SAFe at American Express – A Customer Interview

Customer Interview: SAFe at American Express — What it Means to Keep the Trains on Track While Still Debating Value Streams

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Director of Enterprise Agility Success, Oden Hughes sits down with Dean Leffingwell to talk about what it takes to manage and nurture a large-scale application of SAFe at a company like American Express focused on providing the world’s best customer experience. She’ll discuss the challenges of establishing alignment between organizations with conflicting views, and why they run their Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE) as a cost center. She’ll share patterns of success, how they’ve created a tailored approach to improve results, and why success depends on much more than courses, workbooks, and principles.

Presented at the Global SAFe Summit, October, 2020.

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Aegon Asset Management

Aegon Asset Management Unites Executives and Global Teams to Deliver Faster and More Predictably

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With roots going back 200 years, Aegon Group is one of the world’s leading providers of life insurance, pensions, and asset management. The global company operates in more than 20 countries with 26,000 employees and reports more than EUR 804 billion in revenue-generating investments. As part of Aegon Group, Aegon Asset Management (AAM) intends to retain its industry-leading position. AAM set some big goals, including digitalization and accelerating the pace of change. To achieve those objectives, and more, IT leaders realized that distributed teams in the UK, Netherlands, and the US needed to collaborate on a global level. AAM had begun bottom-up, informal efforts in Agile and DevOps, and yet, the teams still weren’t able to work together effectively.

AAM turned to SAFe as a means to expand the company’s Agile efforts and keep teams synchronized across borders. They saw SAFe’s Portfolio level as a way to align enterprise strategy with Portfolio execution and were able to establish a single, global backlog reviewed and prioritized by C-suite stakeholders. AAM is a model for showcasing the importance of executive engagement, Lean Portfolio Management, consistent expectations, and how a successful transformation needs all levels of the organization.

“We saw SAFe as providing a unifying structure to get our different units working together in the same way.”
—Philip Johnson, Global Chief Change Officer, Aegon Asset Management

Presented at the Global SAFe Summit, October 2020.

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Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty SE

Customer Story – Allianz: AGCS’ SAFe Journey To Become a Data Driven Enterprise

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After multiple mergers, our data systems were disjointed. To add to this, the newest International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS17) is set to go into effect in January 2023, making data management crucial from a regulatory perspective. We implemented the latest version of SAPHANA, a database management system in partnership with Accenture. This brought our data together under a centralized solution while offering near real-time data processing and better reporting and analytics.

SAFe provided the structure we needed to scale Agile in a complex SAP and non SAP landscape. It allowed us to organize around value and grow seamless integrated cross-functional teams aligned with the companyʼs long-term strategy. Our SAP DevSecOps automation pipeline helped to reach SAP Delivery Agility which paved the way to build the capabilities needed to reach SAP Business Agility. SAFe addressed the complexities and gave us the framework for building portfolios, roles, and jobs to achieve our goals for customer centricity, speed, and quality. DevSecOps is a mindset, an enterprise-wide culture and practice. We will showcase how Allianz applied the five core concepts of DevSecOps and Release on Demand across the five core concepts.

Presented at the Global SAFe Summit, October, 2020.

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MetLife

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 Agility. This short, immersive session enabled this executive group to experience Agile for themselves and resulted in a third of the group to request individual follow-up on how they can embrace Agility, including HR, Legal, Marketing and regional business presidents.

Presented at 2019 Global SAFe Summit by:
Cheryl Crupi
Assistant Vice President, Global LACE
MetLife

MetLife – SAFe Enterprise Agility

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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 Agility. This short, immersive session enabled this executive group to experience Agile for themselves and resulted in a third of the group to request individual follow-up on how they can embrace Agility, including HR, Legal, Marketing and regional business presidents.

Presented at 2019 Global SAFe Summit by:
Cheryl Crupi, Assistant Vice President, Global LACEMetLife

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Murex – SAFe Implementation for Financial Software

Murex - SAFe Implementation for Financial Software

“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

Challenge:

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.

Industry:

Information Technology, Financial Services

Solution:

SAFe®

Results:

  • 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

Best Practices:

  • 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.

Introduction

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:

Murex - SAFe Implementation for Financial Software
  • 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 - SAFe Implementation for Financial Software

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 journey, but the benefits we see have proven that the SAFe framework was the right choice to accelerate our transformation.”

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EdgeVerve Systems – Scaled Agile Framework for IT

“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

Challenge:

With releases every 6-18 months, the company set a goal of further improving time-to-market, quality, flexibility, and predictability.

Industry:

Information Technology

Results:

  • 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

Best Practices:

  • 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

Introduction

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

Scaled Agile Framework for IT

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 training created buzz about the 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.

