A 35-person health care technology company that develops software to manage electronic health records and provide electronic practice management solutions was suffering a long history of late releases and unhappy customers. In the words of its CEO, Stephen McCallister, "Our customers were dissatisfied, we had a history of late, over-budget, and flawed upgrades — and we had to turn things around quickly. Worse still, we faced a hard deadline for a software release to meet new regulatory requirements."
This company needed a valuable solution that would not only help them solve a myriad of customer issues and internal process challenges but would also improve team morale and customer collaboration with employees located throughout the United States.
Investigative research and interviews with employees at every level of this company revealed a number of challenges. The company employed an almost entirely remote workforce, with employees working out of their homes or from co-working spaces throughout the country. Their internal processes had developed organically and were little more than mini-Waterfall cycles used to manage their work.
They had no formal Agile experience other than cursory online research, but they had been performing a daily stand-up meeting via teleconference that long ago devolved into yet another unproductive meeting on the calendar. As a result, communication was ineffective, employees were not collaborating, and software releases were late and rife with defects.
Our solution was to help the company transform to a disciplined Agile method using the Scrum framework to:
- Manage work through prioritized planning that includes direct customer feedback.
- Improve team capacity planning.
- Manage realistic, timeboxed work efforts.
- Produce high-quality product increments.
- Collaborate daily with all team members.
- Build trusting and long-term partnerships with customers.
- Continuously improve by regularly analyzing the process.
We trained the team, including executive managers, in Agile and Scrum roles and artifacts, and mentored them to build and report on realistic measures of success by using the following schedule of activities:
- Sprint 0
- Review the work environment and interview team members on achievements, challenges, and their ideal experience.
- Sprint 1
- Implement Agile methods and Scrum roles.
- Implement Scrum artifacts and ceremonies.
- Have Agile coaches perform the roles of ScrumMaster (SM) and product owner (PO).
- Sprint 2
- Mentor team members to perform the roles of SM and PO.
- Mentor team to manage all Scrum artifacts and ceremonies.
- Sprint 3
- Coach the newly mentored SM and PO to take over the roles, artifacts, and ceremonies.
- Coach the team on how to screen new team members for the Scrum roles.
- Help the team become self-sustaining.
After presenting the Agile method and Scrum practices to C-level executive managers, showing the positive short- and long-term return on investment (ROI) of retooling the company from expensive and low-yield mini-Waterfall cycles to a highly disciplined Agile method, we received buy-in to proceed with the transition.
By using remote collaboration tools, such as join.me, conference calls, and Agile project management tools (e.g., JIRA and Axosoft) that integrated with existing internal tools and chat applications, employees were remotely trained on the Agile method and Scrum framework. We evangelized and educated internal ScrumMasters, product owners, and delivery teams on Scrum core values while influencing communication, collaboration, continuous and iterative improvements, and empirical process controls that highlighted the inspect-and-adapt cycle.
We were able to prove the Agile ROI in the first two sprint iterations, resulting in the company's highest-quality release in only six two-week sprints. McCallister says the trainer [disclosure: the author] "came into our organization, trained and implemented Agile techniques, bringing our developers and customers together. The result? We met our goals: a high-quality release, on time, on budget, and without drama. He showed our staff and our customers what we could do together and changed the momentum of the company."
When confronted with the challenge of a new Agile transformation, qualifying and quantifying the specific challenges, conducting proper research within the teams, and adhering to a well-defined solution that takes all of this information into account, you will see your teams successfully transform to the Agile method in a very short amount of time.