China’s Amazon for MRO Goods Improves Order Processing Time by 800%
How did ZKH Industrial Supply Achieve Such Dramatic Results After Practicing SAFe for Less Than a Year?
As one of the leading MRO and C-parts consolidators in China, ZKH Industrial Supply provides industrial accessories, consumables, general equipment, and spare parts. In just one year, this China-based leader for MRO goods was delighted with the dramatic improvements they achieved after adopting SAFe and applying Lean Portfolio Management:
800% improvement in order processing time
17% reduction in lead time of order to delivery
Online orders increase dramatically due to real-time order visibility
In this video, you will get the behind-the-scenes story of how ZKH was able to achieve these impressive results after implementing SAFe. Topics include:
How ZKH partnered with Accenture and utilized SAFe as an organization transformation framework
Setting up up the Value Realization Office, and applying SAFe Lean Portfolio Management to prioritize business demands and match investments to help realize business strategy
Identifying and creating agile cross-functional product delivery teams
Driving collaboration between R&D and business with a focus on customer demand and continuous value delivery
Presented at the 2021 Global SAFe Summit, October 2021 by:
“We collaborate more than ever with our customers by involving them in planning as much as we can. And we deliver frequent demos—even beyond customers’ expectations. Our customers have found communication to be more effective since the SAFe implementation.”
—Sam Wu, Agile Head Coach and Training Director, Cerno
Deliver custom solutions faster and with higher quality for clients.
Information Technology, Software
Delivery cycle time dropped by 58%
The rate of release failure went down from 0.6 times on average per release to 0
The interface automation level increased from zero to 70 percent
Reported defects decreased from 13 times per release to five
Power through setbacks – Find solutions and don’t let them stop your momentum.
Assess regularly – Inspect & Adapt and DevOps health checks keep teams aware of progress and on track toward goals.
Choose a compatible partner – A partner with a business view, not just R&D, moved Cerno ahead with training and coaching.
As a custom software factory, Cerno is poised for rapid growth as part of China’s expansive technology market. The company delivers technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, open source software, and IoT solutions for a diverse range of clients, from logistics to government.
To compete effectively, Cerno set out to elevate the speed of delivery, reduce defects, and improve the quality of its solutions in the long term, with the ultimate objective of being more client-focused.
“We needed a next-generation software development method to meet customer needs and reach our goals,” explained Sam Wu, Agile Head Coach and Training Director, Cerno.
Cerno’s founders brought experience in developing software for the financial industry. They found the ‘weak matrix’ structure worked in HR outsourcing, but not so well in product delivery. (A weak matrix is an organizational structure in which the balance of power tilts decisively in the direction of line or functional management.)
And while the traditionally waterfall company had experimented with Lean-Agile development in the past, they lacked the training or business support to build momentum.
SAFe®: The Path from Strategy to Delivery
While attending Leading SAFe® training, a Cerno executive saw a promising path to Agile, leading Cerno to adopt the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe). “It was clear that we needed SAFe to make Cerno a total Agile enterprise, to expand Agile not only to product lines but also to the business and functional departments such as HR and finance,” explained Liu Yilei, VP, Cerno. “We saw SAFe as the model that would take us from strategy to delivery.”
“SAFe provided a comprehensive toolkit and an easy way to move forward,” added Wu, who was hired at that time to lead the effort as the internal change agent. At the same time, the company brought in SAFe Gold partner Aura International for coaching and training.
Per the SAFe Implementation Roadmap, James Li, Principal Consultant from Aura, led the SAFe Executive Workshop. Jack Xu, Senior Consultant from Aura, delivered SAFe® for Teams training and helped prepare for the first Program Increment (PI) planning event. They organized teams, reconfigured the office to better support those teams, and reorganized the product plan with user-story mapping.
For the first Agile Release Train launch, they began with four Agile teams—the entire R&D team plus Infrastructure and Operations—on an existing initiative to digitalize a logistics solution for a client.
From that first PI, team leaders embraced the Lean-Agile mindset. They identified priorities based on business value and began allowing people to self-organize. Instead of waiting to be assigned work, developers identified the work based on business objectives, committed to the work in PI Planning, and moved forward with it.
More Stories in Less Time—Despite Setbacks
Though Cerno set out to follow SAFe by the book, they ran into roadblocks that forced mid-course adjustments. In middle of the first PI, the Systems Architect left, leading Cerno to assemble a team to assume his responsibilities.
Additionally, the customer cut some funding because of market forces. And when managers wanted to move some teams to another client project, it nearly stopped the train. Given technical and capacity challenges, Cerno chose to postpone 15 percent of the high-risk PI objectives and scale back the size of the train.
