SAFe® at AT&T

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What started with a small Agile group in 2012 has evolved into a growing effort to scale Agile across AT&T—a large enterprise with 200,000+ employees. In this episode, Mary Ellen Ferrara, who leads the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence, and Chandra Srivastava, an Agile coach in the AT&T Enterprise Agile Center of Excellence, share their SAFe journey at the company.

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“Many people in organizations think they are just too complex to have that business agility. However, as a company, AT&T proved that we could pivot and establish new ways of working to meet an urgent need.”  —Mary Ellen Ferrara

What started with a small Agile group in 2012 has evolved into a growing effort to scale Agile across AT&T—a large enterprise with 200,000+ employees. In this episode, Mary Ellen Ferrara, who leads the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE), and Chandra Srivastava, an Agile coach in the AT&T Enterprise Agile Center of Excellence (ACOE), share their SAFe journey at the company.

Tamara, Mary Ellen, and Chandra cover topics including:

  • What model the ACOE adopted to extend its reach  
  • How COVID created a new sense of urgency at AT&T
  • How the LACE identified its change champions
  • What’s next for SAFe at AT&T

Hosted by: Tamara Nation

Tamara is a results-driven servant leader. She has a proven track record of motivating high-performing teams to deliver positive outcomes in complex, matrixed environments. To help organizations achieve their goals, Tamara channels her unwavering persistence to face and solve complex challenges. Find Tamara on LinkedIn.

Guest: Mary Ellen Ferrara

Mary Ellen is a SAFe SPC leading the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE). She taps into her extensive experience defining and leading enterprise-wide Agile transformations to help enterprises build trust, empower executives and teams to align and pivot to new ways of working, measure progress, and become self-sufficient in driving better business outcomes for their customers. Connect with Mary Ellen on LinkedIn.

Guest: Chandra Srivastava

Chandra is an experienced enterprise Agile coach at Eliassen Group, and a consulting enterprise Agile coach at AT&T. She enables digital transformation by leveraging Lean, Agile, and DevOps ways of working and helps shape outcomes that deliver value to customers. Connect with Chandra on LinkedIn.

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Looking for the latest news experiences and answers to questions about SAFe? You’ve come to the right place. This podcast is for you. The SAFe community of practitioners, trainers, users, and everyone who engages SAFe on a daily basis.

Tamara Nation:

Welcome to the SAFe Business Agility podcast recorded from our homes around the world. I’m Tamara Nation, your host for today’s episode. Joining me today are Mary Ellen Ferrara, who’s leading the AT&T Business Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE), and Chandra Srivastava, Agile coach in the AT&T Enterprise Agile Center of Excellence (ACOE). Thank you both for joining me today, Mary Ellen and Chandra, I’m excited to have you here.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Thanks, Tamara. We’re excited too.

Chandra Srivastava:

Thanks for inviting us, Tamara. It’s really good to be here.

Tamara Nation:

So today, you’re here to share your story about SAFe at AT&T. I am excited to hear this. Let’s get started. How did AT&T get started with SAFe and why?

Chandra Srivastava:

So, a small Agile group was founded at AT&T around 2012. This developed into an Agile center of excellence. After a few years, the Agile center of excellence started with SAFe to help the company adopt Agile at scale. Now AT&T is a very large enterprise with well over 200,000 employees. The size of the workforce means that a group like the ACOE is limited in how much of the enterprise we can help at any one time. So in the last couple of years, as part of our evolution, we have adopted a hub-and-spoke operating model at the ACOE in order to extend our reach to the whole company. We sit in the center of this model as the hub, supporting the development of different spokes across the enterprise that become Lean-Agile centers of excellence (or LACEs). Operating in this model, we are able to harness and grow the power of change agents in different pockets of the enterprise. This is how the ACOE fosters sufficiently powerful guiding coalitions, that form the LACEs, working on transformation backlogs of improvement items in their areas.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

I absolutely agree with Chandra. Growing change agents across the enterprise using the hub-and-spoke network was really pivotal in our transformation to a new level at AT&T. I moved into the technical modernization and management department in May of 2021 to establish, build, and lead the AT&T Business spoke LACE. And as Scaled Agile indicates, creating a LACE is often one of the key differentiators between companies practicing Agile in name only. And those that are fully committed to adopting Lean-Agile practices and getting the best business outcomes. So, this was a huge undertaking, and we all know that accepting change is hard for many people, but defining what needs to change and leading an organization to mobilize and adopt new ways of working is even harder.

