFe

The Ongoing Story of SAFe at a Major European Telco

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Deutsche Telekom is one of the world’s leading integrated telecommunications companies, with some 242 million mobile customers, 27 million fixed-network lines, and 22 million broadband lines.

Deutsche Telekom IT has moved from 0 to 130 ARTs in less than three years. Now a new phase is beginning. Here, alignment, consolidation, and relentless improvement take center stage. In this session, Agile coaches Richard Butler and Manfred Becking take you on this journey of highs and lows, what helped or hindered them, and what they learned along the way. Topics include:

  • The results to date around collaboration, speed, transparency, and focus
  • Going forward: fusing and consolidating
  • Transformation learnings:
    • Understanding and Cognition
    • Growing realization of things that need to be done
    • Relativity
    • No speed fits all
    • Need for KnowYou can’t travel to the stars SAFely unless you know how It’s a complex and unique universe – things don’t fit together by chance.
    • Mindset – Agile behavior doesn’t just happen
  • Black Holes:
    • Methodology Disconnects
    • “Resilofication” will occur without alignment
    • No Value-Stream, No Agility
    • If it’s not E2E there won’t be smooth flow
    • Inertia – Where the inertia is the highest, so is the gravity
    • Mirage – You might call it SAFe but it doesn’t mean that it is SAFe
    • It’s the Mindset
    • Linear solutions don’t solve dynamically complex problems

Presented at the 2021 Global SAFe Summit, October 2021 by:

  • Manfred Becking, Agile Coach, SAFe Consultant /Deutsche Telekom
  • Richard Butler, Agile Coach, SAFe Consultant /Deutsche Telekom

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Dutch Tax and Customs Administration – Implementing SAFe for Government

“We are delivering faster and more predictably than in the past, which has changed many minds and driven a shift in long-ingrained ways of working.”

Mark Braam, IT Manager/RTE, Interaction Services at DTCA

Challenge:

DTCA sought to improve its speed and predictability in bringing new technology to the organization and citizens.

Industry:

Government

Results:

  • Major releases 3X more often
  • 80% reduction in technical debt
  • Half of managers moved into other roles
  • Greater engagement and collaboration across all levels

Best Practices:

  • Go ‘by the book’ – Follow SAFe training and ceremonies closely for the best results.
  • Anticipate organizational change – SAFe facilitated a cultural and organizational shift at DTCA.
  • Give teams freedom – Trust teams and give them space to do their jobs.
  • Shift to product thinking – Product vs. project thinking provides continuity and life cycle management and a more long-term outlook, plus brings more attention to improvement, maintainability, lifecycle management, and cost of ownership.

Introduction

With 26,000 employees, the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (DTCA) is one of the largest government agencies in the Netherlands, and is responsible for collecting taxes and customs, and extending tax credits and benefits to Dutch residents.

Implementing SAFe for Government

DTCA relies on technology to sharpen productivity and simplify online tax and customs procedures. Yet in this process-oriented and risk-averse culture, technology evolves slowly. Initiatives have typically begun with piles of paperwork and then have taken months or years to reach completion, often to suffer from frustrating quality issues.

To address its ongoing challenges, DTCA began moving toward a Lean approach and also started applying Scrum practices. These first steps toward an Agile way of working did help but were not enough to achieve goals such as improving delivery times and elevating quality.

SAFe: A Path to Delivering Value

In the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®), DTCA found a method for achieving agility at scale—and long-sought results.

“To deliver more value, we knew that projects and teams needed to be aligned more effectively, and we believed the shift to SAFe would help us get there,” explained Mark Braam, IT Manager/RTE, Interaction Services at DTCA.

The Tax Allowances division, which handles tax credits and benefits for health care, rent, and childcare, began first. Per the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, they provided role-based training to virtually all Agile Release Train (ART) members, relying on an independent Certified SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) for training and coaching.

Early on, managers and team members sceptically viewed the effort and the time they would need to dedicate to training and planning events. Ultimately, they had to trust that pulling 140 people into an event for two days every 12 weeks would pay off in the end—and it did. The first ART began delivering business value during the first PI.

“Before SAFe, we released our software twice a year, with all the fixed requirements and the changes on these requirements during the development phase,” recalled Ramzi Barkoudah, Release Train Engineer (RTE) of the Tax Allowances ART. “But now we are releasing every four weeks. Seeing those benefits helped gain the support of the business and the leadership of the company.”

