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Facilitating a Leading Financial Services Provider’s Organization-level Agile Adoption

Financial Services | Training and Education Services

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A leading financial services firm selects TEKsystems to support an organization-level Agile adoption through extensive coaching and training at both the organizational leadership and team levels.

The client, a leading financial services firm, provides traditional brokerage services to individual investors. With more than 300 offices around the world, the client offers individual investors both investment and advisory services for managing mortgages, mutual funds, annuities, savings and checking accounts, bonds and retirement plans. The client has been a partner of TEKsystems since 2004.

In response to the increased demand within the IT industry to develop, deliver and release new, higher-quality software and applications faster, many organizations are moving away from more traditional development methodologies and transitioning to Agile methods. An Agile development model offers accelerated time-tomarket results, greater predictability and enhanced tracking capabilities as well as higher productivity and profits. Through iterative practices and crossfunctional collaboration, businesses using Agile can mitigate project risks, improve processes by adapting delivery needs throughout the life cycle of a project and yield higher savings tied to increased end-user satisfaction.

While more and more organizations are recognizing the immense benefits associated with Agile, transformation can be a daunting task. Introducing Agile methodology can be challenging but a valuable step in advancing an organization’s development capabilities. To successfully promote Agile adoption, a company must improve processes and empower employees with the right skills to succeed in their new roles. Extensive and thorough adoption programs must be rolled out across the organization, making sure to clearly educate and train personnel on new requirements, processes and tracking, new roles and responsibilities, and the need for continuous process improvement.

Organizations that successfully adopt Agile can not only reap the development benefits of a more streamlined, effective development process, but they can also achieve benefits at a human resources (HR) level. Agile helps enhance project ownership and visibility, while simultaneously improving team morale, productivity and accountability.

Agile: Scrum with Kanban and XP practices, MS SQL, Myers Briggs Type Indicator assessment, SAFe CSPO CSM and PMI-ACP certifications, TFS 2012, Visual Studio/.Net

Recognizing the need to develop and provide higher-quality products faster, the client sought to streamline its software application development processes. With more financial services organizations embracing an Agile development model, the client aimed to implement a centralized Agile program. The client realized that an Agile approach would be the most cost-effective way to achieve faster time-to-market results, deliver higher-quality work and allow them to stay competitive within the industry.

The client wanted internal teams that were developing new software applications to switch to an Agile model to complete their projects; however, team members had limited knowledge and experience with Agile processes to do so. The application development teams struggled with the architecture, requirements, QA practices and integration, which resulted in loss of time, money and motivation to continue to follow the Agile methodology.

Understanding the vast amount of work and coordination of skills needed throughout a transformation, the client needed a strategic partner to help support a project-level Agile adoption program across the enterprise. The client initially engaged a third-party vendor; however, due to a lack of flexibility in the chosen vendor’s program tailoring, the client decided to search for a new partner with greater flexibility as well as the understanding and experience needed for a successful Agile adoption. After issuing a request for a proposal (RFP) to build out a robust Agile program, the client selected TEKsystems out of a pool of seven vendors because of our ability to customize transformation solutions to meet the client’s specific needs.

TEKsystems Learning Solutions would help support the client’s Agile adoption across the enterprise. The first step in the adoption process was to work to educate enterprise leadership, specifically the chief information officer and his direct reports, on Agile methodology and how best to support an adoption program. Educating leadership upfront was a vital step in the transformation process because in order for Agile to be successful, the enterprise’s culture must change to align with Agile, and leadership directly drives culture. Certified coaches then worked with individual project teams to introduce Agile fundamentals, establish new roles and responsibilities and oversee team members’ application of the new methodology to their specific development projects. Over the next several years, we successfully helped transition 20 project teams across the enterprise to Agile.

One of the enterprise’s internal organizations’ leadership took notice of the caliber of results being driven by Agile-based projects and wondered how the methodology could be applied at an organization level. They recognized that implementing Agile at the organization level would help them more accurately estimate project deliveries every quarter; achieve faster time-to market results; increase team efficiency; lower project costs and improve overall product quality. The client turned to TEKsystems for support in identifying opportunities to maximize the benefits of Agile at the organization level.

While TEKsystems Learning Solutions has worked with several organizations within the enterprise to complete Agile adoptions, this case study highlights Agile adoption within one individual organization within the enterprise.

Individual Organization Initiative

As the client’s sole strategic Agile partner, TEKsystems had already supported the transition of 20 internal project teams to Agile so the client was confident in our ability to deliver high-quality outcomes. As a result, TEKsystems was engaged to help implement Agile at the organization level by facilitating change management, the training and coaching of new skills and the development of internal assets to support Agile, including education and awareness among organizational leadership.

Much like adopting Agile throughout the enterprise, scaling Agile to the organization level can be challenging as it often involves changing organizational culture, mindsets, roles and responsibilities, tools and processes, as well as the overall structure of an organization. Like any change initiatives, failure in the initial stages of adoption can have a negative impact on both the proponents and opponents of the initiative, so it would be important throughout the organization-level adoption to achieve and celebrate small successes.