Tamara Nation:

So, how did you get started with that?

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Fortunately, I was dedicated to the effort. I had a VP sponsor and the support of the Agile COE to help get the LACE off the ground. So how did I get it started? Well, that was easy. I used the SAFe implementation roadmap to define our path forward. As we know, reaching the tipping point is the first crucial step in the SAFe implementation roadmap. And at AT&T, like Chandra had indicated, we’ve been practicing various levels of SAFe and Lean-Agile for several years, but when COVID came, this gave us a renewed sense of urgency to react quickly and have the business agility to meet those changing needs of our business customers. When COVID hit in March of 2020, it was truly amazing how quickly AT&T Business pivoted to provide the connectivity needed by businesses, schools, hospitals, and the community. Our new and existing customers needed to establish and grow their online presence to survive and thrive. In our new reality, we didn’t have six to nine months to build out new offerings to meet the changing market demand. We had to be Agile, quick, and give our customers what they needed in the shortest sustainable time to be able to operate their businesses. This renewed sense of urgency was very helpful in gaining buy-in that we needed.

Tamara Nation:

I think that’s really amazing, those moments when the company can change because you don’t think a company of 200,000 people can pivot like that. I think that’s such a good story.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

It really was amazing. Sometimes I find that many people in organizations think they are just too complex to have that business agility. However, as a company, AT&T proved that we could pivot and establish new ways of working to meet an urgent need. And now we need to take these learnings, establish a Lean-Agile culture, and consistently and predictably deliver faster, better business solutions for our customers. So how did we do that? The next steps in the roadmap are to train Lean-Agile change agents, train executives, managers, and leaders, and create a Lean-Agile center of excellence. I didn’t follow the steps in exactly that order. Instead, I started with the LACE toolkit and we performed a LACE workshop. We included key people on our leadership team in the workshop to define our charter, target our initial stakeholders, and identify our LACE members. As Chandra indicated AT&T is very large and AT&T Business is also a very large organization with approximately 46 VP areas. So it was important to level-set on which areas we would target first to get the LACE going and then pull in more areas. As we gained momentum, we were basically building the LACE minimum viable product. We started with six VP organizations, which were a mix of business teams and solution delivery teams. And we included members from these six organizations and trained them as SAFe Program Consultants, otherwise known as SPCs or SAFe trainers and coaches, to form a guiding coalition of LACE champions.

Chandra Srivastava:

So, Mary Ellen, as you spoke, getting to a tipping point to form a LACE can be crucial. Helping people get the training they need is a very important step. The Agile COE in collaboration with the AT&T Business LACE brought the Implementing SAFe course in-house, which was a first for us. Jennifer Fawcett from Scaled Agile and Charlene Newton were our instructors for this class. We trained 30 SPCs in this SAFe certification course. I’d like to share an experiment we adopted for this class. We set up coaching cohorts from the ACOE and with Mary Ellen for each of the five breakout rooms to enhance the virtual classroom experience for the learners. This is how we extended the ACOE’s reach and provided additional coaching support for the class. After the SPC class, there has been a great deal of interest in what’s going on with the AT&T Business spoke as part of the hub-and-spoke operating model. We at the ACOE hold monthly sync meetings to help all spokes across the enterprise to network and connect. Several groups in the enterprise are seeking out Mary Ellen for her advice on how to model their spokes and advance LACE formation in their areas.

Tamara Nation:

I think that’s pretty inspiring as you were talking about what happened in March of 2020 for you, the way you were able to pivot. I know I personally benefited from AT&T supporting us as we were moving to remote work in various ways through their mobile work. So, I’m really curious. How did you find the people who wanted to be change agents?

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Well, our grassroots efforts only got us so far when you bring in a coach from an outside organization. A lot of time is spent understanding the organization, how it works and establishing trust with the organization before you can really make an impact. I decided to take a different approach to establish trust between the LACE and our VP organization and leaders. With the support from my VP sponsor, I reached out to the VPs and asked them to identify one to two people in their organization to take the SPC certification course. I did advise that these people would be responsible for championing the change within their organization. This gave the VPs the opportunity to select the people that they trusted as change agents. I honestly expected to only get five to 10 champions. I was amazed at the response and the different roles that stepped up and were interested in becoming champions.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

We had people from AT&T Business take the SPC training along with others at AT&T in mid-October 2021. This included assistant vice presidents, directors, product managers, architects, RTEs, and scrum masters—a very broad scope of people. Additionally, we reached out to all SPCs across AT&T Business to join our guiding coalition. And currently, we have 46 LACE champions. Once trained, we established our meeting cadence, strategy, and initial goals before we pulled in our AVPs and VPs to show them the progress that we had made in three to four months. These LACE champions have become influencers and the organizations they’re guiding have just taken off.