As one example, every year, tax allowances, which have been granted in advance, are calculated and extended based upon the determined annual income of each citizen. This massive process involves allowances for millions of citizens. In the past, DTCA could implement changes in this process only once or twice a year. With a major investment in the delivery pipeline and improving the delivery process by implementing SAFe, the organization now makes changes to the process in small batches, releasing changes every four weeks.

Progress in the Tax Allowances ART inspired the Interaction Services division to make the leap as well. Going ‘by the book,’ they asked everyone joining the first ART to go through role-based training, approximately 140 people.

When it was time for the first Program Increment (PI) Planning event, team members arrived excited and optimistic. They quickly saw the impact the Framework brought as the number of risks on the Program Board grew to 100. Identifying those risks allowed teams to resolve them together, one by one, and to categorize each before moving on to set PI objectives.

IT/Business Collaboration = More On-Target Products

In a culture of such ingrained practices, DTCA has had to educate team members and Product Owners continuously on the value of spending time in PI Planning, and to prove that SAFe delivers better results than traditional project management.

Siebren Biesma, Process Director for Supervision in Interaction Services, has spent nearly 35 years at DTCA. With SAFe, he has seen new ways of working replace long-held practices.

Before, Biesma’s team would spend months writing plans for projects with occasional interaction with him. Then, IT teams would go away to work on the project—often for at least a year.

Implementing SAFe for Government

Today, Biesma remains engaged from the start. “With SAFe, as a Business Owner, I’m always participating,” he explained. “The RTE asks a number of questions and I need to explain loudly and clearly what I want. It forces me to be prepared and prioritize what’s most important.”

Biesma stresses that relentless involvement, from PI to PI, not only creates a more on-target product, but builds in flexibility to make adjustments along the way. Product Ownership continuously informs the development process—ensuring that the final product meets their needs and that funds are allocated in the right areas. While budgeting itself hasn’t changed, transparency regarding the budget has.

“In PI planning events, I get a better understanding how much we’re spending and if it’s on the right things,” Biesma added.

Biesma and fellow decades-long colleagues have noticed a significant cultural shift; they clearly know who is doing what, and collaborate and discuss more than before. Such collaboration has led to tighter alignment between the business and IT, which Willy Rovers, Managing Director of IT, says is one of the biggest benefits of SAFe.

“To maintain optimal alignment with societal and market changes, the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration’s processes must be continuously and short-cyclically adjusted,” Rovers said. “Business and IT use SAFe to be able to realize and implement the required IT facilities quickly and predictably.”

Braam gives credit to the teams for self-organizing, increasing their engagement. Train leaders asked 100 people to assign themselves to one of the teams, with each team comprising seven to nine people. They provided guidelines around the composition of each team, such as the ratio of junior to senior people.

“We stepped aside and let people self-organize instead of management telling them where to go,” Braam said. “After a week, we only had to ask about 10 people to move to other teams. It was quite a victory for us.”

Technical Debt Down 80 Percent

DTCA continues to run two large ARTs (125+), with four Value Streams (one in Tax Allowances and three in Interaction Services). In fact, DTCA follows a hybrid way of working where every department can choose either SAFe or a more ‘traditional’ project management-oriented way of working, depending on what fits best. The organization has driven notable results across the two ARTs and within a few smaller ARTs:

  • More frequent releases – Major releases come out 3X more often, from 4 to 12 in a year.
  • Improved software quality/technical debt – DTCA improved quality by reducing the number of ‘problems’ by 80 percent, and security issues by 87 percent (Interaction Services).
  • Less management overhead – The number of people with the word ‘manager’ in their titles dropped in half. These individuals moved into other roles.
  • Increased engagement – People are more engaged, connected with each other, and willing to help others.

“We are delivering faster and more predictably than in the past, which has changed many minds and driven a culture shift in long-ingrained ways of working,” Braam said. “And we expect even more progress as we move ahead on current objectives such as continuous deployment and release on demand.”

Training At-a-Glance

The organization trained more than 250 people across multiple SAFe courses:

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Deutsche Bahn

Agile Planning for Transportation

“For Deutsche Bahn Digital Sales, SAFe is the framework for the strategic digitalization program … With it, we are delivering faster and more effectively on our objectives, which drives our ability to compete in the digital age.”

Matthias Opitz, Senior Program Manager, DB Vertrieb, Deutsche Bahn

Challenge:

After privatizing the company, Deutsche Bahn faced new market forces, along with increasing competition from new transportation players.