Developers also found it challenging to transition from private to public code, a decision made to reduce bottlenecks in bug fixes and hidden technical debt. As the project team transitioned away from three-week waterfall development, the coaching team helped set code standards. In time, they found that developers took more pride in their code because of its public nature.
Even with the early challenges, the Inspect and Adapt session after the first PI showed the teams had met PI objectives and reduced defects. The ART could produce 45 stories per two-week iteration, on average, by the end of the first PI, compared to 30 stories per three-week iteration in waterfall.
Routine DevOps Health Checks
When Cerno first introduced DevOps practices, the company lacked a SAFe DevOps Practitioner. Still, they made progress on a delivery pipeline and staging environment, supported a grayscale release of a product, and shortened the time to release future versions.
Additionally, they formed a new system integration testing (SIT) plan that shrunk testing time by 25 percent initially, and then by half, freeing the development team to put more effort into new features.
To expedite progress, they began conducting DevOps health checks. Early on, those checks uncovered opportunities to improve delivery. To stay on track, they now perform this exercise every PI. With the habit of regular checks, Cerno has made strides with automated testing and continuous integration/continuous deployment.
To support their efforts, they also established Communities of Practice and hold monthly technical workshops for developers.
Delivery Cycle Time Down 58 Percent
Today, Cerno runs two ARTs with 80 people. These high-confidence teams agree on, and begin working on, requirements faster. They communicate and collaborate more tightly than before they introduced SAFe and are continuously improving.
When the ART completed work with one client, they simply switched the train to support another logistics client with a similar solution—effectively a plug-and-play release train. The company then added a second ART to deliver value to another client. Each train continues to serve a single client.
To date, Cerno has made remarkable progress:
Delivery cycle time dropped from 3½ weeks to two weeks, or 58 percent
The average offline time for a new production environment release decreased from 3½ hours to half an hour
The rate of release failure went down from 0.6 times on average per release to 0
The interface automation level increased from zero to 70 percent
Reported defects decreased from 13 times per release to five
Most importantly, Cerno realized its goal of becoming a more customer-centric organization.
“We collaborate more than ever with our customers by involving them in planning as much as we can. And we deliver frequent demos—even beyond customers’ expectations,” Wu said. “Our customers have found communication to be more effective since the SAFe implementation.”
“This is the first SAFe transformation case I have coached in a local company in China,” Li said. “Although there’s still more to improve, it is really a great and wonderful start! It is a significant milestone for SAFe in China.”
Looking ahead, Cerno is building toward agility beyond solution delivery, into administrative management and marketing—to become a total Agile enterprise.
“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
DTCA sought to improve its speed and predictability in bringing new technology to the organization and citizens.
Major releases 3X more often
80% reduction in technical debt
Half of managers moved into other roles
Greater engagement and collaboration across all levels
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.
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.
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.
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 use in government organisations.
“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.”
The organization trained more than 250 people across multiple SAFe courses:
Gaining C-Suite support for SAFe Enterprise Agility
MetLife is one of 12 Fortune 500 companies to thrive for over 150 years. Met has scale and a proud history … and the many challenges of incumbency including legacy systems and challenges to speed. Agile is quickly being embraced as the way to achieve speed in innovation.
In this 45-minute video, Cheryl Crupi shares the story of how a small team sold MetLife’s new CEO and his new executive group on SAFe Enterprise Agility. This short, immersive session enabled this executive group to experience Agile for themselves and resulted in a third of the group requesting individual follow-up on how they can embrace Enterprise Agility, including HR, Legal, Marketing and regional business presidents.
“Using SAFe to deploy agility at scale across our product factory has been fundamental to putting in place the mindset necessary for our transition to DevOps across our value chain. We still have further to go on this journey, but the benefits we see have proven that the SAFe framework was the right choice to accelerate our transformation.”
—Jonathan Coyle, Head of Agile Factory Operations
With its MX.3 platform in use across the globe, Murex sought to maintain and build upon its market-leading position while continuing to respond rapidly to support the changing needs of clients and global regulatory demands.
Information Technology, Financial Services
10X faster production-like testing
A full functional testing cycle in just one hour
85% reduction in user story cycle time
Time to release for internal test management system dropped from 37 man-days to two
95 percent of those asked would not want to return to the old way of working
Communicate continuously – You cannot over-communicate on your vision or the ‘why.’ Constantly reinforce the mission context.
Prepare for challenges – Be ready to tackle the problems that emerge quickly as teams and trains accelerate.
