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Agile Adoption Gets Railroad on Track

When you think “innovation,” you might not immediately think “railroad,” but this large intermodal transportation company in Florida is moving down the tracks with its all-in adoption of agility.

As the company continues to develop and deploy new technology to become a safer, more efficient railroad, they are building a reputation as one of the top Information Technology employers in the country, according to IDG’s Computerworld.

How?

“Management knew they needed to modernize systems and DevOps practices to be more efficient and cost-effective,” said MATRIX Agile Coach, Bruce Kuykendall. “They wanted to respond to change quicker. To focus on value.”

As a heavily regulated transportation company, change was not easy for the railroad. Figuring out how to develop those collaborative and cross-functional teams was a challenge.

Agile coaching key to unlocking potential.

In 2016, they had been undertaking an Agile Adoption without external help but were not seeing measurable improvements. “They had attempted to implement Scrum without a fundamental change in mindset and without addressing their DevOps practices. Their planning and management styles were still essentially traditional but were now being delivered in two-week iterations,” said Kuykendall. While this was a slight improvement, it was still more iterative waterfall rather than truly Scrum.

Phase 1 – Getting Wins: Creating Trust & Credibility

Kuykendall was initially assigned a group of pilot projects to work with.

The first step was to expand the teams’ Definition of Done from “code complete” to “releasable software” and include Key Performance Indicators that would enforce key behaviors and best practices.

This included:

To meet this new Definition of Done, coaching and training was delivered for Product Owners, Scrum Masters, and Teams to provide them with the tools, skills and behaviors to be successful.

Key Behaviors and Disciplines

As these pilot projects matured and began to demonstrate success, they became the standard against which other teams were measured.

Phase 2 – Building Momentum

As demand grew, coaching was made available to all technology teams on a voluntary basis. “The demand became so great that I had to create a “Coaching Kanban Board” to keep up and to track the teams’ progress,” Kuykendall said. This led to the creation of the Steering Committee with representation from each Sr. Leader within Technology. “They have become my Product Owners. They decide which teams are in the Coaching Queue and prioritize which teams receive coaching first based on value and risk.”

Kuykendall also developed assessments to monitor and measure the teams’ maturity. “The assessments were tailored to the behaviors, processes, and metrics that had led to the success of the teams that were accelerating.” The assessments are not merely “report cards”, but a tool that allows teams to understand where they are in their agile maturity, and what behaviors/practices they need to implement to gain in their acceleration. It is now common practice that all teams complete a self-assessment at each Retrospective – with independent assessments administered at regular intervals.

Phase 3 - Sustainability

With the continued and growing success of the maturing teams, demand for coaching began to greatly outpace capacity.

“It became apparent that dependence on external coaching was not sustainable.” Kuykendall said. To address this, Kuykendall created and rolled out the “Managers As Coaches Program”.

The goal of the program is to create the training, tools, and support necessary to help front line leaders to coach their own teams to maturity.

The program hinges on three areas:

Circles of Excellence

Circles of Excellence were established for Managers, Product Owners, Scrum Masters and Developers. The COEs provide mentoring and support to teams in their agile adoption, facilitate training, and create assets for the Technology Knowledgebase.

Training

A formal training curriculum was created including full-day classes for:

To measure the maturity of the teams, an assessment was created specifically adapted to the client.

Knowledgebase/Lab/Informal

Specific Tool Training, Practice Training, and Lunch ‘n Learns have been established to prepare leaders and team members for success.

“We’ve really created a culture of continuous improvement, and a community of agilists and practitioners here,” Kuykendall said.

Kuykendall estimates that approximately 20% of all Technology Teams have achieved a maturity score of “norming” or better and over 500 people have been trained. Agile adoption is no longer voluntary. “Senior Leadership has set a goal that 75% of all Technology Teams (where appropriate) will reach a maturity score of “norming” or higher by the end of 2019,” Kuykendall says. “It’s going to be a busy year, but if we do our jobs right – I shouldn’t be needed here much longer.” “And that’s ok,” he adds, “experience tells me there are plenty of people out there that can use our help.”


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