Case Study: Bottomline’s Geneva Financial Messaging Teams Go Agile

Executive summary

Bottomline Technologies has a long and proven track record of transitioning its products and teams to Agile, so when Geneva-based Sterci joined the company in late 2013, it was a priority to transition the Financial Messaging teams to Scrum. While the company’s GTSuite of products enjoys significant market coverage, competition was increasing and faster innovation and time to market were becoming critical priorities. Vincent Dethurens, Head of Innovation for Financial Messaging, enthusiastically undertook to manage the transition under the guidance of Jim Starrett, vice president of Enterprise Program Management for Bottomline Technologies.

The goals for an enterprise transition were straightforward: The Financial Messaging teams must continue to maintain high quality while at the same time delivering more quickly and improving automation to result in more feature function at lower cost.

In addition, Bottomline Technologies wanted to strengthen communication with stakeholders, boost team collaboration and productivity, and improve the accuracy of forecasts. Working together, Starrett, Dethurens, the teams, and Bottomline Agile/Scrum Coach Marie Schulmann identified the obstacles the teams might encounter and devised plans to overcome them.

In just the first two releases, results topped even the highest expectations: 

  • Improved delivery quality: Teams logged 250% fewer issues
  • Increased team velocity: Speed increases of 31% to 127%
  • Feature enhancement: More new features delivered faster, pleasing customers


While the Geneva Financial Messaging teams had a solid history of delivering high-quality products and services to their customers, they had no experience or familiarity with Scrum or Agile. In fact, says Starrett, only a few people were even familiar with the concept. The tradition-bound nature of Swiss business practices and a long history of hierarchical Waterfall management meant that employees expected and were comfortable with stability and less inclined to risk and innovate. And because employees primarily worked singly on separate tasks, Scrum’s emphasis on collaboration was unfamiliar.

In addition, there were more specific challenges encountered during the transition:

Variations in team capacity. Due to the need to manage multiple competing priorities, the teams’ capacity levels could vary from sprint to sprint. Team members had to juggle competing priorities, such as proofs of concept, customer implementation projects, and custom development.

Lack of support for innovation. The prior management system had not been set up to prioritize innovation. Therefore the teams were faced with:

  • Limited development and test environments
  • Limited continuous integration and deployment
  • Lack of automation

Issues with maintaining high quality and managing technical debt. It was a growing challenge to continue to develop new product features and maintain high quality while dealing with bug backlogs and technical debt from aging components and architectures. In addition, there were customer care issues from prior releases in which QA tests were not completed until the end of the development process.

The need to reconfigure roles. Team managers had previously been solely responsible for engineering success or failure. However, while a Scrum team has a clear definition of roles, there is no defined hierarchy. Some managers transitioned into ScrumMaster roles, while others elected to stay in a technical role.


How it worked

A key driver in the decision to transition the Geneva Financial Messaging teams to Agile was the need to create conditions that would support greater collaboration and innovation and gain competitive advantage. With this in mind, the transition proceeded in accordance with four essential change components:

  • Organizational dynamics
  • Product management
  • Technical management
  • Agile principles and practices

Following a carefully devised plan, actions taken included:

Using dedicated coaching. Having a full-time, dedicated Agile coach was key to a successful transition. Critical contributions included guiding engineering and product management teams on Agile practices, leading planning meetings, and helping implement metrics to demonstrate overall project progress. The teams also implemented coaching from within, in which the pilot team ScrumMaster organized and helped other ScrumMasters facilitate their first release planning and retrospectives.

Preparing for change. The teams started with an in-depth process, involving all team members, to review highlighted best practices and areas of improvement. They also built in a Sprint Zero to address urgent organizational issues, such as:

  • Needed development and QA environments
  • Tools to manage the product backlog and the Scrum board
  • Approach to communication and reporting
  • Team organization and physical work space requirements

Building team spirit. The assessment and training established a sense of teamwork and provided a common goal. Regular interactions among all team members opened internal communication so problems could be solved collectively, reinforcing trust and cooperation within the teams.

Committing to continuous improvement. The teams implemented improvements that allowed them to build on the learning gained in each sprint.

Establishing a product vision. The team implemented strategies to prioritize goals and protect the development teams against multiple concurrent priorities (e.g., pre-sales, POCs, support). For example, the team agreed on a buffer of time dedicated to support to prevent interruptions due to urgent customer care issues. Team capacity was adjusted according to this buffer to prevent over-commitment.

As a result, urgent support requests were not stressful anymore, since they were no longer a risk to sprint success. However, this concept of a buffer had to be explained to the other departments (and sometimes to the team itself).

Improving our forecasts. Involving the teams in workload estimations and release planning strengthened their ability to forecast. In the process, Scrum empowered the teams to feel more confident in experimenting and proposing improvements.

Engaging management and stakeholders. Managers and other stakeholders had been part of the initial Scrum training, and the teams kept them invested in the ongoing process. They implemented transparent reporting of weekly and monthly progress to show obstacles overcome and results achieved, and they invited managers and other stakeholders to end-of-sprint reviews so they could see new product features, provide input, and celebrate successes.

Creating communities of practice. The teams established forums so people could share their knowledge in order to develop synergies among the different teams. Key among these was the creation of a collaborative QA community.

Results, return on investment, and future plans

In implementing Agile, the Financial Messaging teams realized their primary objectives, enabling more rapid and successful innovation while raising quality and decreasing time to market with quantifiable results:

  • Increased team velocity (from 31% to 127%)
  • Improved delivery quality (250% fewer issues)
  • Increased motivation and team spirit
  • Enhanced features to the benefit of customers

"The executive leadership in Geneva were confident that they had achieved a good level of success in their prior organizational methodology and approach, but having the opportunity to transition to Agile allowed them to reach the next level," says Starrett. "And the biggest surprise of all was in how many ways they saw the return."

Some of these benefits included:

Increased responsiveness. Thanks to shorter release cycles, the Financial Messaging teams have benefited greatly from the increased customer input and a more flexible process with which to respond. "As new feature requests come in or as current ones change, we’re able to deliver to market more features, more often," says Vincent Dethurens. "By allowing the customers to provide more input, we’ve increased customer delight." 

Greater vision and engagement. "Team members said in one release of Agile they learned more about their product than they had in ten years of their roles at the company," says Starrett. "Integration into the larger company exposed them to new UI tools, teams, and architecture and they became energized about product in ways they hadn’t been before."

Better prioritization. "We are now able to add new top-priority enhancements at the last sprint of a release with minor impact on the release content and no impact at all on quality," says Dethurens. "The development teams have received many thanks from the executives for being able to deliver the most important features for our customers quickly and for increasing revenues."

Continuing quality improvement. The creation of a collaborative QA community brought together best practices that raised standards. "Thanks to the QA community, our QA have defined a shared vision for automatic tests, and tools and processes to allow it," says Dethurens. "Quality is still increasing, even after nearly two years."

Fuel for future growth. "What has changed the most is the real support from the top managers, who are now convinced of the advantages of being Agile," Dethurens says. "Our next level will be to demonstrate that Agile can help increase the ROI of the development teams by prioritizing user stories with high potential revenue." And more growth is yet to come. "By providing a safe environment for small mistakes with course corrections and learning to occur, change can be embraced," says Dethurens. "We can now shift priorities, envision new products, and more quickly capitalize on business opportunities."


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