Anticipate changes in culture and people – Don’t underestimate the cultural impacts that agility at scale brings and be ready to invest in people.
Invest in collaboration infrastructure – Murex invested heavily in digital solutions to help foster collaboration between distributed teams.
Provide coaching and SAFe training – Coaching and training guides teams and individuals through the huge changes that they go through during the transformation and sets the stage for success.
Every day, over 50,000 people in 60 countries rely on financial software from Murex. For more than 30 years, Murex has provided financial technology solutions for capital markets, from banking and asset management to energy and commodities. The independent, Paris-based company employs more than 2,200 people across 17 countries.
Murex’s flagship, award-winning platform, MX.3, supports trading, treasury, risk, and post-trade operations, enabling clients to better meet regulatory requirements, manage risk, and control IT costs. To maintain its industry-leading position, Murex continues focusing on building transformative technology, but faces numerous challenges in those efforts:
Changing regulations across regions
Complex and growing customer demands
Legacy IT and processes
As well, Murex wanted to improve its quality and time-to-market in getting new capabilities to customers.
“The impact of technology and regulation on financial institutions means they need to find new ways to adapt faster,” explained Joe Iafigliola, Head of Americas for Murex. “To answer this challenge, Murex realized that we needed to provide a more flexible and Agile approach to project delivery. While this brings more predictability and convergence, it also allows greater flexibility to make changes that are required during a project.”
Pursuing Continuous Delivery the SAFe® Way
Murex chose to apply SAFe to both its product development and the infrastructure supporting product development for proper business agility, and thus created a Value Stream for each:
Value Stream #1 – Development of MX.3, its flagship product
Murex’s first Value Stream onboarded 700 engineers in eight ARTs for the development of its MX.3 trading, risk, and post-trade platform. This ART targets consistent Agile development practices, continuous integration, improved cycle time, and a faster feedback loop.
Value Stream #2 – Infrastructure evolution for MX.3 development and delivery
Murex created a second Value Stream to evolve the underlying development infrastructure, which includes development environments, versioning, build pipeline, and test management systems. Before SAFe, this portfolio released about every 10 weeks. Following the SAFe implementation, this timeframe has been reduced to two weeks.
Both Value Streams run with a DevOps flow. They follow sprint-based development on a two-week cadence with a continuous delivery pipeline. And batch sizes, iterations, and feedback cycles—all hallmarks of DevOps best practices—are all reduced.
Murex has also started piloting a DevOps approach for client rollouts and upgrades. They created a full development environment for customization of the MX.3 platform for clients. They now handle configuration, tests, test data, and infrastructure as code, and every piece is importable and exportable, and version-able in source control. Smaller changes flow to production more easily, reducing the challenges associated with large releases.
In pilot tests, the SAFe DevOps approach has shown promising results and is fostering more collaborative relations with clients.
“We found that, with a DevOps approach, validation timescales can be cut in half when compared to traditional methods,” added Hassan Kamal, Head of Software Engineering. “This unlocks huge potential in terms of delivering incremental value because we can react faster to changing market and regulatory requirements.”
Impressive Productivity Gains
As of today, Murex has trained more than 1,000 people in SAFe, or half the company, with teams distributed across its three development centers in Paris, Dublin, and Beirut. Its efforts have driven measurable progress across numerous benchmarks:
10X faster production-like testing – Client Delivery teams can now simulate 10 weeks of real production activity in a single weekend
Complete testing in just one hour, instead of days – The full client delivery testing cycle, including environment provisioning, functional tests, and upstream/downstream interface validation dropped from five days to just one hour, making it possible to run this full suite to customize each new customer configuration
85% reduction in user story cycle time – Internal user story cycle for MX.3 platform development time dropped from 90 days to 15 days
Lower release cost for internal IS – The time to release for the internal test management system dropped from 37 man-days to two
Positive feedback from employees – 95 percent of those asked would not want to return to the old way of working (pre-SAFe)
Just as critical as the numbers, Murex’s people have embraced the mindset required to make the transformation.
“The most notable difference at Murex is a change in the way we plan and execute solution development. We do not commit to tasks—we commit to outcomes—and we let the teams decide how best to get there,” said Wissam Ghamroun, Head of EMEA Customer Delivery Services.
The company credits SAFe with helping it adopt best-practice engineering standards around test-driven development and CICD.
“Using SAFe to deploy agility at scale across our product factory has been fundamental to putting in place the mindset necessary for the transition to DevOps across our value chain,” Coyle said. “We still have further to go on this SAFe journey, but the benefits we see have proven that the SAFe framework was the right choice to accelerate our agility transformation.”