Industry:

Transportation

Results:

  • Lead time dropped from 12 months to 3-4 months
  • Coverage of test automation improved from 30% or less to 80-90%
  • Greater collaboration among teams and better results have raised employees’ satisfaction levels

Best Practices:

  • Start ASAP – Begin, even if imperfectly. “It’s more important to give people a chance to work in this environment than to wait until everyone is trained,” said Thorsten Janning, SAFe Fellow, of KEGON.
  • Train extensively – That said, train management and teams as much as possible before the first PI Planning event.
  • Get expert help – DB worked with Scaled Agile Partner, KEGON, from the start and continues to do so for the support and experienced guidance a partner can bring. Progress is a continuous process of asking questions, which a partner can help answer.

The partner that made it happen:

Introduction

In recent years, Deutsche Bahn (DB)—one of Europe’s largest railway operators—has faced unprecedented change. In 1994, the two railways of East and West Germany merged after the country’s reunification. While the company was adjusting to the transition, it was also contending with rising costs and greater competition than ever before from other railway operators, long-distance bus services and new, fast-acting players providing ride services and car-sharing.

Agile Planning for Transportation

Within this challenging environment, in 2014 DB embarked on a digital transformation to modernize the way their business units operate, from cargo transport to passenger ticket sales. It was up to each business unit to decide on a path forward to meet those goals.

Initially, the business units implemented Lean-Agile practices at the team level, on a small scope. Yet as they began trying to deliver on objectives, they fell short of targets—especially on larger solutions. The company struggled with lengthy decision cycles; fragmented responsibility; constant design, coordination and estimation; changing requirements; and many, many dependencies.

“In nearly every business unit, the transformation projects struggled to deliver large solutions,” said Matthias Opitz, Senior Program Manager, DB Vertrieb. “We were going around in circles analyzing, and the processes were so complex that the organization was not able to deliver simple minimum viable products.”

It was clear the effort would require a considerable overhaul of its long-established ways of working.

Full-Speed Ahead in DB Cargo

The company looked for a Lean-Agile methodology capable of handling its complex environment on a larger scale and found it in the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®).

Within each segment of the company, at least one business unit rolled SAFe out as part of the digital transformation initiative:

  • DB Cargo: Freight transportation and Logistics
  • DB Netze: Infrastructure/rail network
  • DB Vertrieb: Passenger transport

“For Deutsche Bahn Digital Sales, SAFe is the framework for the strategic digitalization program,” Opitz said. “It brought a continuous delivery process that keeps us on track toward our objectives.”

DB Vertrieb started its Lean-Agile transformation in 2015, when the business unit established an effort named ‘KAI‘ (an acronym for the German words meaning customer centricity, agility, and innovation), which stressed five attributes:

  • Customer excitement over optimization of profits
  • Iteration over perfection
  • Participation over hierarchy and silos
  • Trust and personal responsibility over top-down
  • Active participation instead of business as usual

To ease the transition, the company engaged Scaled Agile Partner KEGON as its primary provider for training and coaching. With KEGON, the DB companies began comprehensive training to prepare everyone who would be joining an Agile Release Train (ART), a team of teams in the Framework.

Lean-Agile leaders at DB Cargo and DB Vertrieb took the Leading SAFe® course, with others taking role-based training such as SAFe® Scrum Master, SAFe® for Teams, and SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager. At least nine change agents at DB business units also earned SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) certification in order to teach their colleagues. DB saw training as essential for helping people through the inevitable challenges that would come up, including resistance.

“Training was very important for giving us confidence and answers to questions that came up,” Opitz said. “Because we trained all participants, training also helped open discussions and convince skeptical people that this was the right way to go.”

Delivering on All Commitments

Agile Planning for Transportation

DB Cargo was the first division within the company to kick off the first ART with a Program Increment (PI) planning event. Managers of the other business units attended only to observe.

In that meeting, they accomplished several of their top objectives:

  • Clarified an incremental release strategy
  • Identified business epics regarding end-to-end processes
  • Prioritized business epics with weighted shortest job first (WSJF)
  • Analyzed business epics and identified features
  • Figured out dependencies and planned teams’ work for the coming PI

SAFe practices such as the Program Board gave participants clear insight, for the first time, into the company’s numerous dependencies. With that visual aid, they realized that changes to peripheral systems would affect the critical path of the initiative, allowing teams to coordinate appropriately.

As the PI got underway, leaders and team members alike hit challenges with breaking old habits. The governance and budgeting structures remained in a waterfall construct early on, but began to move toward Lean budgeting as DB Vertrieb kicked off PIs in 2017.