Tamara Nation:

That’s pretty impressive, Mary Ellen. So, tell us a little bit more about how you were using these LACE champions and how they were leveraging the SAFe implementation roadmap.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Sure, Tamara. Following our SPC training, we had a VP organization ready to go SAFe. So, we trained their executives, leaders, and managers, and we followed up with the next step in the implementation roadmap: identify value streams and ARTs. Running a value stream and ART identification workshop was very rewarding. Going through the silos that impacted their flow of value was an eye-opening experience for the team. We all left with a collective view of the end-to-end operational value stream, the steps the organization supported in that end-to-end flow, and the systems and people that supported those steps. And we were able to define our development value stream and supporting ARTs, otherwise known as Agile Release Trains, to optimize team and ART size, minimize dependencies, and really improve the flow of value. We recognized that initially, we would slow down before we could go faster, and we were able to set expectations accordingly.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

With a defined solution train, we set our launch date, created our implementation plan, and prepared for launch. The next step in the implementation roadmap was to train teams and launch the ART. I facilitated the SAFe for Teams class with 157 virtual learners. This was our first big room virtual training, and a little bit intimidating how we were going to do this. But what really made this successful was pulling in SPCs from our LACE and the Agile COE to help coach each of the nine breakout groups, similar to what Chandra had done in the Implementing SAFe class earlier. And these newly trained LACE champions launched a solution train with four ARTs and suppliers in February. It’s amazing to see the enthusiasm and drive when you equip your organization with the knowledge and framework to drive better business outcomes. And we were also very fortunate to have the Agile COE coaches to help us with our big room training.

Chandra Srivastava:

Yes, Mary Ellen, the Agile COE coaches that participated in this training workshop were instrumental in helping train such a large virtual group, and they enjoyed it. And this training has also been a key step in your implementation roadmap. The AT&T Business LACE has established momentum and has engaged their leadership successfully. And I believe this has been the secret sauce for them.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Absolutely. Engaging leadership is the main ingredient in the secret sauce to building a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition. Our LACE champions are excited and motivated to support the change, but you can only go so far without leadership leading the change. To engage our leadership, we performed a two-day Lean-Agile executive workshop for AVPs and VP executives across seven organizations in AT&T Business. And this was in early January of 2022. Our LACE sponsor kicked off the meeting with an inspiring discussion around, why SAFe, which I followed up with speed-to-market metrics for 2021 showing how SAFe improves speed to market by well over 50 percent. And that having the LACE support to grow that competency within each organization really supports their ability to drive better business outcomes. We had 24 people attend over the two days and they were focused and engaged.

Tamara Nation:

Well, that’s hard to do for anyone in this setting these days. How did you get that kind of commitment from so many executives and what did you do to keep them engaged over those two days?

Chandra Srivastava:

Magic, Tamara. I think the magic ingredient has been Mary Ellen’s ability to be very contextual and make things relevant to AT&T. She brought in customized material that the executives could quickly relate to. Also, our enterprises at an inflection point and is driving a new way of working. We have the rollout of a Lean portfolio management approach, and that has provided a sense of urgency and helped us pivot for transformation.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Absolutely. To demonstrate that SAFe is not a one and done, it’s a journey of relentless improvement, we performed a business agility assessment on day one of the Lean SAFe workshop. Establishing this baseline really provided a collective view of where we are as a LACE and as an organization. They’ve really enjoyed talking through the assessment questions to determine collectively where we were on the business agility scale. We also performed a silos exercise that looked at all the elements impacting flow so that the executives could clearly see what issues all the organizations were facing. And it was really telling that all the VP organizations were facing similar issues.

Tamara Nation:

So you’ve really come so far in this journey. What’s next for SAFe at AT&T?

Chandra Srivastava:

Well, we are encouraging all business units at AT&T to form LACEs and build their transformation backlogs very much like the AT&T Business LACE.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Yes, absolutely. And at the LACE level, we’re even taking it a step further and encouraging each VP organization to form their own LACE team and build their transformation backlog. We’re also using a business agility scorecard and assessments across AT&T Business to measure adoption outcomes, flow, and competency, and setting key performance indicators to measure and showcase the value of the AT&T Business LACE in driving these better business outcomes. I’m also working on becoming an internal AT&T SAFe SPC trainer. And currently, I hope to complete the nomination requirements by the end of this month. If I am selected and complete the certification requirements, that will allow me to train more Scaled Agile change agents across AT&T Business and the company using our hub-and-spoke model.

