BEC: A comprehensive agile transformation with SAFe®
Interview with Lone Mariboe, Head of Development in BEC.
As a result of competition and need for faster development, BEC has transformed their development organization. By using the SAFe-model, 513 employees now have new agile workflows and evaluations already show a positive effect – all in less than a year. In this article, Head of Development Lone Mariboe tells about the transformation.
In 2016, BEC began to change their development organization with the use of the agile framework SAFe®. The reason for the change was increased competition and a need to develop and adjust projects even faster and continuously. The result? In less than a year, BEC has implemented agile workflows for 513 employees divided into 47 teams.
“We have made the entire development organization work after the new framework and it is working. But we are not done yet. If we want to really reach our goal, we have to stay focused for years to come,” says Lone Mariboe, Head of Development, who has been one of the key drivers in the project.
From the very beginning, the obvious choice for Lone Mariboe and the rest of the development group was – not surprisingly – to go in an agile direction when they had to rethink the workflows in BEC. After a thoroughly preliminary effort, it became clear that SAFe was a good fit for BEC’s needs.
“How do you combine 14-days deliveries with long, heavy programs? SAFe takes this into consideration. SAFe has many components, thoughts, and experiences incorporated and it suited both our own and our clients’ needs,” says the Head of Development.
With the framework in place, the development group rolled up their sleeves and started the transformation based on the grounds of the SAFe-model. This was crucial for the process. Lone Mariboe explains:
“In the beginning, you can be inclined to say that ‘this does not quite suit us so we should adjust it to fit our reality and make our own version’. But you cannot just choose single parts since there are so many intertwined components in the framework and they are mutually dependent. You have to accept the entire package for it to work and to gain the fully profit.”
The persistent and methodical approach to the framework has been beneficial for BEC. Both because the development group has had a plan and a frame of reference when problems inevitable have occurred, but also because it has created a common understanding in the organization.
“Even when the concepts were very unfamiliar, we insisted on using them. This means that to this day everyone speaks the same language and has a more homogeneous understanding of the division of work and the meaning of the roles,” Lone Mariboe explains.
From the beginning
Before the actual implementation of the model started, the development group themselves tested SAFe, as the work with the transformation project was done based on the model of the framework. This meant that the colleagues who were to later implement the model in the organization had already worked in the new setup with personal hands-on-experiences which are explained in the framework.
“We got to try to be part of the setup. We got the meaning of the concepts in place, learned a great deal, and we also tried to fail which was an important part of the learning process,” says the Head of Development.
The implementing has been a continuous process throughout the past year. Instead of making the change in the entire organization at once, the development group chose to do the implementation ‘one area at the time’. Capital Markets was first.
“We broke everything into pieces. We drew up value streams, customer journeys, systems, user interfaces, what data was used, correlations between systems, and much more. We mapped everything,” says Lone Mariboe.
Afterwards, the area was restructured into new teams, employees were educated, and introduced to their new roles. As the implementation began to speed up, the development group quickly realized that the original plan to implement SAFe in the course of 18 months was too long a transformation phase. The demand and impatience to join the change process shown by the individual areas resulted in a decision to scale aggressively and utilize momentum and willingness to change by cutting six months off the original time plan.
A joint mission
The SAFe-model has a lot of components, but according to Lone Mariboe it is particularly the organization of teams into so-called agile release trains – or ARTs – and the appertaining program increment planning, also known as PI planning, which are worth accentuating. At BEC, there is a setup with 8 release trains each with a number of agile teams consisting of 6-9 participants. The head of development says:
“Each ART has a joint mission. This helps to create correlation between the various teams, the dependences are visualized, and the cooperation between teams is increased.”
Every three months, all the employees of each ART, relevant decision-makers, and managers are gathered for a two-day PI planning session. Here deliveries and dependences for the upcoming three months are planned.
“At first, you contemplate if it truly is beneficial to pull all employees out of the office for two whole days every three months? Does it make sense and is it valuable for everyone? It is. It becomes very clear how everything is connected across the teams, and you obtain transparency and optimize the way everyone works,” says Mariboe.
Furthermore, everyone involved takes great ownership of the three-month-plan as a PI planning does not end until everyone agrees on the contents. Each team commits to deliveries that are part of the overall plan, and this obligation is expressed by the team to the entire ART. The combination of increased transparency and the obligation to deliver in relation to a greater whole works. The head of development says:
“It is magical. I have never been part of something this efficient. The two days away from the office are money well spent.”
In their everyday life, the individual teams work in 14-days sprints as self-organizing units after the Scrum-method. The team is always aware of the joint defined deliveries, and they know the consequences for the rest of the ART if they do not deliver.
Additionally, PI planning contributes to creating transparency vertically in the organization. The top managers get a better understanding for the engine room, but it also becomes evident where it is necessary to make decisions and prioritize to avoid bottlenecks in the development.
Halving of time to first delivery
A Lean-Agile Center of Excellence has been established to ensure that the SAFe transformation will continue to be a success and will be implemented in the entire organization. A unit in the organization which makes sure that the necessary focus is present in BEC. Because there is still some way to go.
“We started from the bottom and now we have the engine room up and running. We are presently at the point where we add the upper layers and where we move from mastering techniques to integrating the whole mindset as a regular part of our everyday work,” Mariboe explains.
Although the SAFe-implementation is still in process, it is evident that it is already a success: Evaluations show that BEC has reduced the time to the first delivery by half. At the same time the client satisfaction has improved. BEC has also seen a decline in critical incidents and in some cases an impressive decline in error cases. Last, but not least, the implementation of SAFe has had a positive effect on the employees. Lone Mariboe says:
“There is a decreasing tendency in stress reports and sickness absence, and while a great part of the employees has new roles in connection to the transformation, we have seen an increase in employee satisfaction.”
Head of Development
Edu.:HD, Informatics and financial management
Since 2014, Lone Mariboe has worked as Head of Development in BEC with previous experience as Head of IT Development and Head of IT Project Management in PFA Pension. In the summer of 2017, she was chosen as Head of Lean Agile Center of Excellence in BEC, which is a unit dedicated to ensuring the implementing of SAFe.