The System Team paves the way in the agile setup

Read how ProData consultant Flemming Mertz, System Team Leader, helps pave the way for the agile development environment in a new program at Tryg Forsikring

Interview with consultant Flemming Mertz.

The System Team paves the way for the agile teams

At Tryg Forsikring they have gone all-in on agile. Several initiatives are underway across the entire organization. ProData consultant Flemming Mertz has been brought on to work on a new program labeled “New Claim System” (NCS). In the role of System Team Leader, his responsibility is to ensure that all technical processes of the program are up and running.

The System Team performs a critical task in the agile setup, as its purpose is to support the entire Continuous Delivery Pipeline (CI/CD). Consequently, the team’s role is a prerequisite for the entire Agile Release Train, enabling it and the various agile teams. It is a specialized agile team that services the entire agile development environment through development and maintenance.

In larger agile transformations, where new infrastructure is needed, more or several System Teams are created to help facilitate the transformation. They help build agile environments and assist with system and solution integration, thereby paving the way for the agile teams, so they can be effective.

“In my team, we are responsible for infrastructure, setting up servers, new environments, and security. It is our job to clear any obstacles that the various teams may run into, all of which enable the teams to deliver effectively. You can call it a Service Team, or a kind of Staff Team, if you were to compare it to one in a traditional organizational structure.”, says Flemming Mertz.

Delivery from start to finish

Since the primary function of the System Team largely relates to the technical setup, the biggest work pressure for the System Team is, therefore, found in the early stages of the transition, highlighting the need for a technically skilled System Team Leader.

In addition, you often see the System Team is scaled down as programs progress. This calls for a person, who is able to finish the project appropriately, one who can ensure quality in both documentation and in the handover to the teams that will drive things going forward. An efficient executor and skilled communicator – one who is able to get started quickly and deliver consistently throughout the entire process and until the end, where important information related to the work of the System Team must become anchored in the organization.

“For starters, there are often a lot of things that need to be set up. Servers and processes that need to be set up. All in order for the feature teams to be effective before we slowly begin to scale down. When the model has matured, then one will either add new trains of teams or scale the System Team down and put out existing tasks into the existing feature teams.”, Flemming Mertz explains.

To best support the entire agile program, Flemming has been placed in the management team at the program-level in NCS – which is a little atypical for the SAFe model. However, it has proven to be a great advantage, as it has helped the System Team be better prepared for any challenges:

“As I am in an expanded and fluid role, where I am also part of program-level management, I happen to get around and talk to many stakeholders in NCS and around Tryg in general. This way I am always in sync with the rest of the organization, and thereby better prepared to iron out possible problems. As my primary function is to serve all the different teams, I put in an effort to attend all meetings, in order to hear how things are going and to be proactive as to whether there are some imminent problems that need to be taken into account and solved.”

The key to success is technical prowess as well as strong communication skills

The role of System Team Leader is extremely technical by nature and therefore requires a sharp technical profile that is used to the many different aspects of the role. Today’s large-scale digitization projects and agile transformations greatly change the way we think and work, which is why the skilled System Team Leader also can fill the role of agile coach if the need arises:

 “My focus has been on getting through the huge backlog that had piled up, which was related to infrastructure, logistics, cloud migration, set up of environments – in other words facilitating the necessary processes that enable the agile teams to develop, test, and deploy. Overall my explicit focus has been 90% technical and 10% agile coaching when needed.”, Flemming Mertz explains.

Good communication skills are essential to succeed in the role of System Team Leader, as an important part of the work is to support and serve all the agile teams. It requires a person who can put himself/herself in the place of others and understand where they are coming from and understand their problem, while at the same time making people feel understood:

“I have seen a lot of friction in the past between the agile/working teams and the System Team due to poor communication. Those who sit in the small teams do not believe that the System Team always understands how things are working and therefore make the wrong decisions. So, in addition to a solid technical understanding, good communication skills are needed. You have to be willing to compromise and take the solutions of others.”

A holistic approach with a finger on the pulse

With responsibility for one of the basic principles of SAFe, namely the entire CI/CD pipeline, the entire production apparatus is effectively relying on the quality of the work that the System Team is performing:

“It is our job to manage the CI/CD pipeline, we are responsible to push things up into the various environments, we handle testing, packaging, and deployment. If there is just one place where things go wrong, then the entire production line will stop, and then you have 100 people – in this case – waiting for us to fix it.”

A System Team Leader with good social and communication skills, as well as a comprehensive understanding of all the moving parts of a SAFe setup paves the way:

“A good advice is, therefore, to listen to the teams you serve, these are the ones you have to work for, while also understanding the context holistically within the program. You are a proxy for the agile teams, the organization, and the entire technical part. Knowing this, it is very important to be close to all the agile teams, for instance, by attending all status meetings, Scrum of Scrums meetings, etc. Basically, being visible and getting insight into how things are going both formally and informally.”, Flemming Mertz elaborates, before he concludes:

“Keep a finger on the pulse and get involved with the various teams. Not doing so, can complicate the job and you risk getting half-truths and explanations that only superficially describe the problems, making it very difficult to do a good job.”

Who

Flemming Mertz initially started out as a developer. For most of his career, he has worked with the agile methods and with Scrum. Over the years, he has naturally grown into a more senior role. Very much a technical profile with a big heart for programming and development, he often helms the role of Scrum Master or Product Owner, as he finds a lot of motivation in being connected with the development part, thereby still being able to actively contribute to solutions.

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