Tamara Nation:

Well, good luck in that journey to an iSPCT. That’s great, Mary Ellen. So, what have you learned so far and what advice do you have to give the folks listening to the podcast today?

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

This isn’t necessarily in order. Having seasoned SPCs that are dedicated to the LACE and each organization to coach, train, and drive relentless improvement—establishing trust and engaging varying levels of leadership as LACE champions. Following the SAFe implementation roadmap and leveraging the toolkits and resources that are available on the SAFe Community Platform. And last but not least, meeting teams where they are and working with them to become more Agile.

Chandra Srivastava:

Great points, Mary Ellen, it’s definitely a journey. What I really feel is that transformation needs to be intentional. Not only does it require supporting change agents in the enterprise, it also requires sponsorship and support from leaders along the business agility journey. We are constantly working to get buy-in from leadership in other business units, in order to keep moving forward.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Regarding leadership, we took the approach: build it, and they will come. So, get your LACE team trained as SPCs, and then encourage each organization to form their own internal teams to drive transformation forward by coaching and training internally. Having trusted champions in each organization is key. When the leadership starts seeing the results, they will come to you to understand more.

Tamara Nation:

Oh, Mary Ellen and Chandra, thanks so much for sharing your story. And we are really looking forward to hearing about the next chapter of SAFe at AT&T.

Mary Ellen Ferarra:

Thank you, Tamara, for giving us this opportunity and having us on your podcast. This was great.

Chandra Srivastava:

Yes. Thank you. It was really a great conversation.

Tamara Nation:

Thanks for listening to our show today. Be sure to check out the show notes at scaledagile.com/podcast. Revisit past topics at scaledagile.com/podcasts

Speaker 1: For more than 75 episodes. You’ve heard us mention how relentless improvement is in our DNA. That’s why we’re taking a break with the SAFe Business Agility Podcast to reimagine it for its next iteration. If you have a suggestion on how we can improve the show, drop us a line at podcast@scaledagile.com.

Deutsche Telekom: Mission Possible – Story of SAFe

The Ongoing Story of SAFe at a Major European Telco

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

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

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

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

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

Back to: Customer Stories

Next: Porsche Customer Story

Nokia Software

Customer Interview: SAFe Improves Predictability and Team Collaboration at Nokia Software

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Dean Leffingwell sits down with Juha Rossi and Johanna Reunanen to talk about leading an agile transformation inside one of the world’s most recognizable technology brands. In this candid interview, they share the story behind Nokia Software’s transformation, and what it’s like implementing and practicing SAFe in such a large and complex organization. They also describe the challenges of aligning 40+ ARTs and many solution trains, and how agile practices bring improvements in productivity, customer experience, and quality.

Presented at the Global SAFe Summit, October, 2020

Back to: Customer Stories

Next: NTT Data Customer Story

Cisco

Cisco - SAFe for Agile development

“Continuous delivery improved quality, increased productivity, and improved the employee experience.”

Ashish Pandey, Technical Lead, CSIT Team

Challenge:

Cisco wanted to shift away from waterfall, and replace periodic major releases with continuous delivery of new features.

Industry:

Information Technology, Telecommunications

Results:

Cisco achieved significant improvements by using SAFe on two major projects:

  • 16% drop in the defect rejected ratio (DRR)
  • 40% decrease in critical and major defects
  • 14% increase in defect removal efficiency (DRE)
  • Improved employee satisfaction by eliminating the need for after-hours work and reducing meetings/calls
  • 25 percent fewer quality assurance defects
  • Sprints that ran more efficiently each subsequent time

Best Practices:

  • Carefully build teams – Build teams with the best members from any location.
  • Assemble the right tools – Cisco realized it could not have conducted regression testing every two weeks without test automation tools.
  • Adjust as needed – For un-integrated or loosely integrated products, features or components, consider eliminating the Program level of SAFe.

Introduction

Cisco IT constantly looks for new ways to go faster and simplify. As part of its digital IT strategy, the Cisco Cloud and Software IT (CSIT) organization wanted to adopt more Agile development as a way to replace periodic major releases with continuous delivery of new features.

Cisco - SAFe for Agile development

“Our goals are to speed up releases, increase productivity, and improve quality,” says Ashish Pandey, technical lead for the CSIT team.

