Real Agile transformation case study, with Agile Fluency Model

Omid is a WealthTech company based on A.I (artificial intelligence) that offers intelligent wealth management solutions to customers(B2B and B2C). When I was invited to join this company, they typically expected me to implement scrum, but based on my experience implementation of scrum should not be a goal. We need to answer this question, really why should we implement Scrum? Actually what problem does it want to solve by implementing Scrum? In many cases, we do all scrum ceremonies but our stakeholders (Managers, Developers, and customers) are not happy with the result!? We can call it Fake Agile.

How did we start the Omid agile transformation journey?

At the Omid, I tried to use the Agile Fluency Model to promote agility. This model describes how to enable your teams to produce the results you need and achieve the success they crave. The Agile Fluency model has three basic steps for agility(The Agile Fluency Improvement Cycle):

1- Discover opportunities

2. Diagnosing(Understand System)

3. Exploit opportunities.

First step: Discover opportunities 

Generally, in this step, we tried to understand what the concern of the organization is. The word. What is the challenge facing the organization that thinks it needs a different approach? 

About the Omid Company, we tried to discover the opportunity during the first week by talking to technical members, product managers, and senior executives. The important point here is that everybody will tell their story and viewpoint to you. As a coach, you need to understand what the underlying issues are. For example, if daily standups are not held on time, this may not be an underlying issue. 

Let’s come back to Omid, Omid had made rapid growth in a short time, and in this growth stage, they developed many components and systems. But systems were so fragile and any changes in the system broke many things in other parts. 

This fragility caused a lot of bugs and a high rate of bugs has slowed the development of new features. At the same time, it hurts the trust level to technical members, why it takes too long to develop a small feature? Why our team is so slow? Do we need to hire some experienced developers? This fade of the trust itself had also caused problems in human relations. Even the technical guys looked at each other and their ability with suspicion. (This guy is so slow and I think we need to fire him…)

Even more so, financial profits had reduced due to the lack of proper progress of the projects, and in some cases, bugs had caused many financial losses for the company.

This is a very important point that we find the main challenge and not simply involve in malady symptoms or signs. The manager might say that I must bring a new technical force, Scrum master might say that scrum meetings aren’t held properly and so on. In this case, the main challenge was so hidden for stakeholders. Managers thought their teams were so lazy, and development team members thought they had lots of unplanned issues during sprints and they need a process to handle unplanned works. 

The identified opportunity in Omid

Improving the quality of the system to maximize customer satisfaction, stakeholders and especially team members.

While quality was our first challenge, at the same time it could also become an opportunity that led us to soar. 

Fluency zone selection based on opportunity/challenge:

The Agile Fluency model is not a maturity model, usually, in a mature model the more is better, but in this model which we have four zones, each zone has its own benefits and costs. Each zone represents a fully-mature choice. Similarly, while each zone has value, each zone also brings challenges. Investing in more than you need could incur organizational backlash, and could even poison people’s perception of agile ideas in general.

Summary of the different fluency zones:

The Focusing zone represents agile fundamentals, and fluent teams provide noticeable benefits to transparency and teamwork. Although Focusing fluency doesn’t include sustainable technology practices, it’s a great way to demonstrate success and create buy-in for further investment. It’s also a good fit for teams, such as some digital agencies, that don’t maintain their software long-term.

For teams that need to modify and enhance their software for more than a few months, Delivering fluency is often a better choice. This zone represents agile sustainability. Delivering teams have low defects, high productivity, and are responsive to business requests. Fluency here is a valuable leap forward for most teams. 

Organizations that wish to set the pace of change in their market, or who see the threat of market disruption on the horizon, will benefit from choosing the Optimizing zone. Optimizing represents the promise of agile: innovative business agility. Although it has dramatic payoffs, it also requires disruptive changes to organizational structure. Making those changes is often easiest in small, nimble organizations. 