Quick Wins

Scaled Agile Framework for IT

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?’”

Scaled Agile Framework for IT

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

Dissolving silos

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.

Scaled Agile Framework for IT

“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.”

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PlayStation Network

Fannie Mae – SAFe for Mortgage Financing

“SAFe provided the agility, visibility, and transparency needed to ensure we could integrate with numerous other efforts, get predictable in our delivery, and ensure timelines are met.”

David McMunn, Director of Fannie Mae’s Agile COE

Challenge:

Within three years, the organization would need to stand-up an entirely new business model that would change the way securities are issued to the market—and do so within aggressive timelines.

Industry:

Financial Services, Government

Results:

  • Releases now happen every month, instead of once or twice a year.
  • They integrate reliably every two weeks.
  • Fannie Mae reduced delivery risks.
  • The organization reduced the defect rate substantially.
  • Teams now deliver more than 30 attributes per sprint compared to 2-5 before.
  • Velocity increased from 10 story points to more than 30.

Best Practices:

  • Sync cadence – Establishing a common cadence was critical to success. Engineering practices must evolve in order to comply with bi­modal governance.
  • Work on database modeling upfront – For any data-heavy effort, perform advance work on database modeling to avoid the impact of changes identified later in the sprint.
  • Develop a playbook – Such guidance reduces rework for multiple teams working in parallel.

Introduction

Fannie Mae is the leading provider of mortgage financing in the United States. Operating under a congressional charter, Fannie Mae—and its sibling organization Freddie Mac—play an important role in the nation’s housing finance system; they provide liquidity, stability, and affordability to the mortgage market.

Coming out of the housing crisis in 2013, Fannie Mae recognized that the lending environment it was moving into required it to be even more responsive to meet rapidly changing customer needs. Further, Fannie Mae recognized that agility was critical to achieving this objective—not just in technology, but across the organization.

In January 2015, Fannie Mae was preparing to align with guidance provided by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and Congress, under a new joint venture named Common Securitization Solutions (CSS). As part of this effort, Fannie Mae undertook an initiative to transform some of their key internal business processes to align with CSS to build a universal securitization platform for the issuance and management of mortgage-backed securities.

SAFe for Mortgage Financing

Within three years, Fannie Mae planned to develop an entirely new business model that would change the way securities are issued to the market—and do so within aggressive timelines. More than 20 development teams, encompassing over 300 individuals, were needed to integrate development and testing efforts across 30 assets. As Fannie Mae prepared to implement this change, the organization encountered several challenges as the new model was being defined based on continuously evolving requirements.

“When you’re doing a large-scale integration with a lot of data, the number-one factor for success is early integration and early testing,” says Atif Salam, Director of Enterprise Data at Fannie Mae. “The federal mandate required us to mitigate risk from the get-go, and we realized early on it would not be possible following a waterfall approach. There was no better way for us to mitigate that risk than to adopt Agile.”

Overcoming Initial Roadblocks

Enterprise Data’s efforts to adopt Agile uncovered several challenges, both internal and external:

Challenge #1: No Agile capability evident for the initial two teams at the outset of the Enterprise Data initiative.

The first Enterprise Data teams were brand new to Agile, the Scrum methodology and, having been formed specifically for this initiative, working with each other.

Prior to adopting SAFe, Enterprise Data developed a standard on-boarding approach and entrance criteria for standing up new teams. Additionally, external Agile subject matter expertise was brought in to train and work with the teams, and an Agile Mature Model (AMM) was created to baseline behaviors and practices, as well as identify areas for optimization.

Thereafter, once the decision had been made to adopt SAFe, the program began to work through the SAFe Readiness Checklist. The AMM was used to set target benchmarks that all program teams were required to meet in order to ensure there was sufficient capability in place from which to scale.

SAFe for Mortgage Financing

Challenge #2: At the outset of the Enterprise Data initiative, a Scrum team could only complete a single user story due to inflexible architecture, end-to-end testing challenges, and numerous build constraints. Further, it was typical for the work to be gated by subject matter expertise between developers who viewed data attributes as a data point, comprised of both sourcing and vending complexities, that could only be implemented sequentially.

In response, technical leads focused on eliminating constraints, reducing complexity, and optimizing workflow. Specifically, Technical Leads worked with the teams to leverage cross-functional team/paired programming constructs to augment technical expertise. As a result, the teams began to view data attributes not as a data point, comprised of both sourcing and vending complexities, but rather as having two distinct pieces of business value, specifically sourcing and vending.

Additionally, they made the effort to move system integration testing (SIT), as well as user acceptance testing (UAT), left into the Scrum team. As a result, and over time, each team began to complete multiple user stories within a given sprint. Additionally, the organization adopted an emergent design mindset, formed cross-functional Agile feature teams, and aligned to a common cadence that synchronized their activities (e.g. sprint planning, Scrum-of-Scrums, sprint reviews).

