SITUATION AND BUSINESS CHALLENGE
A transportation and wireless communication company was struggling to define and operationalize processes and best practices that drive prioritization and execution of projects in its engineering organization. The organization lacked mature program and project leadership practices and utilized underdeveloped delivery practices and standards, creating difficulty in making project decisions and meeting program objectives. This ultimately led to project delays, stalls, and unrealized value. Some of the key contributing factors included:
- A software development process based in Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and Kanban but resembling waterfall with infrequent, large releases and fixed scope in sprints
- Immature and at times harmful agile and scrum tactics and practices
- No fully defined governance process for change requests, change management or release management processes at the program level
- Minimally adopted standards on templates, processes, and tools
- Inconsistent utilization of project coding and accounting, causing inaccuracies in reporting
- No method at scale for determining accurate resource needs and project costs
Business leaders lost trust that the internal engineering organization could deliver business value on time. Communication and mutual trust plummeted, driving top engineering talent to leave the company.
Engineering leaders knew that to get the opportunity to deliver their organization’s most exciting projects, they needed to improve their delivery planning and execution practices, agile execution and program management tooling and practices, and their team culture. After several unsuccessful engagements with agile consulting firms, the organization turned to AIM Consulting’s Delivery Leadership practice and its Enterprise Agility offering for guidance.
Two senior AIM Enterprise Agility consultants worked closely with the Associate Vice President of Engineering and business leaders to assess weaknesses, determine steps for improvement, and drive the organization to implement and adopt the changes necessary to get the engineering organization back on track. The project evolved in four critical stages:
AIM began with an intricate assessment of engineering-related business processes, Scrum ceremonies, and various elements that fed the frustration and angst on the engineering side. By embedding into sprint ceremonies and SAFe processes and observing and asking questions, AIM expeditiously determined why engineering projects went awry. Concurrently, AIM reviewed the engineering program and portfolio management processes and opportunities, identifying numerous loosely followed or broken processes and how they impacted downstream activities. AIM also determined requirements and built the business case for implementing a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution and helped select the vendor.
Improve and Implement
Next, AIM designed and delivered solutions to fix the broken elements:
- Presented 4-hour training courses to every engineering team to improve agile and SAFe planning and estimation. Open dialogue during these sessions enabled AIM to share its learnings on the root causes of delivery failures and enact better delivery practices.
- Smoothly implemented and configured a new Clarity PPM solution, along with 15 new templates, tools, and reference guides, and integrated the solution with Rally, the team’s agile sprint planning tool. The Clarity tool provided a single source of truth for all project execution, enabling more visibility and trust between the engineering and business sides.
- Produced a new SharePoint site as a repository for the templates, risk management, and new process documentation.
- Delivered risk-management training to engineering leadership.
- Built training material to run SAFe more effectively and prepared the release train engineer to deliver it.
- Sat in on additional sprint/SAFe ceremonies to provide consistent support and feedback and encourage healthier delivery practices.
- Introduced a new internal accounting process, finance codes, and financial forecasting process for the business, ensuring easier resource tracking and enabling all work to be billed appropriately to the correct projects.
AIM delivered a frank assessment to management of how its decisions, behavior, and communication style was perceived by scrum teams, and how to improve it. Seeking and assembling feedback — some of it anonymously — during the engagement, AIM related this information in meetings with leadership and built it into its training at all levels. Additionally, AIM led a full engineering-wide team meeting of nearly 100 workers to share this feedback.
These measures helped to earn trust at all organizational levels and enabled AIM to serve as an impartial counselor between workers and leadership. Without this trust, workers would have been far less likely to share their misgivings, and stakeholders would have little insight into how much they needed to change as well.
Turning the focus solely to leadership, AIM delivered management coaching to scrum and program leaders to encourage them to drive improvement continually. The training, along with maturity model assessments, was provided in weekly community practice meetings. By working with leadership through a book on emotional intelligence, AIM relayed healthier ways for management to communicate with and influence its workers — and become better leaders. AIM scored and ranked each scrum master according to the top eight characteristics for great agile coaches, and had scrum masters build their development plan to improve their skillsets to that level.
The trust that AIM’s Enterprise Agility engagement built between management and workers has given leadership much more confidence that engineering will deliver projects on time. Agile teams have also learned to trust in a more flexible delivery model and are more comfortable in an environment of uncertainty. Delivery reliability has improved by 1,500 basis points accordingly, with sprint teams no longer locking program increment commitments for long periods. With leveled up management skills, leaders are allowing teams to experiment with different development and delivery tactics as well.
AIM thoughtfully guided management and teams through a sea of change, succeeding where all other consulting firms had failed. AIM could have delivered training and collected its engagement fee and moved on. Still, it cared enough about the client partnership to provide the right guidance and deliver a highly successful engagement.
ABOUT AIM CONSULTING
AIM Consulting, an Addison Group company, is an award-winning industry leader in technology consulting and solutions delivery. AIM’s differentiation is our collaborative engagement model that provides cross-functional results. We work with clients, shoulder to shoulder, for one goal – their success. Founded in 2006, with offices in Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, Houston, and Chicago, we are ranked among the fastest-growing private companies and best companies to work for due to a long track record of success with our partners and consultants. Our long-term relationships with the best technology consulting talent allow us to deliver on expectations, execute on roadmaps and drive modern technology initiatives.