Leveraging the Agile approach
To make a switch to agile, the traditional AMS plan with KPIs for time-to-resolution and various other ticketing metrics had to be scrapped. In addition, the client needed a collaborative partner willing to forgo the old ways of demonstrating success and become part of a unified team collectively accountable for delivering value.
The company started with a simple whiteboard and sticky notes – one for each ticket in the backlog. There were over a thousand. Most of them had at least some work started. A daily standup was born with a simple laptop camera facing the whiteboard. Team members from the US, India, and around the world gathered for a 15-minute session to identify and remove daily obstacles.
Over time, some guiding principles stood out as having the most impact:
- Focus on finishing over starting
- Minimize work-in-progress (WIP)
- Adopt a pull system
- Reduce or eliminate switch-tasking
- It's not a who problem; it's a what problem
Story points and daily standup meetings
The client needed to measure the performance of development teams, and to that end, they started assigning story points to tickets using numbers from the Fibonacci series. This enabled performance monitoring for things like team velocity and flow time. Additionally, it helped estimate completion dates for work items in the backlog. The 15-minute daily standup meetings that included Birlasoft and the client resulted in the rapid removal of impediments and blockers. This frequent and collaborative communication was the cornerstone of a fully engaged and aligned team.
Improving Speed and Quality
Progressing along the agile journey, the next stage of improvement was focused on speed and quality. A system was developed to monitor and visualize quality, Delivery, Innovation, Cost, and people metrics. Root Cause Analysis (RCA), Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), and other tools were used for Continuous Improvement efforts. Happiness meetings were held to understand each team member, the pain points, and what could be done to improve things. As active participants, Birlasoft made impactful contributions toward improving the quality of life for the whole team.
Improving Predictability and Accountability
Due dates run against the grain of agile software development. With Agile, the team is assumed to work as fast as possible. Therefore, attempting to add arbitrary target due dates only adds stress, pressure, and overtime. Nevertheless, the world outside the agile team operates on a calendar schedule. Therefore, the team needed to estimate when work would be done and then be accountable for those dates.
To accomplish this, a Heijunka cycle was added to control the mix of work, break the work into manageable buckets, and deliver smaller iterations. Refinement meetings were added to ensure user stories were sufficiently understandable and had appropriate criteria for completion. Retrospectives were held to look back and evaluate how things went during a heijunka cycle. A monthly management review was conducted to report progress up and around to other stakeholders. Business relationship managers were identified and engaged to ensure proper prioritization and sufficient value was being added.
Improving Planning and Communication
Things were going well where work was fully within the SyteLine team (which had expanded to include SyteLine-adjacent software). However, when work was dependent on other teams for completion, there were often delays and unproductive waiting times.
The client began product increment planning involving all teams on a quarterly schedule. Roadmaps were communicated, and other teams could see where future work would impact them so they could incorporate it into their planning. A new separate standup was created for each team to send one or more representatives to help clear cross-team impediments. Dashboards were created within Jira to improve the visibility of problem areas.