Case Study: How Bottomline Reached for the Top -- and Got There with Scrum

Vision and opportunity combine to take a company further than imagined

Sometimes the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" doesn't apply. Bottomline Technologies was a successful and growing company back in 2012 when it decided to "go Scrum," and the bold move proved that good can become better.

Bottomline provides cloud-based payment, invoice, and banking services to corporations, financial institutions, and banks around the world. It has more than 10,000 customers and has demonstrated annual revenue growth over many years, both organically and through acquisition.

Like many organizations, Bottomline faces challenges from rapidly evolving markets, customer expectations, and competition. Against this background, Bottomline decided to invest in Scrum starting in September 2012. Some areas of the organization were already using elements of Scrum and other Agile techniques, but by 2012 Bottomline realized that it needed to embrace Scrum more formally in order to achieve its business goals.

"We were embarking on a new partnership with a new company in Eastern Europe," says Jim Starrett, CSM, CSPO, CSP, and vice president of Bottomline's Enterprise Program Management. "We were effectively doubling the size of our offshore teams, and that growth was to support the needs of three of Bottomline's critical product lines."

Those offshore teams were working with Scrum, but Starrett knew Bottomline needed to increase its own institutional knowledge. Soon ten Bottomline employees were taking Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) Training with Certified Scrum Trainer® Jeff Sutherland, rapidly following up with a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) course, also with Sutherland. They formed the core of the three product teams that would take on Bottomline's first Scrum projects as part of its enterprise initiative.

Starrett acknowledges that there was a lot of pressure on the initiative to succeed. "It was really driven by that partnership with the new company, the growth of the internal development teams to support those three products, and the need to do that all seamlessly." Bottomline was already successful, but management realized the company had to be able to handle the new growth while improving efficiency and maintaining effectiveness. In Starrett's words, "We were looking to build and deliver more quickly and still deliver extremely high quality."

Corporate culture and preparedness

At Bottomline, corporate culture is important. It has an internal program called "C1" that Starrett says drives collective thinking and provides clear and consistent focus for everyone on how they:
  • Delight customers
  • Innovate, communicate, win, and grow
  • Work with and for each other
  • Do the right thing
  • Create and grow sustained business value
  • Be a company of which all can be proud
Starrett saw alignment between Scrum principles and this culture. Posters and graphics demonstrating this alignment became part of the internal Scrum promotion.

Starrett also worked to ensure that Scrum was positioned as both a top-down and bottom-up initiative, an approach that he had discussed with Sutherland from the start. Starrett arranged for Sutherland to provide an executive workshop for Bottomline's leadership. This bolstered already existing support within the executive team and helped set leadership expectations for the likely outcomes. From a bottom-up standpoint, Bottomline held internal training programs supported by an external Scrum coach and, eventually, an internal Scrum coach, in addition to Starrett's own coaching efforts.


Bottomline's growth through acquisition also helped prepare the groundwork for Scrum. Bob Ven, Bottomline's chief technology officer for Insurance Solutions, explains, "There were bits and pieces of the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) that came along with each acquisition. It was more of a cultural shift that needed to happen within the group to get everyone aligned."

Results prove the case

There was resistance from people who felt there was no need to change successful processes, as well as from those concerned about customer impact. Starrett aimed to address these concerns as directly and openly as possible. He explains, "I tried to make it very clear to every executive manager -- whether it was the development head or the product head -- that Scrum wasn't going to be a panacea for all of their organization's concerns, but it was a valuable asset if they and their teams were willing to accept it and leverage it effectively."

One of the people who had reservations was Andrew Mintzer, executive vice president of Product Strategy and Customer Delivery. He admits that while he was "generally encouraged" by Scrum and recognized that Bottomline lacked any other standardized approach, he wasn't sure change was necessary. "Each group had their own methodologies and processes, which worked for them. So the concern I had was, 'Well, if it's working, why change it?' There would be resistance and enforcement issues on how we would go about doing it."

Of course, the best way to overcome any objections is to deliver results, and those first three projects did so -- dramatically. Two of the company's most significant products saw velocity increases from 250 to 500 percent in just two or three release cycles. At the same time, they delivered a 95 percent reduction in critical defect rates. The third team faced different challenges and so did not realize the same initial level of savings, but it nonetheless saw a 150 percent velocity increase and a reduction in release cycles from 18 to nine months -- and later to six months.

"It's phenomenal," says Bob Ven. "If I were to look at one of the lines of business, we've seen over 500 percent increase in business value delivered -- and this is just over a period of six months. I'm very proud of this team. It's actually been pretty thrilling to watch the organization evolve, grow, and mature. People take pride in their work and want to show off their successes more in the context of the overall team, as opposed to the individual."

That is the lasting benefit that Scrum is delivering to Bottomline. The numbers are important and impressive, but the change in the people is creating a springboard for even more growth.