To bridge this gap, Opitz stresses that the business units had to ensure that SAFe and the new approach extended to the broader organization, beyond IT. Therefore, DB Vertrieb decided to establish a ‘Target Operating Model’ (TOM) for the business unit and to perform the transformation activities in a dedicated ART. Shared services departments such as HR, controlling, communication, training
and support, and marketing were brought into the fold.

Any doubt or resistance soon faded away as teams delivered perfectly on target for their first PI. “At first, everyone looked at the committed backlog and said, ‘It’s too much,’” Opitz said. “But by the end of this first PI, we had delivered almost everything, which was a surprise to everyone.”

With SAFe, DB Vertrieb finally implemented a process by which to plan requirements, prioritize, and synchronize the various programs, and to break down the requirements and epics into features and stories. Additionally, automated epic and feature reporting brought critical transparency regarding implementation status.

“Just a year ago, it was a big challenge to do specifications,” Opitz said. “Now we have a process that makes it happen.”

Steps to Success

A number of steps and factors contributed to DB Vertrieb’s SAFe transformation. For one, DB leveraged Agile metrics to manage Portfolios and ARTs, and to help secure funding for them. In turn, management supported the effort by funding standing teams. They also invested in co-located and synchronous PI planning events for all ARTs in 2019.

Agile Planning for Transportation

The company performed a Value Stream analysis, which resulted in four Value Streams covering vertical products and horizontal services.

Toward continuous improvement of testing, teams performed system tests and implemented integrated development test servers.

Starting at the Portfolio level, they switched from a traditional requirements specification process to Agile requirements engineering.

DB Vertrieb found that self-organized teams were empowered to make decisions. In one case, a team detected an incorrect architectural decision when communicating with a stakeholder.

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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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NHS Blood and Transplant – Adopting SAFe in Healthcare

“Adopting SAFe has set in motion the skill development and mindset for successful organizational change even as we scale to new programs, release trains, and people.”

Gary Dawson, Assistant Director, Solutions Delivery

Challenge:

NHSBT sought to improve the business processes and the supporting IT environment in two major programs, and do so without adversely impacting its core business or service delivery to patients.

Industry:

Government, Healthcare

Solution:

SAFe®, Consulting and Coaching Service

Results:

In the first PI, NHSBT was able to deliver a committed, finite number of product features, as well as prioritize IT operations alongside the business part of the organization.

Best Practices:

  • Include all in the journey — The mutual understanding between IJI, managers and employee teams was critical. “It made the difference that we were bringing them on the journey—rather than telling them how we were going to impose something on them. It has been a key element in NHSBT’s success,” Dawson says.
  • Show and tell — “Show and tell” sessions (every two weeks) and then a mid-PI retrospective helped the business see the benefits of the change process and really feel part of it.

The partner that made it happen:

Introduction

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority that provides a blood and transplant service to the National Health Service—supplying blood to hospitals in England, and tissues and solid organs to hospitals across the United Kingdom. Each year, donors give approximately two million donations of blood and 3,500 organs—saving and transforming countless lives.

Safeguarding the blood supply and increasing the number of donated organs involves collecting, testing, processing, storing, and delivering blood, plasma, and tissue to every NHS Trust in England. NHSBT also matches, allocates, audits, and analyzes organ donations across the whole of the UK.

With an increased need for its services, the organization recognized that effective technology is crucial to the delivery of safe products and services for patients. While looking ahead to its corporate 2020 vision, NHSBT identified several goals: replace an aging IT infrastructure, migrate to SaaS cloud-based services, and replace the critical operational applications underpinning its activities while ensuring they remain compliant with external regulatory monitoring.

NHSBT sought to revolutionize the way it interacts with blood donors by taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital technologies. That means careful consideration of the realities of existing interdependencies between the national databases and NHSBT services, systems, data, processes, and people.

Adopting SAFe in Healthcare

NHSBT identified the need to improve the business processes and the supporting IT environment in two major programs: ODT Hub and Core Systems Modernization.

“NHSBT was embarking on its most complex transformation program ever, initially focusing on the Organ Donation and Transplantation (ODT) area of its business,” notes Gary Dawson, Assistant Director, Solutions Delivery. “It needed to modernize a significant percentage of its core systems, platforms, and architecture along with re-aligning the infrastructure to more modern cloud-based technologies. The impact on the current business and practices couldn’t be underestimated across the organization—we were anticipating changes in how we work and how the system worked.”

It’s All About the People

NHSBT employees truly care about the organization and its work. Dawson, working with the wider NHSBT ICT organization, felt that it was important to correctly evaluate IT needs in line with organizational changes and be able to guide the system changes with the people using them.

