CVS Health Tackles COVID Response – SAFe for Healthcare

When empowerment and urgency come together, anything is possible.

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Join four Agile leaders from CVS Health to learn how they banded together to form teams out of existing trains in order to tackle their monumental, and ever-evolving COVID response.

What does it look like when all roles across an operational value stream truly come together without the usual complexity and roadblocks that come with being in a large organization? How did they show up, lead with heart, and truly live their values? And what lessons were learned that other organizations can take away from this extraordinary experience.

Having scaled Agile in place already prior to this happening helps create a lot of clarity and transparency on where we should identify people who already had all the skill sets that we needed to really achieve this. And then it set up like a common language to talk about things like priority and how to sequence work. And honestly just really live the values of SAFe even more so than the process of SAFe which I think is just a beautiful place to be.”

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

  • Caitlin Clifford, Senior Director of Digital Health Services /CVS Health
  • Rebecca Davis, CVS Health Digital Lean Agile Practice Leader /CVS Health
  • Matthew Huang, Senior Product Manager of Immunizations /CVS Health
  • Randy Kendel, Release Train Engineer of Immunizations /CVS Health
  • Interviewer: Michael Clarkin, CMO, Scaled Agile Inc.

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Kaiser Permanente builds the future of healthcare with SAFe

Reimagined technology and clinical workflows transform home care for members

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Kaiser Permanente is one of America’s leading not-for-profit health care providers and not-for-profit health plans serving 12.5 million members.

Driven by new technologies and evolving expectations for patient convenience, the golden age of care at home may be just around the corner. Reimagined technology and clinical workflows will transform coordinated and patient-centered care for Kaiser Permanente members in the comfort of their own homes.

In this video, Agile coach Steven Archer and IT leader Kari Powelson share their SAFe journey and the “ART” of making SAFe work at KP. They will describe how their Care Delivery Technology Services and Clinical Operations development teams came together to build new software and workflows and set out to prove that KP Care at Home is the future of healthcare and that it can be a great experience for members and clinicians alike.

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

  • Kari Powelson, Executive Director IT Leader Home Care /Kaiser Permanente
  • Steven Archer, Principal Agile Coach /Kaiser Permanente

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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 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

Anthem – Agile Transformation Journey

Anthem Agile Transformation Journey

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Anthem used an integrated SAFe approach across Agile and DevOps (including Quality Assurance capability) to drive tangible benefits in the form of improvements in quality, time to market and predictability, and increased collaboration between IT and business.

They chose to apply the Scaled Agile Framework incrementally, rather than a big bang rollout. Approaching the problem from both top-down and bottoms-up, the transformation for the enterprise concentrated on one vertical slice at a time working with both Business and IT leaders in an area to enable Lean Agile practices and provide hands-on coaching and education to drive the adoption of the Agile mindset.

They worked closely with their partners to go beyond just the mechanics of training and coaching with a focus on sustaining the change and moving towards true enterprise business agility.

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Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

SAFe case study CMS

Nearly 140 million Americans rely on Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the health insurance exchanges—all programs administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The agency pays out approximately $767 billion in benefits annually and employs 4,100 people to administer programs in partnership with state governments.

Challenge:

Isolated Scrum teams didn’t make much progress within a deeply ingrained waterfall culture and against long-range planning and budgeting.

Industry:

Government, Healthcare

Results:

  • CMS shifted the budget from 100% dedicated to system maintenance to a 40/60 split between maintenance and innovation
  • Help desk tickets decreased by 55%
  • Surveys show a 27% increase in employee satisfaction

Best Practices:

  • Prepare for face-to-face events – CMS found the SAFe Implementation Roadmap and training invaluable to smooth-running PI planning events
  • Establish transparency – Stress the importance of open, honest discussion and engagement
  • Communicate the vision – In opening remarks at PI events, CMS reminded team members that their work directly impacts people’s health and lives

Introduction

Amid the pressures of increasing citizen expectations, the CMS environment is complex and ever-changing as budgets and legislation fluctuate—making for a perfect setting to introduce Lean-Agile principles. A few isolated programs had begun using Scrum practices, but given the size and complexity of programs at CMS, Scrum did not lend itself well to longer-range planning and the identification and mitigation of dependencies among the Scrum teams. In addition, the organization still had cultural battles to overcome.