Although a few small teams had adopted Agile techniques, waterfall was still the norm for teams that were large, distributed, or working on complex projects.

To solve these challenges, CSIT moved to the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) and immediately began applying Agile practices on two major initiatives: their Subscription Billing Platform, and Webex app for Samsung tablets.

Cisco® Subscription Billing Platform Challenge

For its Subscription Billing Platform (SBP)—which supports various subscription services—the company originally formed different teams for design, build, test and deploy. In waterfall fashion, each team began work once the previous team had completed their part.

Cisco - SAFe for Agile development
  • The separate tracks bogged down the process
  • Release cycles exceeded three months
  • They got late closure on requirements documents
  • Teams missed delivery dates
  • There were quality issues due to late integration cycles
  • Teams worked long hours to make up for schedule slippage

The Solution

  • On SBP, Cisco launched three Agile Release Trains (ARTs) in 2015: capabilities, defects and fixes, and projects.
  • All three trains worked together to build and test small features within one SaaS component, while regularly delivering tested features to the system integration and testing team.
  • Every day, the delivery team met for 15 minutes and determined action items.

Results – 40% Defect Reduction

Cisco delivered the new release of SBP on time and with all planned capabilities. When the company compared this release to those using waterfall, it found a 16 percent drop in the defect rejected ratio (DRR). Plus, critical and major defects decreased by 40 percent.

Continuous delivery also increased defect removal efficiency (DRE) by 14 percent due to greater collaboration among international teams, and by helping members identify opportunities for improvement during daily meetings.

Cisco - SAFe for Agile development

The CSIT team attributes those quality improvements to several factors:

  • Improving team collaboration and focus
  • Enabling all team members to see current project status, promoting accountability
  • Helping the three teams see beyond their own track
  • Enabling teams to manage themselves

Additionally, the new way of working improved employee satisfaction by eliminating the need for after-hours work and reducing meetings and calls. Employees also saw how they fit into the bigger picture.

WebEx® App for Samsung

Challenge

In early 2014, the application for WebEx Meetings came pre-installed on Android tablets. Leading up to the release, developers had to work quickly to meet the release date, despite frequently changing requirements.

Solution

The team followed an Agile Scrum framework with three sprints for geographic rollout, the first two consisting of three weeks and the last of five weeks.

During planning, Cisco IT and others gathered requirements, and evaluated the readiness of environments, partners, and engineering and marketing teams.
Developers employed extreme programming, including test-driven development, where they first write an automated test case for a new function. Then they produced the minimal amount of code needed to pass the test and then refined code to make it simpler and easier to maintain.

Results – 25% Reduction in Quality Assurance Defects

On the WebEx app, Cisco reduced quality assurance defects by 25 percent. Plus, with developers checking code in several times a day, the business group reviewed new features sooner in the cycle than before. And each sprint ran more efficiently than the last.

Ultimately, Samsung sold more than 35 million tablets with the new app, creating wide exposure for the brand.

Back to: All Case Studies

Suggested Case Study: Royal Philips

Telia Finland

“SAFe seemed like a 1-to-1 match for us. Someone had already come up with a model to address our needs, which brought better requirements management, prioritization, governance, and a common language for the entire organization.”

Risto Reinikainen, Head of Lean Agile Center of Excellence, Telia Finland

Challenge:

In the competitive, fast-moving telecom market, Telia Finland sought to deliver more capabilities to customers, but that longstanding waterfall methods kept it from moving forward.

Industry:

Telecommunications

Solution:

SAFe®

Results:

  • 39 percent more capabilities than before
  • 34 percent less cost
  • 94 percent accuracy delivering on commitments for a major rebranding
  • Teams deliver incrementally and more often
  • People are more engaged in and satisfied with their work

Best Practices:

  • Don’t skip training – Telia trained as many people as possible on Leading SAFe and Implementing SAFe, with many earning SAFe® Agilist (SA) and SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) certifications. When they hit the critical mass, everything began running more and more smoothly.
  • Get help, especially in the beginning – Telia engaged partners for training and guidance for the first one to two years to speed up implementation
  • Prepare suppliers – The company provided way of working documentation (WoW) and training for suppliers
  • Plan ahead – Do your homework on epics and features, and prepare carefully for ceremonies, especially for PI Planning

The partner that made it happen:

Introduction

Telia is a leading telecom operator in the Nordic and Baltic regions with 21,000 employees and 84.2 billion SEK ($9.46 billion USD) in net sales. Telia Finland is a major player in the Finnish market with operations on mobile, broadband, fixed line, and TV.