“We recognized that both the overarching change and the adoption of a new technical platform and architecture—the effects on the culture of the organization—could, if not managed strategically, create a complex management problem and have an impact not only on the core business, but also the working relationships of the people within NHSBT,” Dawson says. “We needed a system and guidance to adapt and benefit from the changes and we were clear that the waterfall methodology that we had previously relied on wouldn’t support this change. We have dedicated and passionate people who work here, who really care about the cause and want to achieve the goals of the organization, but this change would only work if everyone was on the same page and we could go through the journey together.”

A New Approach to Adopt Change

The Chief Digital Officer had set the strategy for implementing Agile into NHSBT and brought on Dawson specifically with this in mind. From day one he worked extensively and closely with the Business, IT, and Program Delivery stakeholders to ensure cross-organizational support. After an initial meeting, they knew that an experienced consultancy like Ivar Jacobson International (IJI) would aim to understand NHSBT and work collaboratively to deliver solutions and training so that internal changes were manageable.

IJI suggested NHSBT use Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to help support the governance and manage both the organizational and technical changes. The ICT Leadership Team immediately took the view that this was the right methodology to achieve NHSBT’s goals and looked for an appropriate vehicle in which to introduce it. They decided the Organ Donation and Transplant (ODT) Hub Program as the most appropriate place to start implementation. ODT was initializing a hands-on software delivery and its timeline aligned well with the cadence of delivery that the framework provided. In addition, funding was in place and all the teams involved were based in one location. It would act as an ideal start and pilot for other elements of the organization to observe.

Adopting SAFe in Healthcare

Because ODT was the first in a series of transformational changes, it would also be the model that other parts of the organization would take as an example, so it was crucial to get it right from the start. “IJI’s expertise with Agile transformation programs was a perfect fit with what we were aiming to do. Because we’d be working with new team groupings, we wanted to assist employees with transitioning to new working relationships and processes and also address the naturally risk-averse elements,” Dawson says. “We had to stay within regulatory standards. Rapid and vast change, if not done properly, has the potential to be disruptive, and actually hinder advancement. We chose Ivar Jacobsen International to provide company guidance, including coaching and training services, for the implementation of SAFe at NHSBT.”

A Proven Framework in SAFe®

SAFe offers a broad range of content and phased implementation for organizations looking to increase productivity, change system structures, increase employee training, add solutions-based management and develop greater efficiencies across company platforms and people.

Because proper preparation is critical to set the stage for smooth adoption, IJI delivered a two-day workshop, ‘Leading SAFe,’ that engaged managers interactively while explaining what SAFe was and how to implement it properly.

Meanwhile, Dawson and IJI also began to structure team units. They identified product managers and product owners working collaboratively to define their roles within SAFe and guided them on SAFe practices. Training roll-outs started with 10 or 12 courses, ranging from large-room sessions of 30-40 people for SAFe overviews and discussions of how it could work within NHSBT. These were followed over a two-month period by smaller and more interactively focused sessions for product managers and owners intended to further guide them and increase engagement. Sessions included six to 10 people with the appropriate attendees to maximize the interaction and cross-functional engagement—even at the point of training.

Meanwhile, program managers, with Dawson, started to work on organizational components, such as planning sessions across the organization (75 – 80 people). Planning included who would be involved, as well as logistical challenges. Dawson spent considerable time explaining the rollout and SAFe implementation to all levels of employees to facilitate understanding and new team groupings. IJI was on hand at all stages of implementation to guide, coach, teach, and assist teams to transition to SAFe, following a strategic Program Increment (PI) cycle that ensured SAFe was adopted by employees with secure checkpoints and feedback along the way.

Building Success

Adopting SAFe in Healthcare

Over the first Program Increment (PI), NHSBT’s ODT program came through on most of its deliverables. “It was amazing how much we were able to do in such a short time,” Dawson notes. “Now that we’ve done that, we can see what we need to do for future PIs and are continually able to refine and understand the teams’ velocity; it’s all falling into place and people really are committed.”

In that first PI, they were able to develop and learn to work effectively as a team and were able to deliver a committed, finite number of product features, as well as prioritize IT operations alongside the business element of the organization.

During the short introduction phase of three to four months, they were able to not only onboard and train all the teams aligned to the Release Train, they were also able to get the business component of NHSBT aligned with IT. There were challenges—such as integrating business managers into the teams and defining product owners—but “show and tell” sessions (every two weeks) and then a mid-PI retrospective helped the business see the benefits of the change process and really feel part of it.