“We were still suffering from a ‘throw-everything-over-the-wall’ mentality,’” explained Brent Weaver, Director of Systems Implementation at CMS. “The few Agile teams were requiring more of programs and that created more frustration on both sides. There was no vision or framework where everyone saw how they fit together. As a result, what they delivered was late, with defects—and not what the market needed.”

SAFe: Systems Thinking for a Complex Organization

In 2017, Weaver arrived with the charge of improving the Agile transformation for the Center of Clinical Standards and Quality (CCSQ) within CMS. In the search for a new approach, the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) resonated as the right option.

“SAFe brought a much-needed approach to scaling Agile and systems thinking that was critical to an organization of our size and complexity,” Weaver said.

In preparation to obtain buy-in and funding, Weaver built his knowledge of SAFe by taking some initial courses: Leading SAFe®, and later, Implementing SAFe®. Following the Leading SAFe® course, he made the case for the Framework to leadership and earned the full support of Steve Davidson and Mark Plaugher, Directors of the Information Systems Group within CCSQ. Additionally, Debra Santos, Director of Hospitals, ASC, and QIO Systems was also willing to support the adoption of SAFe for one of her systems.

SAFe case study

For help, Weaver tapped Scaled Agile Partner, Agile Six Applications, Inc. With Agile Six, CMS decided to implement SAFe first in a group brand-new to Lean-Agile concepts, rather than with those already using Scrum, for a chance to start from scratch. The first teams on SAFe would be those working on CMS’s Hospital Quality Reporting (HQR) system, which healthcare facilities use to report data to CMS.

With leadership backing, they secured the budget and marked the calendar for the first face-to-face Program Increment (PI) planning event—to take place just six weeks in the future.

PI Planning Day One: Messy and Chaotic

To meet the timeframe, CMS decided to shortcut the recommendations from the SAFe Implementation Roadmap and skip SAFe training—a decision that created significant challenges and that, in hindsight, they wouldn’t recommend to other organizations. The fact that many team members were located outside the area, and many were contractors, played into that decision.

To help prepare for PI planning, HQR conducted a four-hour, half-day mock PI session with about 20 percent of team members to give them an idea of what to expect.

For the actual PI Planning event, CMS brought together more than 120 people, with approximately a quarter of them coming from out of town. The first day, unfortunately, proved to be chaotic and more challenging than expected for several reasons, according to Weaver and Ernie Ramirez, President of Agile Six Applications:

  • They underestimated the refinement status of the backlog and didn’t follow all relevant parts of the SAFe Implementation Roadmap
  • They had a single Certified SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) in Ramirez (the recommendation is 3 – 5 per 100 development practitioners)
  • The agency skipped Leading SAFe®, SAFe® for Teams, and SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager training
  • They did not identify Value Streams
  • CMS simultaneously created the implementation plan and prepared for the Agile Release Train (ART) launch

“It cannot be overstated how horrible day one of that PI went,” Ramirez said. “We didn’t lay out an implementation plan as well as we should have, and the development contractor didn’t have the resources or roles we thought they did.”

PI Planning Day Two: ‘Quarter-Million-Dollar Conversations’

Day two, however, could not have played out more differently. “At the end of day one, rather than throw in the towel, we rolled up our sleeves, and resolved to do better in day 2. We came out of day two with a plan that the teams would ultimately deliver on over the next 12 weeks,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez points to a few reasons for the turnaround. After the first day, people returned knowing more of what to expect and came more prepared. Also, the two-day format created a sense of urgency to make progress. Additionally, Ramirez walked around troubleshooting any issues immediately as they arose.

“After the first day, everyone had an opportunity to ‘sleep on it,’” he said. “A lot of the frustration at the end of the first day kind of washed out and everyone came back with a renewed focus and commitment to get the plan done,” Ramirez said.

SAFe case study

Team members and program managers alike left the event more hopeful than ever before, believing they could actually hit the plan’s targets. Most promising, Weaver and Ramirez noticed productive discussions happening throughout the room—often between people who had worked together for several years, but had never actually met one another in person.