Challenge #3: At the outset of Enterprise Data’s journey, complexity was further complicated by the fact that teams were required to develop and integrate their code in the same mainline, thereby replacing branching as an accepted technical practice. Additionally, Fannie Mae required new release traceability management that would satisfy corporate and federal governance requirements.

To address these challenges, technical leads and shared services focused on building a continuous integration capability, across all teams, using the same codebase. The organization had always had application lifecycle management (ALM), however, it needed to re­think continuous integration to realize true efficiencies. Over the course of 10 months, the organization focused on leveraging automation to reduce the time to implement builds from once every six months to multiple times a day.

Additionally, Enterprise Data adopted behavior-driven development engineering practices for traceability, automated testing, and prototyping.

SAFe for Mortgage Financing

Challenge #4: Upstream technical dependencies specific to architecture, database design/modeling, and test data provisioning prevented the teams from completing a single user story within the two-week sprint cadence.

In addition to the technical challenges the teams were facing, there were also multiple upstream dependencies on architecture, data modeling, and test data management that they had to resolve before a User Story could be implemented by a team working in a two-week cadence.

Initially, working ahead of the teams, a group of business analysts were assembled and assigned to groom the program backlog sufficiently so that User Stories met, or exceeded, 80% of the sprint team’s Definition of Ready. Despite this focus, however, there was barely enough ready work in the program backlog for the teams to bring into their respective sprint planning. This was due to the lead times required to resolve upstream dependencies as well as the need to respond to continually changing requirements.

In preparation for scaling, Enterprise Data worked with their business stakeholders to create a roadmap of features spanning one business quarter. Simultaneously, they focused on optimizing backlog health, sufficient in depth to support the Agile teams, for at least two consecutive sprints. Additionally, adopting a system perspective, the entire value stream was analyzed to better anticipate, and mitigate for, internal/external technical dependencies.

Challenge #5: The organization’s culture was accustomed to working within a traditional implementation methodology.

At the outset, Fannie Mae had a traditional command and control culture, supported by a broader ecosystem of corporate functions that had to change to support Agile. Those leading the change made a significant effort to work with leadership and management to pivot from the traditional role of directing delivery to becoming Lean-Agile leaders and critical change agents, both supporting the teams as well as modeling the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto.

As already noted, leadership and management changed their focus to clearing impediments impacting the teams. Additionally, they influenced corporate functions to align in support of Agile, get the business integrated and involved, as well as to put the pieces in place to create an environment focused on continuous learning. “Historically we would have seen challenges as failures in requirements or development rather than opportunities to fail fast and learn, and improve,” Salam explains.

While still new to their roles, the Lean-Agile leaders infused a sense of purpose in the teams and gave them autonomy to implement the work while decentralizing decision-making and minimizing constraints.

SAFe: Agility. Visibility. Transparency.

Although Fannie Mae had pockets of Agile capability up to this point, leadership understood that a scaled Agile methodology was required to achieve their objectives. Fortunately, individuals within the company had prior success with large-scale Agile deployments using the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®).

Fannie Mae teamed up with an external Scaled Agile Gold partner to develop and mature its Scrum capability and then deploy SAFe. As the first to make the transition, the Enterprise Data division became the torch bearer.

“We had multiple waterfall efforts, third-party integration, and a hard regulatory mandate that made coordination and execution exceptionally difficult,” explains David McMunn, the Director of Fannie Mae’s Agile Center of Excellence (COE). “SAFe provided the agility, visibility, and transparency needed to ensure we could integrate with the numerous other efforts, get predictable in our delivery, and ensure timelines are met.”

Fannie Mae applied a dogmatic approach to ensure the organization was developing a consistent set of practices across multiple teams at the outset. External coaches delivered Agile, Scrum Master, Product Owner, Leading SAFe (SA), and SAFe for Teams (SP) training. The SAFe training was then mandatory for every new team joining the effort.

Fannie Mae launched its first Agile Release Train (ART) encompassing six programs, across 12 teams, with more than 130 people, in June of 2015. Admittedly, that first Program Increment (PI) offered some learning experiences.

“In spite of all the preparation that went into the backlog, setting expectations, confirming attendance from stakeholders, and the training prior to planning, the first PI was somewhat of a chaotic experience,” says Scott Richardson, Chief Data Officer at Fannie Mae.

Context setting provided by the business, product, and architecture leads took time away from team break-out sessions and, as a result, the teams struggled to resolve all of the open requirements and scope questions to complete their plans.