“We would never have had that level of interaction in a waterfall delivery,” Dawson says. “To achieve the levels of understanding of both the technology and deliverables—along with all the interdependencies—would have taken months of calls, meetings, and discussions. We planned the next three months in just two days and now we retain that level of engagement on a daily basis.”

SAFe has become part of everyday procedures at NHSBT, with a series of checkpoints and loops that ensure communication is clear and efficient between teams and individuals. IJI understood that it was important to Dawson and NHSBT that change occurs but not at the cost of quality or control, and that value to the business should be equal to the ability of the organization to cope with the rate of change. NHSBT was able to build Agile confidence across the ODT program—senior stakeholders could support the cultural change because SAFe provides the governance required to build in the needs of Quality Assurance and regulators.

Successfully Scaling to New Programs

Having delivered the first MVP (Minimum Viable Product) of the ODT Program, it is clear that the introduction and embedding of SAFe within NHSBT has begun to provide early delivery of significant business benefits.

NHSBT has now run two SAFe big-room planning events for its Core Systems Modernization (CSM) Program, which is potentially a much larger program to replace its core blood offering system relating to blood, blood-derived products and tissues.

“We’re definitely not standing still,” Dawson says. “We are building momentum and will continue to run with the same rhythm that SAFe has provided us with our ODT program. Adopting SAFe has set in motion the skill development and mindset for successful organizational change even as we scale to new programs, release trains, and people.”

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Suggested Case Study: Royal Philips

pôle emploi

Pôle emploi is the French national employment agency tasked with providing and processing benefits for the unemployed and seniors, helping the unemployed find jobs, and providing employers with recruitment resources. They employ over 54,000 civil servants through 900+ agencies, and publish more than 4 million job offers annually.

Industry:

Government

Overview

In 2014, the agency processed 8 million requests for financial aid, distributing $31.7 billion euros in benefits.

In early 2015, pôle emploi was asked to develop a new process for job seekers, no small feat given that the organization was operating in a legacy environment which included a 1600-member IT Department comprised of Scrum and waterfall teams, working with new technology as well as COBOL systems, and integrating work from several external suppliers

They first met with key stakeholders to create the program context and agree on realistic scope, then explored options to fulfill the commitment, and sought a solution to meet the needs of these key areas:

  • What can we do to meet our commitments ?
  • What can we do to stay in sync?
  • What can we do to increase team collaboration?
  • What can we do to reduce integration risks on such a large scope ?
  • How can we maintain a good vision of the product?
  • How can we track the progress of so many teams?

In early 2015, they launched a SAFe pilot program to see how the Framework would work within their unique context. As part of this effort, they launched an Agile Release Train (ART) with 5 Scrum teams running on 3-week sprints, managing five cross-functional initiatives. Through Program Increment planning, they brought together all the key actors in the same room to identify key features that needed to be integrated, and dependencies between the different software components. They created a new role, Delivery Manager, to track overall progress, and used IBM’s Rational Team Concert (RTC) to track team progress.

After the first few months, they were able to identify where the Framework mapped easily to their context, where it didn’t, and how to reconcile some of those differences. For instance, they opted to move from the Delivery Manager role to a Release Train Engineer (RTE) role, as defined in SAFe, and began using SAFe-recommended templates to increase visibility on the new business requirements. They also decided to align the ART with their business program.

Today, the IT organization operates with both agile and non-agile teams collaborating, and is transitioning the non-agile teams to agile practices through their participation in the SAFe ART. They are working within the Framework to identify areas for continuous improvement and address questions such as:

  • How do we manage to take the business further within Agility?
  • Could WSJF help our prioritization process?
  • Who should assume the Product Management role in our organization?
  • How can we move forward with the system team?
  • Should we organize PO sync?
  • Who can be assigned the System Architect role?
  • Who should deal with the enablers and stories?
  • Will we be able to dissociate PI from our quarterly IT releases?
  • What do we need to do to move more teams to an agile cycle?

Get the rest of the story—including the update—below.

Many thanks to the team at pôle emploi for providing the study, and sharing your experience with the SAFe Community: Cécile Auret (SPC4), Methods Engineer, Jerome Froville (SPC4), Methods Engineer, and Michel Levaslot, Manager.

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Suggested Case Study:

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Swisscom – Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

“It usually takes about 36 months to bring a new TV platform to market but we had a minimally viable product in 8-10 months and brought the full product to market in 18 months. SAFe helped our relatively small team build and run a world-class product and guided us when in doubt, showing us the way toward Agile product development flow.”