“We witnessed a lot of team and cross-team bonding that just cannot be replicated over WebEx, Hangouts or Zoom,” Ramirez said. “There is something immeasurably valuable about being in the same room with someone, laughing, joking and yes, respectfully arguing. A lot of trust was earned and built on day two.”

“Quarter-million-dollar conversations were happening all over the place,” Weaver said. “That’s what it would have cost to fix problems down the road if those conversations had not happened.”

Communication, Collaboration across CMS + Contractors

Following that first PI, CMS began adhering to the SAFe Implementation Roadmap. They delivered Leading SAFe®, SAFe® for Teams, and SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager training. Unlike the first PI, they identified Value Streams.

“For the second PI, we found a lot of value in identifying Value Streams and ARTs, which helped people understand where they fit in and how teams fit together,” Ramirez said.

Agile Six also delivered training to external contractors, including Leading SAFe®, SAFe® for Teams, and SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager. Several people at contractor organizations earned their SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) certification and began training their own people—knowing that it is likely to give them one more strength to promote as they seek to win future contracts with CMS.

During RFPs, contract organizations routinely compete against each other. However, once on contract, they must work with team members from competing firms. As an unexpected benefit, SAFe helped unify CMS team members and contractors, as well as contractors from various companies. Face-to-face, they collaborate more effectively and come to personally know the people behind the roles, developing comfortable working relationships with each other.

“It’s fundamentally better for American taxpayers that teams work together and break those walls down,” Weaver said. “I’m really proud of contractors’ ability to collaborate, share information, and work as a single team. Doing so has helped us reduce trouble tickets, so we know we’re delivering higher-quality solutions.

Because of CMS’s heavy use of contractors, each ART is comprised of people from numerous organizations. That required transformation leaders to be sensitive to job functions and responsibilities across the different companies on a single ART to foster trust and teamwork instead of competition. Having a single backlog for an ART creates further harmony among diverse team members.

27% Boost in Employee Satisfaction

So far, CMS has trained more than 200 people, including 25 – 30 Certified SAFe® Program Consultants (SPCs). The agency has also since launched four more Agile Release Trains (ARTs).

With training and preparation, participants have been more engaged in PI Planning events after that first learning experience. Communication, says Weaver and Ramirez, has been critical to the acceptance of the new way of working. Especially in the early days, they had to communicate clearly and persistently to convince people to join in the effort and assuage fears about what this meant for their futures.

SAFe Case Study

“We really had to do a lot of selling on SAFe to get people comfortable,” Weaver said. “People were genuinely apprehensive about changing the way they have worked for so long, but as they have seen results, they have embraced it.”

And over time, HQR has implemented other SAFe concepts such as Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). Well ahead of a PI, the primary stakeholder has time to weigh the value of work and prioritize—which takes some of the emotion out of the decision, Ramirez says.

They are also in the process of adjusting budgets to fit more with shorter-term planning. Instead of years in advance, they began thinking in terms of three-month increments, in which Ramirez called a halfway step between the traditional approach and the ‘wild west’ of Scrum.

Higher Quality, Happier People

After a bumpy beginning, CMS points to measurable progress:

  • Budget shift to modernization versus maintenance – Instead of 100% of the budget going to maintain the existing HQR system, now only 40% is dedicated to it. A full 60% of the budget goes toward innovation for the system, helping the agency deliver on citizen expectations.
  • Higher quality – The HQR group reports a 55% decrease in help desk tickets from hospitals—demonstrating a direct impact to customer satisfaction.
  • Happier people – Surveys conducted before and after SAFe show a 27% increase in employee satisfaction.

While CMS can’t yet measure customer satisfaction gains directly, they know that fewer quality issues and more innovation contribute to that goal.

“SAFe provided a map that enabled us to shift to modernizing versus just maintaining the status quo,” Weaver said. “Beneficiaries will ultimately benefit from more user-friendly, human-centered design systems, which will allow us to reduce the burden on our providers.”

The group’s success has caught the attention of others, with trains now starting in other CMS groups. “Other programs within CMS have approached HQR asking us how to drive the same outcomes,” Santos said. “It’s a testament to how far we’ve come in the past year.”