Within the country, multiple companies compete for a share of the telecom market. To stay ahead of the competition, in 2011 Telia Finland began a transformation initiative to deliver innovations to customers faster. At the time, the company struggled with infrequent and often delayed releases—about every nine to 12 months—and quality issues, with various groups placing the blame on others.

telecom and SAFe

“The market, especially in the mobile business, is constantly changing,” said Risto Reinikainen, Head of Lean Agile Center of Excellence at Telia Finland. “To compete, we have to be very proactive and agile in bringing out cutting-edge offerings.”

To that end, individual teams and projects spent several years applying more or less homegrown practices to achieve goals, including improving communication, putting more emphasis on statements of work, better requirements management, and close follow-up of activities. Yet none of these disparate activities produced the results they sought and most projects continued in waterfall.

SAFe®: A Perfect Fit

Driven by an urgent need to change, Telia researched Agile methodologies. When they came across SAFe, it seemed like a perfect fit for their objectives.

“SAFe seemed like a 1-to-1 match for us,” Reinikainen said. “Someone had already come up with a model to address most of our needs, which brought better requirements management, prioritization, governance, and a common language for the entire organization.”

To begin the journey of adopting the Framework, Telia engaged partners such as Scaled Agile Partner CGI for training and coaching. Partners initially trained approximately 100 people on Leading SAFe®. The next natural step was to train Telia’s own people on Implementing SAFe®. During the fall of 2016, four people earned SAFe® Program Consultant (SPC) certification and began leading training as well.

The company kicked off its first Program Increment (PI) in 2015. Since many within the company had worked with loose Agile concepts previously, most individuals were ready and willing to embrace a more mature framework. Yet, the first few PIs did not go as smoothly as hoped as people were still getting accustomed to the new terminology and method. The structure, however, kept people engaged and with a clearer vision about their roles.

“The First Planning sessions were more or less chaotic,” Reinikainen said. ”Epics and features were far too big and not mature enough; routines and tools were missing; some teams were still waterfalling their sprints; and areas such as test automation and configuration management were not ready for Agile operations.”

The company applied that experience and devised various steps to prepare people for PIs. They trained as many people as possible on Leading SAFe® with many earning SAFe® Agilist (SA) certifications. To that, they added their own ”war stories” to educate team members and give them more insight throughout the training.

To prepare suppliers to join Agile Release Trains (ARTs), Telia created a guidelines document on working with Telia and applying SAFe, and a workshop to reinforce the concepts. Every few weeks, coaches followed up with suppliers to ensure they were working in the new model. The common language of SAFe effectively unified the internal and external team members across locations.

Once Telia reached around 200-250 people trained, Reinikainen noticed a new synergy; people were using the same terminology and applying the concepts more cohesively and naturally. Today, the company has trained more than 400 people. They promote continuous improvement and best practices with Communities of Practice.

An Answer for Complexity: Large Solution Level SAFe

telecom and SAFe

Initially, Telia began with Program-level SAFe, but then moved to Portfolio-level SAFe. More recently, they moved to Full SAFe, including SAFe’s Large Solution level, to accommodate complexity, which includes more than 200 systems, many dependencies, and numerous external suppliers. Particularly, the Large Solution level offers the roles, artifacts, and processes for larger, multi-year projects such as those at Telia.

From Telia’s perspective, Full SAFe and SAFe’s Large Solution level brought much-needed additions:

  • More transparency to all development activities and resourcing
  • Coordination and synchronization between waterfall projects and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  • Control, visibility, and transparency to connect all trains, suppliers, and programs
  • Greater value creation with one prioritized portfolio backlog

“Large Solution SAFe brought a systematic approach to our complex environment that we definitely needed in order to coordinate our work,” said Nina Pakkanen, a Solution Train Engineer (STE) at Telia.

In Inspect & Adapt sessions at the close of PIs, comments from team members confirmed that the Large Solution level had achieved what Telia anticipated:

  • “Large Solution Level makes epics more concrete prior to actual implementation.”
  • “Capability and feature-level analysis are much clearer now.”
  • “Transparency and collaboration with the business has improved a lot.”

Additionally, Telia consolidated from seven development portfolios into a single operational one that includes all B2B, B2C, B2O, and channel solutions—resulting in better visibility into resources, activities, and priorities. Before, the various portfolios competed for the same resources and projects.

Pulling Off a Rebrand—On Time

In 2017, when the company rebranded under the name Telia Finland, SAFe provided essential structure to coordinate the many pieces. Overnight, everything had to be branded with the Telia Finland name, from the website to napkins.