“SAFe was the right fit because of the dynamics and goals at EdgeVerve. It helps bring the alignment and cultural change needed to deliver faster results in an organization with many dependencies across products.”
—Dr. Ronen Barnahor, Head of Agile Business Transformation, EdgeVerve Systems
With releases every 6-18 months, the company set a goal of further improving time-to-market, quality, flexibility, and predictability.
Release time improved by 50 – 66%
Planning every 10 weeks sharpens predictability
Feature cycle time went down by 50 percent
The cost per feature point dropped by eight percent from one PI to the next
Reduction in escaped defects and increased customer satisfaction
Managers first – By beginning training with managers, EdgeVerve gained essential buy-in that helped influence the C-level and team level
Merging Testing and Engineering – Bringing these groups together reduced what were distinct silos
Common cadence – EdgeVerve kept everyone on a common cadence, even before bringing all teams into the Framework
Hybrid model of implementation – ARTs and managers of non-ARTs aligned on the same cadence and planning activities
Banks across 94 countries, serving 848 million consumers, rely on Finacle, an industry-leading universal banking suite from EdgeVerve Systems Ltd. A wholly-owned subsidiary of the global IT company, Infosys, EdgeVerve develops software products that enable businesses across multiple industries to innovate, accelerate growth, and have deeper connections with stakeholders. Gartner and Forrester consistently name EdgeVerve at the top of their rankings for banking platforms.
In 2015, the company set an aggressive goal of improving time-to-market, quality, flexibility, and predictability.
SAFe: a framework for faster results
For guidance, the management brought on Dr. Ronen Barnahor, now Head of Agile Business Transformation. Barnahor recommended the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to help instigate real change, quickly.
“Our mission is to adopt a Lean and Agile mindset and practices, and become a learning organization focused on continuous improvement to provide better value to our customers,” Barnahor says. “SAFe was the right fit because of the dynamics and goals at EdgeVerve. It helps bring the alignment and cultural change needed to deliver faster results in an organization with many dependencies across products.”
Prior to adopting SAFe, the teams at EdgeVerve were working in cadence, however, their approach wasn’t effective in meeting new organizational goals.
Building a coalition from the ground up
To bolster internal buy-in, EdgeVerve appointed Jasdeep Singh Kaler, an AVP and 20-year veteran of the company, to help Barnahor lead the effort. Through a contest, the transformation earned the name “Mach 1”—a nod to the importance of speed.
In alignment with SAFe, EdgeVerve began with training, choosing first to focus specifically on managers. VPs and directors, and about 30 leads across all functional areas attended two days of Leading SAFe®. The SAFe training created a buzz about the agile transformation and gave the C-level confidence that moving to SAFe was accepted by internal leaders. By the end of the class, participants signaled they were ready to move forward with SAFe, with confidence scores of 4 and 5.
With positive feedback from leaders, C-level executives attended a one-day management workshop that included principles from Leading SAFe. There, they set implementation goals and approved the new direction. Knowing they would begin with the Finacle banking solution, they identified dependencies, defined all Value Streams and established who would join in the first two Agile Release Trains (ARTs).
“This was a crucial meeting with leads from product strategy, delivery, architecture, and testing, to help them embrace the concepts of the Value Stream and the ART, optimize the whole process, gain a systems view, decentralize decisions, and more,” Barnahor says.
In April 2016, EdgeVerve kicked off the first Program Increment (PI) using SAFe with a 2-day planning meeting in Bangalore, India. The event brought together 60 individuals from multiple locations across India. The CTO attended, sending a message about the importance of the change for EdgeVerve.
In subsequent ART launches and PI planning events, the heads of engineering, product strategy, product management and other senior leaders participated with great commitment—bolstering the adoption at a grassroots level.
The event itself excited and motivated team members: “We had fun as a team in PI planning and that enabled us to do better work,” says one team member.
Hybrid implementation model—ARTs + Non-ARTs
As the company launched two ARTs, it did so with just two coaches. For that reason, EdgeVerve continued running non-SAFe teams on the same cadence—in what it calls a “hybrid model.”
“We didn’t have the coaching capacity to structure everyone into SAFe, but they all aligned on the same cadence with a centralized backlog,” Barnahor explains.
While EdgeVerve began implementing SAFe, managers of other products outside of ARTs were trained concurrently in Program-level activities. Under the hybrid approach, all product teams (ARTs and non-ARTs) aligned in several ways:
The same cadence (sprints and PI)
Working in IBM Rational Team Concert
Pre-planning + PI Planning (For non-ARTs, only managers joined in PI planning)
Execution (For non-ARTs, there was no coaching. Leads managed the work as previously but with a focus on demos in cadence with ARTs.)