  • Transformation starts with leadership – Ideally, you need two to three leaders who are fully committed to the change. If possible, send them through SPC training.
  • Coaches are a MUST – CMS found substantial value in them
  • Agile contracting is necessary – Rigid contracts that have highly specific deliverables can be an obstacle to agility and to embracing shifting priorities as new data emerges
  • Use contractors that understand Lean-Agile principles – Hire teams that truly understand what this means, not just those who can talk the talk
  • Find collaborative work space – From PI planning events to day-to-day work, collaborative work space enables teams to capture the value of face-to-face interaction
  • Just do it! – “If we could time-travel and do it again, we would emphasize a sense of urgency to get going,” Weaver said. “Set a near-term date and follow the roadmap.”
  • Engage employees – Any effort is only as strong as its people. Approach the change with empathy for what your team is undergoing and leverage the support of management and coaches to keep employees engaged and excited.
  • Start with Essential SAFe® – CMS found it valuable to simplify as much as possible and started with a program that lent itself to Essential SAFe. The learnings they achieved will influence larger programs, which will require multiple Value Streams.

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Suggested Case Study:

NHS Blood and Transplant

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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Capital One – Benefits of SAFe for Financial Services

Capital One - Benefits of SAFe for Financial Services

“The products we’re developing are bigger than one Agile team. For the teams to interact and plan together, we really needed SAFe as the foundation. It brings the practices and methodologies to coordinate multiple teams working on the same product at the same time.”

Mike Eason, CIO, Commercial Banking

Challenge:

Capital One sought to be more responsive to the market, to transform software delivery to an agile framework, and to do it at scale.

Industry:

Financial Services

Results:

  • Raised employee engagement by 15-20%
  • Employed Agile and scaled agile across the enterprise; business and tech.
  • Re-thinking the strategy on outsourced applications led to a drastic shift towards building internally

Best Practices:

  • Establish communities of practice—Peer groups for Scrum Masters, RTEs, and System Teams enable these individuals to learn from each other.
  • Support innovation—Commercial Banking leads Innovation Renovations similar to the Shark Tank TV show, where individuals present ideas for improvement.
  • Recognize accomplishments—Commercial Banking calls out specific individuals for their efforts at PI events, and enhances morale and a sense of fun by requesting that people write what they appreciate about others on “walking billboards” on each other’s’ backs.

Introduction

One of the most widely recognized brands in America, Capital One is a diversified bank that offers a broad array of financial products and services to consumers, small businesses, and commercial clients. The company employs more than 47,000 people, and in 2016, reported revenue of $25 billion.

Benefits of SAFe for Financial Services

Since launching in the mid ‘90s, Capital One has been a disrupter. Smaller and nimbler than its competitors, it could react to market demands quickly. But as it grew, it lost some of that agility.

2010 began a transformation starting with the renaming of the Capital One’s IT groups to Capital One Technology. “This was more than a name change,” Capital One CIO Rob Alexander said.  “It was a declaration that we would no longer be a traditional bank IT shop.  From now that day on, we would be an organization working to transform Capital One into a technology company.”

In 2012, Capital One’s Commercial Banking group set out to be more responsive to customer and market needs.  Knowing the organization relied on a lot of outsourced functions, the team set out on a transformational journey to bring IT development back in-house.

As the transformation picked up steam; it was clear, talent would be the lynchpin to execute against their development goals.  To maximize the transformation, the following was always the question:

“How do we work in a way that allows great talent to do great work?” (Rob Alexander, CIO, Capital One)

The CIO of the company’s Commercial Banking Technology team, Mike Eason, explains the motivation for change.  “Like many companies with outsourced technology, we knew we needed to gain control over our customer experience and become more nimble,” Eason says. “We took a step back and said, ‘we need to build our own technology to respond more rapidly to the market.’”

In 2013, the group began taking steps toward building an Agile workforce, however, Eason describes it as going through the motions. Development was largely still a waterfall approach. And while technology leaders were fully on board, opportunities remained to gain the full support of upper management.

SAFe: ‘A Well-Supported Framework with Clear Guidelines’

For the guidance it needed, Commercial Banking turned to the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®).

“We looked at other frameworks for Agile, but SAFe offered a well-supported framework with clear guidelines, training, and experts to support us throughout the journey,” says Anand Francis, Director of Agile Coaching Services, Capital One Commercial Banking.

