Turning around a twice-failed distributed enterprise program into success

The common myth about agile methodology is, it is suited for smaller, co-located teams, would not scale up for big enterprises and is best suited for smaller, less complex programs.

In this talk, I intend to share how we went about setting up, executing and successfully delivering probably one of the most complex and strategic programs for one of our customers. This program was the first ever successful adoption of the fully distributed agile implementations for the customer.

Context: The client is the leading Telecom Operator in the UK, having their captive and other strategic partners based out of India. The program was highly strategic for the client and the predicted ROI was high.

 - The implementation was tried twice by different vendors for more than an year, but failed to deliver; root causes were not analyzed

 - The Program Sponsor had one last chance to try and deliver the platform successfully, against a very tight schedule

 - Continued Operational risk with the legacy system in place 

Outcome of our engagement:

 - Core functional application ready in pre-production by the end of first release cycle (4 months from engagement start); fully ready to functionally scale easily and quickly

 - Adoption of the technical and execution approach to other related programs within the portfolio 

Our Approach:

 - Outcome of initial assessment of the existing codebase was to go with re-write from scratch; was a really hard sell, but was the RIGHT thing to do

 - Re-define the release cycle: extend development period by embedding integration testing as part of development cycle and cut down on the low level design phase

 - Need-basis colocation of functional SMEs with development team 

 - Direct access to Product Owners: weekly video calls, must-attend iteration show-cases, etc

 - Remove unnecessary operational overheads, in terms of people as well as organizational processes

 - Well-defined, pragmatic strategy for Integration testing (major constraints - lead time for test data preparation, limitation in re-usability of test data, lack of e2e functional understanding within team)

  - Smart seeding of other vendor team members (with good functional/domain understanding) into the core team

  - Zero compromise on basic hygienic practices: IPMs, Showcases, communicate negative-news-first with alternate solutions/workarounds, strict removal of wastes, inclusive decision making, highest degree of code coverage, sanity test suite, e2e basic automation suite   

  - Building trust between distributed teams: cross-pairing, align on core work hours across time zones, joint showcases and retrospectives (shared responsibility)

Challenges faced:

  - Big push to release the core functional platform into production in 3 months (immediate next release)

  - Working out of other vendor premises: seen as threat to their business, lack of cooperation and collaboration   

  - Product Owners based out of UK, no easy / frequent access

  - Functional SMEs/designers based out of different location

  - Release cycle that was in place: 8 weeks of design, 4 weeks of development and 8 weeks of testing!

  - Distributed and isolated testing teams

  - Highly manual and time-consuming E2E testing processes

  - Multiple interfacing systems, both upstream and downstream 

  - Client development team based out of UK, different execution approach, lack of trust between the teams

In summary, I would like to share the unique aspects of the execution approach that made this program a real success for the customer, though some of the approaches might be tried out in different environments and project situations.


Outline/Structure of the Experience Report

First 5 minutes: Setting the business and program context and listing down specific expectations from the audience

Next 30 minutes: Walk-through the execution approach, challenges, highlight the major decisions, how did we arrive at them, impact of those decisions at the program and client organization level. 

Last 10 minutes: Questions and Answers

Learning Outcome

 - Role of the Client Sponsor during program initiation and throughout the execution lifecycle

 - What are the hard (a.k.a. right) decisions that have to be made

 - Identifying the right execution process that works for the program

 - Setting up the right communication process across different timezones is the key

 - How to ensure information sharing is consistent and effective across different levels

 - How to clearly differentiate between real and perceived failures and resolve them 

Target Audience

Project, Delivery Managers, Customer Facing Roles

schedule Submitted 6 years ago

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      1. Not even able to plan the Iteration planning meeting - Iteration planning not producing the outcome despite hours of planning meeting
      2. Manage dependencies between teams for a collective delivery
      3. Communication channel between teams  (Change how you communicate/coordinate)
      4. To bring the organic coherence between teams despite the cultural difference
      5. To also worry about the unknown interfaces & disastrous scenarios
      6. Different team communities with different process and practices impacting the other team’s delivery
      7. To sustain the work ecosystem for all the teams
      8. Inoffensive collective Retrospective for a constructive learning
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      10. Above all, Conflict Resolution

      Eg: one part of approach which we tried was "Mountaineer-Diver Model". 


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      • Dynamic Dependecy resolution between teams ( instead of long hours of call for each dependency)
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      • More common understanding and project focus in all teams (Frustration with the team members reduced)
      • All members from different teams directly interact and work even they are distributed ( as they spend some time physically working together as "integration teams")
      • As a result of above -> 2 key metrics improved :
        • Velocity of all teams improved
        • Development and Testing complete even before the deadline -> Delivery before the scheduled date
        • Very less time spent in meetings for conflict & dependency resolutions, planning , etc.. 

       "Project execution was the key success". 

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      Sridharan Vembu
      Sridharan Vembu
      Head Engineering
      schedule 6 years ago
      Sold Out!
      45 Mins
      Case Study

      This talk is about taking a closer look at how one or more of the 12 principles behind Agile Manifesto are closely connected to the different stages of the project lifecycle and how they impact the right choice of practices and tools at each stage. 

      Few sample scenarios: 

      1. Major change in the way iteration planning was done - common backlog for the platform (comprising of different application teams), think each 'iteration' as a 'release' - deployment of business features to production end of each iteration - resulted in greater collaboration, no separate integration/stabilization phase towards major commercial launch

      Relevant Principle: Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale

      2. Reflecting on team organization - one large team (or) multiple smaller teams and / or feature teams, concepts like Mountaineers-Divers, Navigators-Drivers -> effective and easy context sharing, no stepping-into-each-others-shoes, efficient balance between big picture view and attention to details and such.       

      Relevant Principle: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly 

      3. Feature kick-offs, analysis volleyballs, need basis Dev/QA/BA huddles, vide calls with distributed teams, subject-specific-google-hangouts -> Effective communication and fewer email conversations  

      Relevant Principle: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation

      Experience clearly suggests that following the right principle at the right time for a specific situation ensures successful outcome, while ignoring one or many of these principles often results in failure.

      4. Adverse effects of measuring the delivery team's efficiency of the team one-dimensionally based on the Story Points delivered

      Relevant Principle: Working software is the primary measure of progress.


      In this talk, through specific practical examples, I would be explaining

       - identifying the right principles for each life cycle stage of the project/program

       - deriving the right practices based on the principles and following them effectively to deliver value to customer 

       - business and delivery constraints that prevented us from adhering to some of these principles, resulting in not-so-desired outcomes

      In summary, I would like to emphasis the importance and relevance of the 12 Agile Software Principles behind Agile Manifesto in everyday life of a Agile Practitioner.