With everyone committed to the goal, they delivered smoothly by the target date. What’s more, they did so with 94 percent accuracy on their commitments.

“At night it was the old name, and in the morning everything was under the new name,” Pakkanen said. “It was truly a success that we carried out such a big initiative on time.”

Delivering More, and More Often

Telia currently runs two Agile Release Trains and two Large Solution Trains with around 350 people. Since moving to SAFe, the company has noted quantitative and qualitative results to show its progress:

  • More capabilities – The development organization delivers approximately 39 percent more capabilities than before
  • Greater predictability – Telia has much-improved insight into what’s coming in the next one to two years
  • Cost reduction – Telia reduced the price per developed capability by around 34 percent
  • More frequent delivery – Teams deliver incrementally and more often
  • Higher engagement – Leaders note that people are more engaged in and satisfied with their work

Such results have helped earn middle management buy-in for the transformation; their commitment has increased in step with results.

“People know the old way doesn’t work, and they are now seeing that SAFe is a better approach,” Pakkanen said. “We’ve demonstrated that, even on the largest projects, this creates more communication, more transparency, and more progress.”

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Suggested Case Study: Swisscom

Swisscom – Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

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

Simon Berg, Agile Program Manager, Swisscom Entertainment Projects

Challenge:

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

Industry:

Telecommunications

Solution:

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

Results:

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

Best Practices:

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

Introduction

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

Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

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

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

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

SAFe: The Blueprint Swisscom Sought

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

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

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

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

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

Finally: Big-Room Success

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

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

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

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

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

More Flexible in a Fast-Changing Market

Agility Planning with SAFe for Telecom

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

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

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

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

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

Code Ready in Six Weeks

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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Suggested Case Study: Amdocs

Amdocs – Implementing SAFe in Telecommunications

Our time-to-value has gone down using the SAFe® process. If reaching production would normally take 1½ years, now it could be eight months with the new processes and approach.

Hrishikesh Karekar, Lead Agile Coach, Amdocs

Challenge:

Long scoping and development times failed to keep pace with the rate of change happening within Amdocs’ client organizations.

Industry:

Software, Telecommunications

Results:

  • More frequent deliveries to production
  • 30% faster delivery for user acceptance testing
  • Monthly demos to customers, enabling early feedback and better alignment with customer expectations
  • System stabilization time down from six weeks to less than a week

Best Practices:

  • Follow SAFe Closely—Instead of modifying the approach for the company, Amdocs chose to follow the Scaled Agile Framework as closely as possible.
  • Leverage Gamification—Gamification, and early successes, motivated teams to push on and commit to the change.

The partner that made it happen:

Introduction

In the complex and competitive communications industry, many of the world’s largest telecom and entertainment players turn to Amdocs for customer care, billing and order management systems. At the $3.6 billion company, more than 24,000 employees serve customers in over 90 countries.

Implementing SAFe in Telecommunications

The Amdocs portfolio includes a full set of BSS/OSS capabilities on a variety of platforms and technologies to support communication service providers. Projects can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to complete, requiring close collaboration across widely distributed teams. The Amdocs Delivery organization comprises approximately 5,000 professionals around the world.

In this challenging environment, Amdocs sought ways to improve quality and delivery times. The time from initial scoping to delivery simply stretched too long for the rate of change happening for Amdocs’ customers. Amdocs Delivery had been experimenting with ways to be Agile; however the need for a more structured approach was evident given projects’ scale and complexity.

“We were working in big blocks,” says Levana Barkai, a Lead of Center of Excellence in the Amdocs Israeli office. “Even scoping requirements with the customer could take a year. Only after we closed in on the bits and bytes of customer requirements (long phase of ~8 months) we started the next phases of design, development and testing. But then we would realize that the customer already has new requirements we needed to address. We needed to be more flexible to customers’ changing needs.”

Choosing a Proven, Enterprise-Level Framework

After evaluating several options to scale Agile, Amdocs Delivery decided to adopt the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) for a number of reasons. For one, the Framework offered a proven, public-facing method of applying Lean and Agile practices at an enterprise level. The Framework also offered the level of detail the company needed to truly roll out the practices at every level of the organization, and to do so quickly.

In late 2014, executives, managers and leaders began SAFe certification training, followed by teams. As they began applying Agile practices to real projects, the Delivery Transformation team, comprised of Agile Coaches, guided the implementation and execution. Unlike previous efforts at applying Agile methods, this time the company took a more disciplined approach to more closely align the implementation to the framework to reap the benefits of industry learnings.