“The products we’re developing are bigger than one Agile team,” Eason adds. “For the teams to interact and plan together, we really needed SAFe as the foundation. It brings the practices and methodologies to coordinate multiple teams working on the same product at the same time.”

With the decision to go SAFe, support from the Capital One Commercial Operations Leader was a key factor, helping to influence large scale buy-in from other executives. Moving beyond rhetoric of “business and IT” alignment, Capital One business executives have agile teams dedicated to their products, services, and broader business strategies.

Goal: 100% Training

Prior to the first Program Increment (PI), all team members went through Agile 101 training. Today, half of the Release Train Engineers (RTEs) are SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs). Out of 50 Scrum Master roles, one quarter have achieved SAFe® Scrum Master (SSM) Certification while 10 percent are SPCs.

“Our goal is to have 50 percent of our Scrum Master population SAFe Scrum Master certified and 100% of our RTE population SAFe RTE certified by the end of the year,” Francis says.

Capital One now includes Agile, Design Thinking, and SAFe training courses in its Capital One University. Employees can choose from a number of SAFe courses, including Leading SAFe, SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager, and SAFe Release Train Engineer.

Empowering Teams

SAFe for Financial Services

Capital One held its first Program Increment (PI) Planning meeting in 2013. In-house Agile coaches provided continuous guidance to Scrum Masters, RTEs, and Product Owners.

As Commercial Banking kicked off its first PI, a mindset shift was necessary for associates and to continue to move forward on two big themes: one, we as an organization needed to be great at delivering software; and two, we needed to be great at delivering data solutions that support how we make decisions for customers, how we interact with them, and how we make decisions internally. Christy Gurkin, the RTE on the first Agile Release Train (ART), found that while teams were initially resistant to the change, they soon began embracing the new approach.

“I noticed that people who normally would not have talked together were initiating conversations on their own, without me having to push it,” she says.

Eason also notes that, early on, teams lacked the autonomy to deliver independently because too many outside dependencies slowed down the process. Capital One addressed this by changing team structure. Instead of teams that focused on a single aspect, such as building an API, they transitioned to full-feature teams—equipping an entire team to deliver working software independently in a two-week sprint.

With this shift in team composition, and a greater focus on DevOps and continuous integration/continuous development, the company gained momentum.

Capital One additionally reduced team sizes down to seven or eight people. “By reducing team sizes, we improved team chemistry, which left them feeling like they had the autonomy to solve issues themselves,” Eason says.

Commercial Banking also took a major step in moving from project-centric budgeting to team-centric budgeting. “Before, no one wanted the project to end because then the resources would be distributed somewhere else,” Eason says. “Leadership and teams are now aligned to products, and make decisions on how much to invest in the products themselves instead of justifying every single project.”

As a result, teams are more nimble to ‘turn on a dime’ as needed, without the pressure of having to see a specific project to the end.

“Teams feel more beholden to the product they’re working on versus moving from project to project,” Francis adds.

A Transformation Guided by Teams

In addition to performing Inspect and Adapt after every PI, Commercial Banking designed and developed an Agile maturity assessment to help trains and teams understand where they are on their transformation journey. Once a quarter, they ask individuals to react anonymously to neutral statements across five areas: sustainability, value delivery, scaled agile, culture, and technical health.

“A lot of companies think they’re in one place, but they’re really in another,” says Greg Jaeger, Agile Coach. “Our goal was honest opinions and honest assessment because that’s the only way to help each member of the team, each team, each train, and each program get better—not only in being Agile or SAFe but in actual product delivery.”

Areas with low scores indicate the need for a discussion. In response, individuals at the Team and Program levels identify areas to improve for the next six sprints. Based on items chosen at those levels, Agile coaches formulate an Agile transformation path for every value stream.

Faster Delivery, Happier People

Benefits of SAFe for Financial Services

Today, Commercial Banking has 13 ARTs and seven Value Streams. Since deploying SAFe, the group has seen gains that benefit employees, partners, customers, and the organization as a whole:

Time-to-market— As we build out our physical campus, we have tried to create work spaces that enable that collaboration at the agile scrum team level, but also, we operate what is called the scaled agile framework.  That implies that we need to be able to be effective in collaborating at both the individual team level, but also across multiple teams.