Simon Berg, Agile Program Manager, Swisscom Entertainment Projects

Challenge:

Swisscom had to move quickly to bring a new IPTV product to market since a competitor had already begun a similar effort.

Industry:

Telecommunications

Solution:

  • SAFe®
  • Rally® Unlimited Edition (now CA Agile Central)

Results:

  • Swisscom brought TV 2.0 to market in about half the time of comparable projects, ahead of the competition.
  • The company decreased the time from code-ready to mass rollout from 9-12 months to no longer than six weeks.
  • The product won a coveted industry award for “Best multi-screen experience.”
  • Last year, IPTV signups grew by nearly 14 percent.
  • PI Planning recommendation score from participants: 8.3/10

Best Practices:

  • Test Automation—Swisscom reduced end-to-end test team size from dozens to just three, while maintaining quality – and deployed those individuals to other value-producing functions.
  • Program Increment Planning—Planning with SAFe led to new alignment and momentum.
  • Most Valuable Feature First—WSJF Abstract (Weighted Shortest Job First) helped prioritize features and quantify the cost of delay.

Introduction

Across the globe, consumers are increasingly choosing IPTV over cable. In Switzerland, more than 1.37 million customers now subscribe to Swisscom’s cloud-based service, Swisscom TV 2.0.

Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

While the growth of Swisscom TV 2.0 is a success story in itself, so too is the company’s journey to bring the product to market in a highly competitive industry where speed can make the difference between success and failure.

Thanks to Agile development practices with SAFe and a new level of collaboration between business and IT, the Engineering group at Swisscom Entertainment achieved the feat in half the time of typical projects, with a small but nimble team.

“It usually takes about 36 months to bring a new TV platform to market but we had a minimally viable product in 8-10 months and brought the full product to market in 18 months,” says Simon Berg, Agile Program Manager, Swisscom Entertainment Projects. “SAFe helped our relatively small team build and run a world-class product and guided us when in doubt, showing us the way toward Agile product development flow.”

SAFe: The Blueprint Swisscom Sought

In 2012, Swisscom initiated plans to bring a new IPTV offering to the market, to go beyond the basic product currently available.

This time, Swisscom wanted to add features that newly available technology would make possible. Adding urgency, the company’s largest competitor had reportedly already begun work on a similar product.

At the time, Swisscom ran what Berg describes as a PMI-style, waterfall, multi-project environment that was transitioning into a home-grown, scaled Scrum approach. A year prior, Swisscom had taken steps to realize a product house model by moving “business” and “IT development” groups into one organization.

Now, the Engineering group sought to scale Agile in earnest, leading it to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

“Many things we tried to come up with on our own were already defined in a structured manner in SAFe,” Berg says. “It clicked with us, and we began transitioning to SAFe almost immediately after discovering it. With SAFe, we were able to take incremental transformation steps, profiting from the vast body of knowledge it represents.”

Finally: Big-Room Success

The team had already implemented three-month program increments with teams structured along program lines. However, they had not yet tried cross-functional, big-room planning meetings.

After diving into SAFe, the Engineering group held its first Program Increment (PI) planning session with approximately 70 people across multiple functions, including product owners, IT operations, business operations, product management and experience development.

“I was pleased to see which people were talking to each other, people who had not talked before,” Berg says. “Business owners and IT ops engineers talked about what they do and their priorities. They were giving each other their part of the vision and could finally align and work together.”

“We came out of the first PI planning session with a decent plan that lasted for the PI, except for one other small planning session,” Berg adds.

Today, PI planning has become standard practice. Noted one product manager after the group’s ninth PI planning meeting: “It’s challenging, but I don’t want to work differently ever again.”

More Flexible in a Fast-Changing Market

Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

In total, about 120 people ultimately worked on Swisscom TV 2.0, in more than 10 teams of teams, spanning from pure software development to video streaming, building up the data center capabilities and working to design the TV set-top box and remote control hardware. When you count non-Agile suppliers, the project included approximately 20 teams.

SAFe’s focus on alignment and shared vision kept diverse stakeholders in sync, accelerating progress and enhancing quality. “The focus on showing your work and releasing often for feedback helped us build a better product,” Berg says.

Likewise, SAFe provided flexibility when it mattered most. Mid-project, Swisscom decided to improve the product by removing time limits on the storage of recordings—a major product enhancement.

Berg also stresses the value of the WSJF concept (Weighted Shortest Job First) in helping prioritize features. “Quantifying the cost of delay was perhaps the most impactful learning of SAFe,” Berg says. “It was the first formula that really helped us have the right discussion about our priorities and what to build, aligned around the benefits to the customer.”