Mintzer also notes that part of Bottomline's success with Scrum came down to when it decided to make the commitment. "I think we did it at the right time," he says. "As our organization was growing, it was the right time to look at consolidating some of our practices. We needed to have the right structure, we needed the right impetus to make the change across the organization. . . . I'd say it's been a tremendous success and we've seen enormous benefits from adopting Scrum."

Scrum ignites engagement

As Starrett looks back on what Bottomline has been able to achieve in such a short period of time, he is full of praise for the part that Scrum played in the success. "It integrated well with our company culture. It allowed us to foster greater levels of teamwork and collaboration. It provided a beneficial springboard for process improvements, and teams were able to take ownership of their own work. We had internal benefits with happier, more productive teams; external benefits with happier and more competitive customers."

Bottomline's internal values created a strong foundation, but even Starrett was surprised by just how quickly Scrum spread through the organization. Between September 2012 and July 2014, the number of Scrum teams at Bottomline increased from six to 36. Since internal Scrum training classes started in November 2012, more than 30 classes have been held in 10 cities across four countries, training more than 500 Bottomline employees and contractors. Starrett identifies the early successes as major drivers for this growth; colleagues saw what was achieved elsewhere in the organization and wanted the same results themselves.

Scrum has expanded even into areas of the business that were well established in traditional management. In 2013, Bottomline acquired a Swiss company that has been in business for more than 20 years using Waterfall development techniques. That group is now in the early stages of adopting Scrum – in the first few sprints for its first pilot, according to Philippe Meylan, operations director of Product and Development for that group – and the success is becoming apparent. In fact, the biggest benefit has been an unexpected one.

"With the Waterfall and previous approach, people were specialized in certain areas of the product functionality," Meylan explains. "Now, because they are sharing on a daily basis . . . everybody has a global understanding of what the product is covering and what the others are doing."

Meylan says this improved understanding of the context of the work has encouraged higher levels of responsibility and engagement, as has the natural competition among teams to do better than colleagues in other areas -- and better than their own last sprint. Meylan adds that the Scrum initiative is already expanding from one product to two more within his division.


Ongoing Scrum expansion

Starrett, meanwhile, is planning continued expansion of Scrum throughout Bottomline -- and Meylan's Swiss team is serving as a role model. Now when the organization acquires new companies, an assessment of the development and product management approach is part of the onboarding process. "We do an assessment of teams and really determine not only what current practices they use that align with Agile and Scrum but what are their organizational dynamics," Starrett explains. "What are their own product and development management strengths and areas for improvement? . . . We take their own team's feedback through interviews and say, 'Here is what your team is saying you need for successful transition to Scrum. Here is what we as your coaches are recommending you include.' And then [we] give them back a detailed plan that they can understand and own and drive themselves."

In other words, says, Starrett, "If they're Agile, we share how to do Agile the Bottomline way; and if they're not Agile, or not using Scrum, [we] figure out how to bring them up to speed on it."

Advice for those considering Scrum

Given Bottomline's success, the company encourages other organizations to consider moving to Scrum -- but it recognizes that its success came with a lot of hard work and planning.

Tip 1: Be realistic.

"My advice is, come up with a well-thought-out, well-planned, realistic project," says Mintzer. "It's a major transformation for the business and it takes a fair amount of effort and commitment from the entire organization. It takes time and it takes tuning along the way. It's not an easy process, it's not a textbook process."

Tip 2: Get a Scrum coach.

Meylan recognizes the key role that Scrum coaches play in supporting an organization's adoption. "I would say the key point for successful implementation, based on my experience, is to have the appropriate coaching, and I would say without this coaching it would not be possible to reach these objectives or to be so successful."

Tip 3: Get the team moving.

Ven is extremely positive in his advice: "Do it, and do it now." However, he also cautions that things aren't going to be perfect at first, and that evolution is necessary. "The most important thing is to get teams moving -- to get them moving in any particular direction, with the idea that you're going to continually reset over time and get people to a common vision."

Tip 4: Identify a champion.

The last word has to go to Starrett: "It starts off with strong support from the CEO and executive team. It's required to pave the way for any successful change effort that's enterprise wide and as all-encompassing as Scrum can be. Even with that, though, significant work is still required to make those change efforts both effective and sustainable. I think identifying a single champion or owner in the organization to drive the change is one critical factor for success, and another would be integrating experienced coaches who can support the change efforts."

The numbers behind Bottomline's Scrum transition are impressive, the impact on its teams equally so. But perhaps most impressive is that this was achieved in an organization that was already successful and that already had a strong corporate culture. Bottomline demonstrates that even when you're good at what you do, you can still be better.

For more information on Bottomline's approach to Scrum and some of the results achieved, see "Agile and the Organizational Ecosystem."