Taking an iterative approach to frequently deliver to production brought about efficiency and speed not previously seen.  “We’re truly able to deliver working software into production at the end of every sprint,” Eason says. “What took us six months to complete before, now we might complete in a couple of months. And by bringing development in-house, we have working solutions much faster than any vendor partnership could deliver.”

Commercial Banking turned the ratio of vendor-created applications to those built in-house upside down.

Engagement—With employee engagement up 15-20 percent overall, morale and retention have improved.

Predictability—With each PI, Commercial Banking sees greater predictability in what it can deliver. PI planning plays a major role in setting expectations and encouraging follow-through.

Customer satisfaction—Eason says business partners prefer the new approach and would not want to go back to the old way of working. Likewise, the businesses that Commercial Banking serve have responded positively to the opportunity to see demos and progress along the way, rather than only having insight into fully completed projects.

“It’s been great to have clients with us on the design and test aspects of development,” Eason says.

The journey continues at Capital One, with Commercial Banking continuously refining after every PI. Success so far, aided by SAFe, greatly fuels that momentum.

“SAFe has enabled us to go to production in a safer and more scalable way more often than we would have normally,” Anand says.

“We are in that journey, and it is important that as the leadership team in technology,” says Capital One CIO Rob Alexander, “we are communicating to our whole organization that this is what excellence in software delivery looks like.”

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Suggested Case Study: Standard Bank

Vantiv – Scaled Agile Business Solutions with SAFe

Scaled Agile Business Solutions with SAFe

“Since beginning our Lean-Agile journey with SAFe, Vantiv has focused its strategic efforts and its execution. We have improved the predictability of product delivery while maintaining high quality, and have become even more responsive to customers—resulting in higher customer satisfaction. And just as important, employee engagement went up over the past year.”

Dave Kent, Enterprise Agile Coach, Vantiv

Challenge:

Deliver solutions with more sustainable, long-term impact, and do so quickly to stay ahead in a competitive industry

Industry:

Information Technology, Financial Services

Solution:

SAFe® v4.0

Results:

  • In 2015, Vantiv delivered 7 percent more features and capabilities with 9 percent less staff.
  • In response to an internal customer’s request, teams delivered on time—if not ahead of schedule—with a significant positive impact to financial results.
  • Teams delivered on commitments 80 to 100 percent of the time.
  • Year over year, the number of changes in its solutions has doubled, yet the number of quality incidents reported by customers has not increased.

Best Practices:

  • Quarterly Business Reviews—Collaborative meetings keep product teams and the business on the same page.
  • Get experienced help—Agile coaches provided experience and practical examples that made a difference compared to previous efforts.

The partner that made it happen:

Introduction

Payment processing leader Vantiv Inc. powers more than $25 billion financial transactions every year, from the largest retailers in the U.S. to your local coffee shop. The company makes payments smarter, faster, and easier by partnering with software companies and technology service firms to embed payments processing in front and back office applications. Its commerce technology integrates into a broad set of point of sale systems, reaching merchants through an extensive partner network of thousands of point-of-sale software developers and value-added resellers.

Vantiv - Scaled Agile Business Solutions with SAFe

The company also offers a comprehensive suite of traditional and innovative payment processing and technology solutions to merchants and financial institutions of all sizes, enabling them to address their payment processing needs through a single provider.

Exceptionally responsive to customers, Vantiv creates many of its solutions specifically for individual organizations. While retaining its renowned enterprise service, the company sought to take a longer-term view by developing solutions to meet the needs of a broader range of its customer base. The goal is to deliver solutions with more sustainable, long-term impact, and do so quickly to stay ahead in a competitive industry.

SAFe: For Consistency and Continuous Improvement

In 2015, Vantiv embarked on several business transformation initiatives under a common umbrella called True North. True North seeks to create a culture of clarity, direction, and continuous improvement; and rewire the company for excellence in product, IT, marketing, and strategy.

For an objective view, Vantiv brought in a well-respected thought leader in product management and product development. The consultant made two key recommendations: take a more holistic view with a product-led strategy, and pursue a Lean-Agile approach for product development across the enterprise. At that time, there were pockets of Scrum within IT.