Product and solution-level demos
Retrospectives (In non-ARTs, only managers joined.)
“The hybrid model of implementation of a full ART plus managers first in non-ART teams contributed to faster alignment and predictability across products within the integrated banking solution,” Barnahor says.
Very quickly, teams began delivering on cadence, demonstrating early value to management. SAFe also sharpened visibility, enabling them to predict more accurately. As a result, the Product Management Organization began to understand the power of “velocity” as a prediction metric and began using the Agile dashboard that EdgeVerve developed.
Changing the Culture
As EdgeVerve launched trains, the company concurrently focused heavily on changing the culture, with the belief that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” According to Kaler, since EdgeVerve focused on ‘managers first,’ these individuals became key influencers in the cultural change. The main focus was around breaking the silos, establishing common ownership on quality, managing and improving through data, and an emphasis on outcome and business value instead of on utilization.
The new, common terminology of SAFe (ARTs, ceremonies, and cadence) ensured everyone spoke the same language. With a common language, they could more easily understand expectations and minimize misunderstandings.
“From a change management perspective, everyone understood that EdgeVerve had embarked on something important at the organizational level that is based on a proven industry framework,” Barnahor says. “We had fewer arguments on definitions. I told them, ‘Let’s adapt SAFe definitions and practices, observe the impact on the ground during execution, and then change. Why reinvent the wheel?’”
The company also altered its success measures to help influence behavior, asking questions such as…
Are we delivering desired value to customers?
Are we on time? If not, when can we deliver the committed scope?
Are we on scope? If not, what we will not deliver on due date?
Are we on top of quality?
Are we on flow? Any bottlenecks? Starvation? Backlog readiness for the next PI? What is the average cycle time?
Can we predict well?
How do employees feel about the change?
As attitudes changed, EdgeVerve collected feedback from the field and shared positive comments from team members and managers widely on posters and in videos—with the goal of spreading enthusiasm.
Additionally, the company adjusted the organizational structure to support the change. From developer to head of engineering, EdgeVerve reduced the number of organizational layers from seven layers to just four layers.
Perhaps the biggest difference came in moving the distinct testing organization, which was under delivery, into engineering—a decision that quickly improved relations between developers and testers. In line with SAFe, testing also now happens concurrently with development with greater focus on acceptance automation.
Reducing cycle time, increasing quality
Today, the company runs eight ARTs with approximately 800 people across three value streams and one portfolio. They launch a new ART every six weeks. At the same time, they run five teams of teams that are not part of the SAFe transformation.
Less than a year after deploying SAFe, EdgeVerve reported significant gains:
Reduced time-to-market – For large enterprise products, release time dropped from 12 – 18 months to six months, and for small products, from six months to three months
Improved predictability – The company plans consistently every 10 weeks, which increases flexibility for changing scope with minimal cost
Expedited feature speed – Feature cycle time went down by 50 percent
Elevated efficiency – The cost per feature point dropped by eight percent from one PI to the next
Fewer defects – The company significantly improved early detection of defects, leading to fewer escaped defects and increased customer satisfaction
As the PIs progressed, team members could clearly see the advantages of the new approach. Most notably, communication and collaboration improved, with evidence that silos were dissolving.
“The way teams were working, even a minor downtime was clearly a cascading effect in the team’s progress,” says one team member. “Teams identified it, they came up with solutions, and they worked together.
“If code was not working, we got the right contacts, spoke to the code team and got the issue resolved,” says another team member. “This is a big change from the software developer’s perspective on how they approach their work.”
“The developer-tester relationship was better,” says another. “You can directly check with them for the issues you’re facing.” Additionally, anonymous participant surveys reflected progress. The company asked approximately 300 people about the impact of SAFe. Most notably, there was an 89% improvement in trust and communication across different functions while 73% believe that SAFe helped increase productivity/throughput.
Even as EdgeVerve sees positive results and culture shifts, transformation leaders find it is an ongoing process. With demonstrated results, they gained backing to hire more coaches. Looking ahead, the main challenge, Barnahor says, is middle management’s mind-set—transforming managers to act as Agile leaders and mentors to the teams by focusing on an Agile leadership program.
“It’s a transformation of hearts and minds,” Kaler says. “We made sure that managers believed in what we’re doing and slowly the culture is changing.”