Barkai said, “This time we’re doing it differently. We’re taking industry best practices and not modifying them for Amdocs. We set the expectation that we are implementing SAFe as is.”

Upping Adoption through Gamification

Gamification played a big role in the change management strategy, especially to drive the adoption of new practices at the Team level. One of the successful gamification techniques included “FLIP,” a game that requires teams to check items off a checklist to ensure Scrum ceremonies are done in the true spirit. Teams earn points based on how quickly they complete the checklists.

Implementing SAFe in Telecommunications

FLIP stands for:

Finish–The team finished the current iteration fully

Learn–Teams performed a retrospective to learn for the future

Improve–The retrospective resulted in specific items that teams can focus on to improve in the next iteration

Plan–Teams completed the iteration planning ceremony and are ready to begin execution for the next iteration

As teams “FLIP-ed,” they took selfie photos and posted them on physical boards with their marked checklists. Only the teams themselves checked whether criteria were really achieved—to prevent the game from being perceived as a monitoring tool.

The FLIP game drove several successful outcomes:

  • Deeper understanding–To win, teams had to review the checklist, encouraging them to delve into the details of the process broadening the number of people with a detailed understanding of the new process.
  • More discipline–More teams began following Scrum in a disciplined way, helping Amdocs Delivery achieve the new status quo much faster.

“Using gamification for Scrum adoption resulted in better outcomes,” says Hrishikesh Karekar, Lead Agile Coach. “It helped us boost motivation, better the engagement and drive positive behavioral change in teams. Most important of all, the teams loved the process and had fun.”

Delighted Customers

Team members also found reward in seeing the new process produce customer satisfaction and real results. After initial hesitance to share early and frequent demos with customers, team members were pleasantly surprised by customer reactions.

“Customers were really delighted,” Barkai says. “They have been giving us great feedback about seeing the system in such an early state. Now teams understand that this is the key to success.”

“We reduced the time to take an idea to production,” adds Karekar. “Our time to value has gone down using the SAFe process. If reaching production would normally take 1½ years, now it could be eight months with the new processes and approach.”

On average, the company has quantified delivery for user acceptance testing 30 percent faster—a major indication of value for Amdocs. Demos take place every two weeks to two months, instead of the previous four months at a minimum.

Likewise, system stabilization time has shortened in step with quality improvements, from six weeks to less than a week. And with more stability comes greater predictability in the early stages.

Next Steps

Word has spread quickly about early teams’ success, with many initiatives now running on SAFe. And management is encouraging company-wide rollout of the Framework, a goal coaches expect to reach by early next year.

“It’s not theory anymore,” Barkai says. “Now we have a lot of evidence that SAFe works. The success with SAFe implementation has generated a lot of interest in raising the bar for excellence, and laid a great foundation for the DevOps journey.”

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Suggested Case Study: Telstra

Telstra

Telstra - SAFe Telcom

Industry:

Telecommunications

Overview

Telstra is Australia’s leading provider of mobile phones, mobile devices, home phones and broadband internet. When Telstra’s Enterprise Data Warehouse delivery team began their Agile journey, they scaled from 1 to 5 teams in a matter of months and found themselves struggling to make the leap from agile projects to an Agile program. “After reading Dean Leffingwell’s Scaling Software Agility and Agile Software Requirements,” notes Mark Richards (Agile Coach) and Em Campbell-Pretty (General Manager, EDW Delivery), “we were inspired to establish Telstra’s first Agile Release Train.” Later, they both followed up with SPC certification to further enhance their knowledge and skills.

Telstra - SAFe Telcom

This presentation, from Agile Australia 2013 in June, covers how SAFe provided a recipe for success, reflecting on how Telstra translated Program-level SAFe theory into practice, transforming not only the delivery capability of the EDW team, but also the culture. Adopting Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework, the Theory and the Practice.

Most importantly, they are getting great business results, including:

  • Average delivery cycle time down from 12 month to 3 months
  • 6X increased in delivery frequency
  • 50% cost to deliver reduction
  • 95% decrease in product defects
  • 100% projects delivered on time and on budget
  • Happy project sponsors
  • Happy teams

As we noted, Em and Mark placed an early emphasis on rapidly evolving the culture that supports Lean-Agile development, and they had some fun with it too, as you can see if you check out the The Power of Haka! on Em’s PrettyAgile blog.

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Suggested Case Study:

Telia Finland