To address both those goals, the company started an Agile transformation of its entire enterprise, however, momentum was hindered by a lack of focus on people and teams, and little understanding of Agile. For help, Vantiv turned to Scaled Agile Gold Partners, CA Technologies and Icon Technology Consulting, along with the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) for the structure and methodology needed to deploy Lean-Agile practices.

“To be successful with Agile, we realized that we needed a more concerted effort at the team level and more consistency in how we deliver,” says Henry Noble, Program Director, Transformation. “We found SAFe the ideal framework for achieving that.”

1000+ SAFe Users

With the help of their partners, Vantiv held a series of “Agile Awareness” roadshows around the company’s various locations. They answered questions and encouraged employees to talk about past Agile efforts.

Next, Vantiv employees attended a 2-week formation program with an introduction to Lean-Agile practices and tools. Dedicated coaches worked daily with the group that ultimately formed into seven teams. They began working in two-week sprints, but held off on forming their first Agile Release Train (ART) until they were ready to fully embrace the new way of working.

Vantiv - Scaled Agile Business Solutions with SAFe

Though initially hesitant, teams soon embraced with the new approach. “The biggest misunderstanding that developers had was that if you’re Agile you’re fluid,” Noble says. “But they soon learned there is quite of bit of structure required to be successful.”

Teams soon became more engaged, and after 6-8 weeks teams had matured enough to be ready to assemble an ART. For the first Program Increment (PI) planning meeting, in June of 2015, the event brought together 150 people.

“We see a common pattern where the first PI event for each newly formed train feels like they’re not ready, but post PI event every participant says it’s one of the best planning meetings they have ever attended,” Noble says.

From there, Vantiv’s Agile maturity accelerated with multiple Agile Release Trains containing multiple teams and all of the enterprise leveraging the SAFe framework.

Collaborative Quarterly Reviews

Part of the transformation required improved alignment between business goals and product development.

“Our quarterly business reviews were a great opportunity to provide greater transparency and feedback, and demonstrate how the whole organization adjusts and collaborates to help address customer needs,” says Dave Kent, Enterprise Agile Coach at Vantiv. “Participation in this strategic planning by all stakeholders not only helps with product leadership, but also shows how powerful it is when product and IT strategy are aligned.”

Gains in Every Area

Eighteen months after deploying SAFe, the company has measured improvements:

Productivity

In 2015, Vantiv delivered seven percent more features and capabilities with nine percent less manpower. “We can comfortably say we’re delivering more capabilities with less staff while going through a transformation at the same time,” Noble says. “We do more with less by eliminating waste and focusing on core functionality.”

Time to Market

Vantiv has met its goal of becoming more focused on product delivery—creating innovative solutions ahead of market demand.

Predictability

At the ART level, teams delivered on commitments 80 to 100 percent of the time by focusing on incremental delivery and listening to the stakeholders’ feedback.

“To continue to stay ahead of the market, we focused on our responsiveness and predictability, resulting in firm commitments to our customers and providing transparency to the organization,” says Henry Noble, Program Director, Transformation at Vantiv.

Quality

Year over year, the number of changes to its solutions has doubled, yet the number of quality incidents reported by customers has not increased. “Our quality continues to improve, with quality now being built in from the smallest pieces,” Kent says.

Employee Engagement and Retention

With greater transparency comes more trust and employee engagement, making for a real culture change. That led to a decrease in attrition over the past two years, and Vantiv has been voted Best Place to Work in Cincinnati.

“SAFe provides alignment and transparency,” Kent says. “Individuals feel like they truly understand their part in the whole, and how their work aligns with the goals of the company.”

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Suggested Case Study: Royal Philips

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

Valpak – Using SAFe for Digital Savings Marketplace

Valpak - Using SAFe for Digital Savings Marketplace

Industry:

Advertising & Marketing

Overview

Valpak’s IT group builds and supports technology for a wide variety of stakeholders and audiences including Consumers that are focused on saving money with coupons, Valpak Franchises that need systems to run their business and sales operations, Merchants interested in tracking and maximizing their
returns on investment, and traditional internal corporate stakeholders that need to run the core business operations.

Read the full Valpak case study to learn how they leveraged SAFe to compete in the quickly changing Digital savings marketplace.

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Suggested Case Study: Fannie Mae