“But by the end of the second day,” Richardson continues, “we started to see progress.” The teams had mapped out their dependencies on the program board, resolved, owned, accepted, or mitigated (ROAM) all of the known risks in the PI and achieved a Fist of Five confidence score of 3.

“The session offered the very first opportunity for all stakeholders to work together on this multi-million dollar program.” Richardson adds. “A new way of managing large-scale integration efforts at Fannie Mae was emerging that would spread across the technology enterprise.”

Over the next few PIs, the organization knew more clearly how to prepare for the PI planning meeting and confidence scores began averaging 4 and higher.

Modeling Confidence in the New Methodology

SAFe for Mortgage Financing

During cross-team planning in an early PI, it became clear that several teams were not on track to deliver important capabilities within the targeted timeline. “Some of my best new Agile team leaders offered to throw more people at the problem ‘just this once,’ and crash the schedule like they did in the old days,” Richardson says. “It’s in those moments that you need to model confidence in the Agile method, to be the calm in the eye of the storm.”
Instead, the Agile team leaders were encouraged to go back to the Product Owners regarding the change in priorities and empower them to devise a new minimum viable product. “Within a couple of hours, everything was back on track with planning, and ultimately all the teams delivered, and the external customer delivery was on-time,” Richardson says. “Now they carry this story with them, and are empowered to solve problems and make decisions in truly productive ways. It’s part of the culture.”

Gains across the Board

Today, Fannie Mae has come a long way. The Enterprise Data division delivered an integrated solution on time and with much higher quality than was expected for an effort of this size. From a broader perspective, the transformation to SAFe revolutionized how the organization plans for the delivery of large-scale programs.

Fannie Mae has seen improvements on multiple fronts:

  • Reduced risk – Fannie Mae reduced delivery risks through the relentless focus on innovation and automation to ship “production ready” code with higher and higher frequency. They significantly mitigated the risk inherent in complex integration between legacy and new architectures/applications, as well as between internal and external systems.
  • Faster feedback cycles – Enterprise Data delivers system demos and integrated code every two weeks. Releases now happen every month, instead of once or twice a year, for the largest application across the enterprise, with millions of lines of code.
  • Improved predictability – Teams, within the program and across the enterprise, integrate reliably every two weeks.
  • Boosted quality – The organization reduced the defect rate substantially.
  • Increased business value – Teams now deliver more than 30 attributes per sprint compared to 2-5 attributes when Agile was first adopted within Enterprise Data.
  • Better team progress – Teams undergo regular AHR (Agility Health Reviews) cycles and have matured to higher Agile Maturity Model levels.
  • Greater efficiency – Fannie Mae realizes significant efficiency through a reduction in technical debt.

After the initial deployment, the division rolled out SAFe to the rest of the organization, training up to 600 people on Leading SAFe, SAFe Advanced Scrum Master, SAFe Scrum Master, SAFe Product Manager/Product Owner, and SAFe for Teams, depending on roles. Several employees went on to achieve their SPC certification.

Currently, Fannie Mae runs three ARTs. The Enterprise Data ART recently completed its 13th PI. Additionally, there are more than 200 Lean-Agile teams across Enterprise IT, encompassing over 3,000 people. Functional and business portfolios are adopting lightweight Lean-Agile values and practices as part of their day-to-day activities.

“This way of working has spread across the organization,” Salam says. “It’s changing the way we deliver for the customer, the way we hire and do our budgeting, and is continuously extending further and further into the business.”

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Standard Bank: The Journey to Agile at Scale

Presented at 2017 SAFe Summit by Alex Keyter, Lean-Agile Coach at Standard Bank

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Standard Bank embarked on a transformation journey in 2014 with IT initiating approximately 600 projects annually to help keep the bank at the leading edge. Historically, teams completed only a small percentage of projects within the defined timeframe, budget, and scope.

A visit to Silicon Valley’s top technology companies by our IT executives triggered the start of a number of Lean Agile proof-of-concepts, showcasing the potential of Agility in the enterprise. However, their efforts stalled when they attempted to expand beyond a few development teams working in isolation.

With a clear IT strategy in place, the bank turned to the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) and gained support from executives to forge ahead with deploying the Scaled Agile Framework across the organization. Prior to launching the first Agile Release Train, significant time was spent on designing Portfolios, Programs and Teams. Standard Bank also initiated programs that focused on transforming management and leadership; developing a culture that fosters autonomy mastery and purpose; and re-skilling individuals to return to the heart of IT as software engineers, quality engineers, and user experience analysts.

With a large number of ARTs already in their third and fourth Program Increment, the value of the transformation is tangible with the motivated staff producing quality, more frequent, predictable delivery. Coupled with the successes, Standard Bank drives continuous improvement through role maturity, enhanced engineering capability and ART optimization.

Read the full case study.

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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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