Such agility also helped the company become one of the first IPTV providers globally to launch Ultra HD Video on Demand, as well as Ultra HD live TV in early 2016.

Code Ready in Six Weeks

On the Swisscom TV 2.0 release, the company decreased the time from code-ready to mass rollout from 9-12 months to no longer than six weeks. “We don’t know of a comparable case in the industry,” Berg says.

Swisscom also did it more efficiently. Where test team size was once dozens of people, now with test automation, testing requires just three people while still maintaining product quality. Those testers now focus on other value-generating functions, ensuring that quality gets built into the process.

Beyond internal success, the industry took notice as well. The product went on to win a coveted award for “Best multi-screen experience”—an honor not usually bestowed on telecommunications companies.

Perhaps the greatest rewards: strong customer satisfaction scores and product sales. Last year, IPTV signups grew by nearly 14 percent.

Next Steps

Swisscom now deepens its SAFe adoption, with newly set priorities for elaborating on the economic framework concept and the solution intent concept, along with improving DevOps. Other Swisscom product units have also taken interest in adopting SAFe.

“For Swisscom TV, this has become a new way of doing business,” Berg says. “Others are looking into how we work because they see it drives us forward.”

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Suggested Case Study: Amdocs

Nordea – Agile Adoption with SAFe

Nordea - Agile Adoption with SAFe

“To see a waterfall Program Manager embrace SAFe after only two days of participating in a PI planning session is remarkable. He is now one of our biggest ambassadors of promoting SAFe within Nordea.”

Industry:

Financial, Banking

The partner that made it happen:

Overview

With branches in 19 countries, and over 11 million customers, the European banking giant, Nordea, set a goal to deliver a new digital banking experience for its retail customers.

They determined that the best way to meet their goal was to adopt an agile development approach, and so in 2014 Nordea teamed up with Scaled Agile Gold Partner, Ivar Jacobson (IJI), and were introduced to SAFe.

Agile Adoption with SAFe

IJI kick-started Nordea’s SAFe introduction with a two-day session with management and stakeholders to establish a common
way of operating. They simulated how an agile-at-scale approach would work in Nordea’s environment, provided workshop style training for the staff involved, and one-on-one training for the Release Train Engineers (RTEs).

They combined two existing delivery streams to form their Agile Release Train; a total of 80 people formed five development teams, one system team, and various cross-functional roles to represent architecture and user experience. By January, 2015 Nordea had made it through two 10-week Program Increments (PIs) and planning sessions. In both sessions, all members participated in visioning and planning; as a group, they identified inter-dependencies and were able to establish both Team PI objectives and Program PI objectives.

Nordea’s fully-committed dive into SAFe produced immediate benefits, including:

  • Increased efficiency with team members aligned and working together
  • Greater creativity as teams are empowered to make decisions
  • Management aligned and supportive of Agile teams

The teams continue to evolve and improve their delivery system with each PI, and it has inspired other parts of Nordea to scale agile with SAFe.

Of course, there is more to learn from their experience, so make sure to download the attached study for the rest of the story.

Many thanks to the folks at Ivar Jacobson for providing the guidance, coaching and training that enabled Nordea to accelerate agile adoption with SAFe, and for sharing the story of their success.

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Suggested Case Study: Capital One

Travis Perkins

Industry:

Retail, Building ProductsInformation Technology, Software

Overview

Transforming a giant, legacy-burdened bureaucracy into a nimble 21st Century organization that can cope with the complex demands of today’s marketplace is not for the faint of heart. But that didn’t stop Travis Perkins—a 200-year old UK-based supplier of building materials—from taking on the challenge.

Travis Perkins

In 2014, Travis Perkins teamed up with Rally Software to embark on a three-year transformation plan with full Lean-Agile adoption across 160 engineers, 45 business delivery analysts and 50 service support and operations staff. Utilizing Kanban and SAFe, their primary objectives were to eliminate wasted work and accelerate ROI while increasing motivation and empowerment across its teams.

Before going Agile, the organization had no structured improvement methodology in place, and improvements were implemented using conventional project management principles and leveraged through their branch network. After a year into the transformation, the company successfully completed its first 12-week Agile Release Train (ART), inspired team confidence, and have pointed to SAFe as making it “… easier for us to focus on what has the most business value. Instead of delivering perceived value, we’re now delivering actual value.”

For a deeper dive into the details, here is the Rally Software case study, and Information Age Article:

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Suggested Case Study:

SproutLoud