Software Quality & Organizational Effectiveness Improved through Technical Program Management

Case Study: Delivery Leadership

SITUATION & BUSINESS CHALLENGE

An international vacation rental company with more than 2 million units in 190 countries wanted to create two new products to enhance and support its homeowner marketplace platform:

  1. The first product was an analytics package to help vacation rental owners compare the performance of their rental property to competing properties in their local market.
  2. The second product was an internal enterprise-wide system to detect vacation rental owners who were utilizing the company’s platform but were circumventing transaction fees by directing potential travelers to purchase off-platform.  The system utilized extensive data mining, automation, and third party solutions such as Salesforce to identify and notify non-compliant rental owners.

The company encountered challenges delivering these products in part due to the technical organization created to build them. Many of the team members were new to the organization, worked remote in different geographical locations, and lacked domain knowledge. The technical organization was also shifting from a monolithic, on premise architecture to an agile SOA and AWS model. The CI/CD pipelines were in the early stages of maturity, so the platform was unstable for a large portion of the engagement. Finally, both of the new product initiatives relied on multiple teams with staggered starts, with focus shifting to the second product mid-way through, leaving the first initiative understaffed.

In addition, there were impediments to cross-team planning and development. The company had recently started to conduct quarterly and monthly planning sessions, but the planning was disconnected and only loosely informed sprint planning. Product commitments were made without input from engineering, and several of the teams operated on different sprint cadences with different sprint planning processes. Product management was spread too thin to provide consistent support.

The net result was that the company experienced fluctuating velocity and significant delays in delivery. To address the issues, the company needed more visibility into the delivery challenges and technical complexities impeding efficiency so that the core teams and leadership could understand the problems and coordinate more effectively.

Familiar with AIM Consulting’s Delivery Leadership capabilities and extensive experience in technical program management, the company reached out to AIM for expertise to help illuminate the obstacles, revamp their technical organization, and enable both products to launch successfully.

SOLUTION

AIM Consulting provided a senior TPM with extensive experience in large scale SOA, enterprise cloud initiatives, and working with remote teams to guide the company in improving shared understanding, aligning on overarching goals, and delivering better software more efficiently by eliminating waste in processes.

The first step was to improve how teams communicated and worked together. The TPM started by implementing a sprint ceremony process to improve visibility and accountability across the engineering and product teams. The participating teams met weekly to align on sprint goals as a group, maintain a rolling three sprint plan, and demo completed software to each other. Teams that worked closely with each other during a sprint would plan and conduct standups together. The TPM also implemented shared spike stories (where multiple teams had to solve a technical problem together).  Once this process was established and showed success, the AIM TPM implemented user story mapping exercises for small product changes and later extended this process to the organization’s monthly and quarterly planning. These processes connected the organization’s larger planning processes to product releases and engineering sprints.

The engagement also resulted in a number of recommendations and assistance from the AIM TPM that culminated in sweeping changes to the technical organization. For example, the organization made significant progress toward vertical alignment of the engineering teams working on the two products—for instance, the UI and backend engineering teams were combined and teams started training on enterprise databases in order to take on work from the overloaded database engineering teams.  The organization also shifted resources to the understaffed team which significantly improved team velocity and overall software quality. In addition, the AIM TPM leveraged his experience with CI/CD pipelines to research deployment challenges and provided recommendations to the platform team on maturing their CI/CD maturity as well as contributing to technical documentation on overcoming challenges with pipeline tools to help other engineering teams in the organization. Finally, the organization implemented full organizational technical demos at the TPM’s recommendation and hired additional product managers to support each product; the TPM assisted with the interview process.

To support remote teams, the AIM TPM recommended office hours with key partners to mitigate loss in domain knowledge sharing, which was implemented as the engagement came to an end. The TPM also provided support for new hires and leadership working remote by helping them understand the planning ceremonies and shared experiences and incorporating their feedback for future training.

RESULTS

By the end of the engagement with AIM Consulting, the vacation rental company had successfully launched both of its new products and revamped its technical organization to support millions of users. Alignment between engineering teams, both onsite and remote, significantly improved.  User story mapping exercises successfully connected organizational plan goals and metrics to releases and stories.  Sprint planning began utilizing comprehensive release plans versus just-in-time planning. Most importantly technical quality and leadership visibility into delivery dramatically improved, setting the company up for long-term future success.