“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
Deliver solutions with more sustainable, long-term impact, and do so quickly to stay ahead in a competitive industry
Information Technology, Financial Services
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.
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.
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.
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 a Lean-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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
“Having a clear methodology and training in place has been very helpful when hiring people: Good developers expect a modern methodology. Being able to tell candidates that we take Agile principles seriously, by mentioning that we have trained and certified product owners and Scrum masters, and that we follow a clear Agile path-definitely makes a difference.”
—Walter Bauer, CTO, censhare
As the company reached 150 people, locally developed variations of Scrum were no longer effective.
Faster time to market of the company’s latest product version
Greater alignment between product management and development
More team spirit
Enhanced employee satisfaction and an edge when hiring
Prepare thoroughly for PI events – Before the first real PI planning meeting, Improuv organized a training session that simulated the event-leading to very successful early PIs.
Train product managers – Product owners and the Chief Product Owner attended the SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (PMPO) two-day workshop, to help prepare the overall backlog.
Show the Program Board – The program board hangs in an area of the office seen by all, and provides a focal point for Scrum of Scrum meetings and PO/PM meetings.
Munich-based censhare is an international software firm deploying innovative technologies that enable companies to master the next generation of digital communication. For more than 20 years, the company has offered comprehensive digital platforms geared to creating, shaping, and designing engaging customer experiences.
While censhare was not new to Agile principles, their experience was limited to locally developed interpretations of Scrum. That Agile approach worked to an extent when the company was small, but not as well when it reached 150 people.
“I used to have regular personal contact with all people in the company, but now it’s even hard to keep this up within my own department,” explains Walter Bauer, censhare CTO.
Train, then Launch the Train
Bauer and a product manager attended Leading SAFe® training, where they discovered the thinking and practices behind scaling Agile via the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®). Bauer saw how censhare could adapt the SAFe “Big Picture” to provide a flexible and scalable Agile way of working that would help not just development, but the organization as a whole.
Following training, the CTO decided to bring SAFe to censhare. The goal: solidify Agile across the organization and prepare it for future expansion.
With the support of Scaled Agile partner, Improuv, censhare followed the concept of “train everyone, then launch an Agile Release Train:”
Management Executive leadership attended a one-day workshop to discuss agility, scaling Agile, and to set and manage expectations. The leadership team bought into the approach and gave the green light to introduce scaled Lean-Agile practices.
Scrum teams Before focusing on scaling, censhare decided to further develop the core Agile strengths of their development teams. Scrum teams received training and coaching on Scrum and SAFe to help develop team potential and prepare them for working together at scale. All Scrum Masters received Certified Scrum Master training (CSM).
Product management Product owners and the Chief Product Owner attended the SAFe Product Manager Product Owner (PMPO) two-day workshop, becoming certified as SAFe PMPOs. This, along with coaching, helped product management prepare the overall backlog.
In SAFe, the Program Increment (PI) planning meeting sets the objectives for the coming 10-week increment. To bring the organization up-to-speed before the first real PI planning meeting, Improuv organized a training session that simulated the event. This turned out to be key to the eventual success of the first planning sessions.
censhare then formed an Agile Release Train (ART) and launched it on a 10-week planning and alignment cadence. Within the 10 weeks, Scrum teams work in synchronized two-week sprints. The kickoff PI planning event followed the SAFe model.
The company introduced Scaled Agile portfolio management, aided by Portfolio-level Kanban, to add transparency to the Portfolio backlog and match demand with capacity. However, censhare is still implementing this level since there is currently a clear demand process—which is now matched to the capacity of the ART.
Improving Time to Market, Morale
The CTO points to a number of positive outcomes resulting from SAFe:
Faster time to market-censhare released a new version of its product to the market (something that would have been challenging had the company not adopted SAFe). The development and release of the product was significantly faster than previous releases.
Greater alignment—SAFe succeeded in improving alignment between product management and development teams. Cross-team dependencies are better managed and made transparent.
Common vision—The Agile Release Train and 10-week cadence helped the teams develop a product globally, rather than local team deliverables.
More team spirit—The “we are a censhare team” spirit improved through the development team-of-teams thinking. Teams feel more empowered and involved.
Enhanced employee satisfaction—An employee survey revealed that employees appreciate that censhare now has a more professional way of developing products.
“Having a clear methodology and training in place has been very helpful when hiring people: Good developers expect a modern methodology. Being able to tell candidates that we take Agile principles seriously—by mentioning that we have trained and certified Product Owners and Scrum Masters, and that we follow a clear Agile path—definitely makes a difference,” Bauer says
Our time to market is impressive for an enterprise solution. It’s a competitive advantage in the market that we can make major product changes every two months.”
