Success factors for the implementation of agile methods in large organisations

In an environment with a very heterogeneous IT landscape, strong legal regulation and traditional working methods, we introduced agile methods in the product development of a leading insurance company. The success speaks for itself: development of five product variants instead of one in just one year and 40% under budget.

Most organisations today are faced with the question of how they can continue to develop their business in a sometimes rapidly changing environment and keep pace with the competition in the future. Agilisation - from product development to operationalisation and sales - is one possible answer. But what does this mean in practice? We supported our client over 12 months in the agilisation of product development, using agile methods such as Scrum and Kanban, agile leadership and various scaling frameworks. Three specific, process-related levers and targeted "agile change" were essential for success.

Introduction of iterative development cycles

In the past, development cycles were often very long and not very flexible. Development was followed by complex acceptance processes, usually followed by lengthy change requests. The introduction of Scrum has significantly shortened this process and made it more efficient. Development now takes place in short, iterative cycles ("sprints") of two weeks. The acceptance (review) of individual functionalities and sub-products takes place at the end of each sprint. Possible change requirements can thus be identified at an early stage and implemented directly in the next sprint. In addition, team collaboration retrospectives are held after each sprint. Working in iterative cycles enables rapid feedback on both the product and the collaboration; lessons learnt can be implemented in the next sprint and improvements can be achieved quickly. As a result, a high-performance, self-learning organisation is strengthened.

Essay by cross-functional teams

In the past, products were developed in a sequential logic ("waterfall"). Functional teams handed over their work statuses and focussed solely on the fulfilment of their specific requirements, but not on the success of the overall project. In our agile project, the use of cross-functional teams enables the bundling of all relevant perspectives by representatives from the business side, IT, testing and external software suppliers in each team and at all times. The members discuss the details of the requirements and their specific perspectives in their teams. This ensures at an early stage that only concepts that are acceptable and feasible for everyone are developed.

All requirements are made transparent and prioritised in a joint product backlog. The teams can "pull" their to-dos from this list and implement them in the sprints. The sprints are planned together in order to become aware of dependencies between the teams and to be able to control them. In addition, the development status is exchanged daily between the product owners of the teams in short daily meetings and controlled via a Kanban board. Blockages in development thus become transparent at an early stage and can be tackled together or escalated to the Chief Product Owner.

Test optimisation and automation

In other projects, testing accounted for a considerable proportion of the total expenditure. Due to downstream testing processes, many problems were only discovered at a late stage, which meant that the cost of rectification was high - the later, the more expensive. By integrating test experts into all Scrum teams and setting up a Test Excellence Centre to support the teams, testing was significantly optimised. Testing is now carried out at an early stage and, above all, in a risk-oriented manner. Test-driven development and test automation play just as important a role as the provision of daily builds by the external software supplier. This allows problems to be uncovered at an early stage and the effort required for improvement can be minimised towards the end of the project.

In addition to these important levers in the process, we also provided targeted support for the cultural change. Our change programme was based on two main pillars: enablement and empowerment. Enablement comprised the implementation of agile basic training for the more than 120 team members. We then carried out specific training and accompanying coaching for employees in specific roles (e.g. Scrum Master and Product Owner) and supported individual managers in dealing with their new tasks and the agile understanding of leadership. An important aspect of empowerment was equipping team members and roles (e.g. Product Owner of the teams and Chief Product Owner) with strong mandates to be able to make upcoming decisions quickly and largely independently. In addition, we actively encouraged and promoted entrepreneurial thinking and behaviour so that this personal responsibility could actually be accepted and fulfilled. With success: for example, animated training videos were created by employees on their own initiative and under their own direction.

Like any fundamental change, agilisation is not a sure-fire success, but it is worth it: the organisation becomes more flexible and effective and - as a survey of those involved in the project showed - employees are activated and motivated by the new scope for action

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Lucas Brosi
Lucas Brosi
Associate Principal

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