The first step in the organization-level Agile adoption was for an on-site coach to meet with organization leadership to educate them about the benefits of implementing Agile, its impact on the business—in regard to budgeting, HR and product quality—and the overall transformation process. After receiving buy-in from organization leadership, the coach would work with a pilot team within the organization to educate them on Agile methodology and newly defined terminology pertaining to team members’ new roles and responsibilities. Following the initial introduction and training, the coach would move the pilot team from a theoretical to a practical understanding of Agile’s values, principles and practices by starting a series of sprints to complete the team’s development project. The coach would be on site during the sprints, providing real-time support if a team member should have questions about new practices; the on-site coach would also help refine the process along the way. After the project was completed, the organization would evaluate the success of the first pilot team to identify additional teams for the coach to work with.

Individual Organization Initiative

Over the course of 10 months, TEKsystems successfully helped implement an Agile within this specific organization, helping transition three separate pilot teams to Agile. The organization experienced increased positive feedback and supporting metrics from their Agile teams working on high-profile projects, showing increased timeto- market, transparency and quality. Organization leadership and project leaders also report they now can better predict release dates and budgets, and formulate more accurate quarterly estimates of planned versus actual development projects.

We began the organization’s Agile adoption by identifying a coach to spearhead the transformation process. Already having a strong understanding of the client’s unique culture through our years of partnership, we vetted coaching candidates upfront to make sure we selected a good fit for the client’s culture and environment. After selecting a coach with SAFe, PMI-ACP, CSPO and CSM certification, we assessed the organization’s current state, set transformation goals, identified key stakeholders and built a transformation roadmap. The transformation roadmap included organization leadership training courses on the benefits of Agile, its impact on budgeting and effects on HR, as well as on-site coaching for pilot teams.

The coach first met with organization leadership to review Agile’s influence on HR, specifically focusing on changes to employee performance reviews, hiring and internal training. The coach also addressed how Agile can not only help improve morale and create a higher-performing community, but also grow confidence in team members’ capabilities after the first project release. Additionally, the coach provided leadership with guidance on best practices for community building and knowledge transfers between teams.

The coach also educated leadership on the impact of Agile on budgeting and planning processes and the best way to evolve how project funds would be allocated under Agile. Under the traditional development model, time and minutes were used to map out project budgets, whereas with Agile, velocity and story points would dictate project metrics, timelines and costs.

After training leadership, the coach began work with the organization’s pilot teams. The first pilot team was selected based on its likelihood of successfully adopting Agile—the team was collocated, worked well together and the business was actively engaged in the development process. The coach met with the pilot team to assess and identify the best coaching and training approach for their specific development project. Using a Myers Briggs Type Indicator assessment, the coach assessed the different personality types within the team and adapted training to take advantage of their strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

Next, the coach held a three-day, on-site Agile training camp. During the hands-on, intensive workshop, the coach educated the pilot team on overall Agile fundamentals and the need for iterative, incremental sprints throughout the development process. The coach also focused heavily on defining new terminology pertaining to team members’ new roles and responsibilities. Outlining these new roles and responsibilities was important to make certain that all team members understood their new titles and what they entailed, which would foster an increased level of accountability and garner an understanding as to how to support their fellow team members throughout an Agile-driven project.

After establishing a consistent understanding of Agile vocabulary and fundamentals, the coach worked with the team to take the learned concepts and principles and apply them to an actual application development project. When the coach observed skill gaps within the team, he responded immediately with ad hoc and real-time training. Additionally, if the team relapsed into old behaviors or techniques, the coach provided instant and direct feedback to correct the lapse. Through routine check-ins with team members throughout the application’s development, project leaders could better track progress, assess team members’ daily workloads and head off any obstacles as they arose. To further support continual improvements, the coach established monthly meetings to encourage community building. These coach-led meetings provided a forum where team members could freely provide feedback on the Agile adoption program, discuss project challenges and address any questions or concerns. Organization leadership did not attend these meetings, allowing for team members to speak openly.

After four sprints, the pilot team’s velocity stabilized and the team became self sustaining, allowing project leaders to predict—with an unprecedented level of certainty—a project release date, budget and features. The solution evolved during the release cycle through contributions from all team members and the end product surpassed client expectations. After seeing the success of the first pilot team and realizing the importance of real-time process improvements, organization leadership became interested in implementing Agile for two more pilot teams. After going through education and training with our coach, both teams successfully adopted Agile.

While engaged in work with this specific organization, Agile work with individual project teams throughout the enterprise simultaneously continued. Across the enterprise, we helped increase the client’s number of internal Agile teams from four to 52 teams in just two and a half years. To date, we have trained more than 500 enterprise employees on Agile and transitioned more than 50 percent of the enterprise’s teams to Agile methodology.

  • Partnership. As the client’s sole strategic Agile partner, TEKsystems worked to first implement Agile at the team level, introducing to date more than 500 employees to Agile methodology. We then provided hands-on guidance to reach the client’s organization-level Agile adoption goal. We provided organization leadership and pilot teams with the education, guidance and support they needed throughout the course of the transformation.
  • Client alignment. Based on our longstanding relationship with the client, we had a deep understanding of their culture and overall Agile needs, which allowed us to screen coaches more quickly, customize program solutions to their unique environment and ensure successful Agile adoptions across the enterprise at both the team and organization level. The strong alignment with our client allowed us to adopt our tailored programs as needed based on real-time feedback and results.
  • Agile expertise. TEKsystems’ expertise in both Agile and organizational change management allowed us to be successful during this engagement. We worked with the client to identify their specific Agile needs and create a customized Agile education and training solution that would help increase time to market, enhance team collaboration and deliver higher-quality products. As part of our change management efforts, our customized coaching program was tailored to address specific skills gaps and walk new Agile users through the fundamentals all the way through practical execution of learned principles.
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