—Cédric Guyot, CEO, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail
Implement a more formal Agile approach while preserving the company’s innovative culture.
Delivery of major releases down from 6 to 2 months
Time to market decreased from 9 to 3 months
Time to respond to client feedback down from 3 months to 1 month
27.5% decrease in cost per epic
41% to 28% decrease in the attrition rate
36%-43% increase in team productivity due to clear job responsibilities and processes
Easier talent acquisition and retention due to openness and transparency
Gain buy-in through results—To sell leadership on SAFe, managers frequently demonstrated value. “Once we started to improve and measure our results, upper management came on board,” Vavriv says.
Be patient—Change takes time. Once implemented, you’ll begin seeing progress, accelerating the pace of change.
Involve HR—Clearly define roles and performance standards (KPIs) for each role. Kantar Retail’s HR representative attended SAFe training.
Gradual implementation of SAFe framework—“Start implementation with basic things on the Team level after starting with the Program level and constantly improve Portfolio-level decisions,” Yevgrashyn says
Kantar Retail develops Virtual Reality (VR) solutions that enable their retailer and manufacturer clients to research and design retail experiences to meet the needs of shoppers and keep up with the constantly changing retail landscape. Retail design and research in virtual reality drive time to market and more effective collaboration and is faster, more economical and more confidential than prototyping in physical stores.
Part of WPP Group, the world leader in marketing communications services, Kantar Retail is a leading insight, technology and consultancy company that works with retailers such as Walmart, Target and Marks & Spencer. They also work with global consumer goods businesses including Kimberly-Clark, Unilever & GSK.
In 2013, Kantar Retail set out to develop a new VR solution for the retail and consumer goods industry. The company had explored using Agile practices with small teams, but the effort was “disorganized and disjointed,” says Dmytro Vavriv, PhD, Delivery Unit Manager at Kantar Retail. As a small company that prides itself on innovation, members across the organization were concerned that a more formal Agile approach could stifle ideas.
Prepping for PI #1
When Kantar Retail began developing the latest version of its solution, the company made a key decision to build its capacity and chose to deploy the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) to support that effort.
Development teams are located in Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. For road-mapping the first Program Increment (PI), Kantar Retail engaged just one, a six-person team in Kiev. As the team prepared for its first SAFe planning session and PI, the Delivery Unit Manager and the Release Train Engineer (RTE) took the four-day Implementing SAFe 4.0 course and earned the SAFe 4.0 Program Consultant (SPC4) certification.
Leading up to kickoff, Kantar Retail faced some tough questions. First, they were uncertain how long the PI duration should be. While the business was pushing for a short timeframe, team members felt like they needed a longer window.
They also had concerns about the planning session itself. Past sessions typically covered just one sprint. This time they would need to cover seven sprints, decide on features and analyze dependencies with other teams. They also needed to develop a vision for the next two PIs. Would two days be enough?
“From a product perspective, the first PI was a challenge because the team had just started working on the product, and from a technical perspective the teams didn’t know the code well yet,” Dmytro Tsybulskyi, RTE says.
Ultimately, the group covered everything in a 2-day session. They settled on a 3½-month PI, but didn’t quite meet the planned scope on the first try—requiring 4½ months. Yet, they still delivered under the usual six-month timeframe and took away valuable lessons for the next round.
PI2 ran significantly more smoothly. Kantar Retail brought in more teams and trained all team leads beforehand. Prior to the PI boundary, teams discussed possible roadmaps and dependencies, as well as technical questions. That made it so that, in planning, they found it easier to put features on the program board and establish a vision for upcoming PIs. Plus, they had greater confidence in setting a shorter PI timeframe—this time 3 months.
As of now, half the company is trained in SAFe, and Kantar Retail has completed four major releases. “We started out with a small team of 6 engineers in Kiev and have grown to 30 now, including all aspects of software delivery, QA, Scrum Teams, and UI/UX,” says Paul Gregory, Chief Technical Officer, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail.
With the help of experienced SPC and Agile coach Timofey Yevgrashyn, Kantar Retail has also implemented SAFe fully on the Team and Program levels. To their surprise, Kantar Retail found that teams were more proactive regarding innovation on the product—due to the sharing of responsibilities, and by separating activities on business deliverability and innovation.
“Participation of all team members in the Leading SAFe class helped to clarify roles and responsibilities and simulate key activities in the SAFe framework,” Yevgrashyn says.
The newly implemented SAFe methodology additionally resulted in a shared vision, more visibility and predictability, a higher-quality solution, and an increased ability to respond to market and customer demands.
“We’ve adopted an enterprise framework for agility, the SAFe framework,” says Eric Radermacher, Product Manager, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail. “We’ve been more consistent. We’ve been able to articulate a roadmap to the business and to our clients and deliver in time and in full, which is a really positive milestone.”
Sharpening the Competitive Edge
With the help of SAFe, Kantar Retail brought the latest version of its product to market. Cloud-based Kantar Retail VR Infinity™ provides all the content for the creation of virtual store projects. It puts VR technology directly in the hands of the users, and connects teams and customers to understand issues and opportunities quickly, leading to faster and more effective retail decision-making.
The company measured very clear benefits from its Agile journey:
Delivery of major releases down from 6 to 2 months
Time to market decreased from 9 to 3 months
Reduced time to respond to client feedback from 3 months to 1 month
Greater predictability, which enhances client satisfaction
“Our time to market is impressive for an enterprise solution,” Cédric Guyot, CEO, Virtual Reality at Kantar Retail says. “It’s a competitive advantage in the market that we can make major product changes every two months.”
27.5% decrease in cost per epic
41% to 28% decrease in the attrition rate
36%-43% increase in team productivity due to clear job responsibilities and processes
Easier talent acquisition and retention due to openness and transparency
Given those metrics, top management is now fully behind SAFe.
SAFe not only elevates internal team satisfaction and hiring; the sales team now brings the company’s time to market into conversations with prospects.
“The sales team uses this as a way to engage with clients,” Dmytro Vavriv says. “We can say, ‘Here are stats showing our predictability and here’s our vision.’”
RMIT University – SAFe Implementation for Business Agility Transformation
“The first Program Increment showed both the potential of the train to deliver value more quickly, and also the challenges facing its success. It also successfully delivered a number of features for release.”
—Em Campbell-Pretty, CEO, Pretty Agile
Positive shift in employee NPS
Improvement in business engagement
Reduction in cycle time
Increase in release frequency
Since April 2014, Scaled Agile Partner, Context Matters (now Pretty Agile), under the lead of Em Campbell-Pretty, has been supporting the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (aka RMIT University) with implementing SAFe for effective business agility transformation. RMIT is Australia’s largest university and, as the name suggests, is known for its technology focus. On November 6, 2014, Catherine Haugh (the SAFe Release Train Engineer-RTE) and some of her team presented their success story at the ANZ Oracle Higher Education User Group conference.
At the time, the presentation at HEUG outlined the journey of a new Agile Release Train, describing the practices and approach of the train as well as the challenges met implementing this new way of working while introducing it to the wider organisation. A sister-presentation was delivered by the Academic Registrar, Maddy McMaster, outlining the experience of going Agile from the business point of view. Maddy is the business owner of RMIT’s Student Administration Management System (SAMS) and the business sponsor of the Student Administration Agile Release Train (StAART).
StAART came into being following a shift within Information Technology Services (ITS) at RMIT towards Lean and Agile practices and a recognition that the ability to scale capability would be critical to ongoing success. SAFe was chosen to address that need and the train stood up in June 2014.
StAART is the delivery mechanism for three major projects in the Student Administration Portfolio as well as day-to-day operational work requests made to enhance and support Student Administration systems. It is made up of seven feature teams which they call squads, supported by a delivery services team – about 60 people in all.
StAART works predominantly with Oracle’s PeopleSoft-Campus Solutions application environment, tailoring the software to suit the organisation’s student administrative requirements through configuration and development. RMIT’s customised Campus Solutions system is known as SAMS. PeopleSoft is a commercial off the shelf (COTS) application.
The first Program Increment showed both the potential of the train to deliver value more quickly and also the challenges facing its success. It also successfully delivered a number of features for release. Even though it is early days RMIT has already seen a positive shift in employee NPS, an improvement in business engagement, a reduction in cycle time and an increase in release frequency. The overarching challenge has been one of cultural change – StAART commenced life in a distinct waterfall environment.
Thank you to Catherine Haugh (RMIT), Maddy McMaster (RMIT) and Em Campbell-Pretty for sharing their story with the SAFe community.
Update – October, 2015:
At the 2015 Agile Australia conference, Catherine presented an update on the StAART and its successes, including a dramatic improvement in NPS ratings from stakeholders. Her presentation includes video testimonials from the teams and ART stakeholders, as well as the data detailing the Net Promoter Scores before the ART launch and after.
For a deeper dive into this SAFe experience, download the two presentations below.