Leaders who want to innovate management theory and practice, particularly in small- to mid-size organizations, may find the Strengthening zone to be the best fit for their teams. This zone is a possible future of agile. Cutting-edge agile practice appears to be moving in that direction. However, be cautioned that this zone requires researching cutting-edge management theory and inventing new ways of working.

(source)

Based on the chosen opportunity/challenge for Omid, we targeted the second zone, Delivering, but we also had a look at the Optimizing area that if sustained, could be our future Target, but the main focus of the course was on the Delivering zone.

Why the Delivering zone selected?

The main metric of this area, as defined by the Fluency Agility model, is: “The team can release their latest work, at minimal risk and cost, whenever the business desires.” And the other benefit is “The team has low defect rates, so less time is wasted fixing bugs and more time is invested in making improvements” On the other hand, “Low defect rates and technical debt are beneficial to job satisfaction and morale, improving retention and productivity.”

Well, these items were exactly what we needed for the opportunity we had discovered. So based on this, the second zone was selected. Important point: The Delivering area is based on the Focusing zone. That means you should also be practicing this area along the path. Well in the first week we had discovered the opportunity, and we had chosen our target, now it’s time to conduct the Diagnostic.

Second step: Conduct the Diagnostic

Agile Fluency Diagnostic is a tool for facilitators of the Agile Fluency model. This tool will help you to determine the distance between you and the zone that you targeted or in simpler words, works like a GPS to determine where you are right now and what path to reach the chosen target. 

The diagnosing of Omid teams were run in a workshop, and the results were prepared for the team and senior managers in a report. The most important function of this report is that management knows what to do to support the team on the journey, and the team itself knows how to take the path.

Third step: Exploit the opportunity

In the first step we selected our target, in the next step, we realized where we were and now it is time to move on and exploit the opportunities. This is actually the coaching phase for teams and managers.

For the first zone, we asked managers to provide the following things (the First zone was the basis of our original Target):

  • Create the right environment that focused on high efficiency (Especially team room.). 
  • Make sure that someone with expertise in the business field and familiar with customer values is available and acts as the team’s business representative. 
  • Try to overcome the obstacles of effective teamwork such as competitive rankings, individual rewards. 
  • Train managers to create the right teamwork environment and instead of managing people, seek to manage work systems.

Managers did good cooperation in all cases, for example breaking teams into product teams was one of the things we did, or the product team members sat together at the common table, or the managers instead of tracking work’s progress from individuals, tried to ask the team. Finally, we breakdown our technical department to different 5 product teams.  

At the team level, the team also started the scrum and kanban processes, sprint planning meetings, sprint review and retrospectives started. Physical boards and lots of scrum and kanban practices…

This zone was so great but was not enough for us. Unfortunately, many companies are stopping at this point, but this zone was not our targeted zone. The main target was the Delivering zone. 

Most of the manager doesn’t have a problem with spending money, but one of the biggest investments the organization will make is time. We were so lucky that we had the support of the CEO, and he was willing to trust and made the investment. This investment meant a decrease in the team’s capacity to execute new futures for several months. 

At the team level, a lot of work had to be done. The main thing was that some parts of the system had to be refactored, some parts had to be written from scratch, tests (different types had to be added to the system), but there’s a big trap here, Unlimited refactoring or over-engineering. To prevent this trap, we used a simple technique. We checked out over 100 recent bugs in the Jira. Bugs are usually good things to identify fragile components. Then, based on this evidence, we began to prepare a prioritized list of technical debts.

During sprints and based on priorities, teams started to refactor different parts and add different levels of automatic tests (unit or integration tests). Don’t forget this point, refactoring is not our goal, we should have known that this refactors would reduce bugs rate and increase the quality level? In simple words, if we couldn’t measure something, we couldn’t improve it. In the beginning, we added a bug report widget to our application that users and testers could report bugs, and these bugs were recorded automatically in Jira. The numbers in the first weeks were incredible, 30 to 45 bugs in a week.

The must crucial step in change process is to create a sense of urgency

When the first time development team members saw the above chart, it was unbelievable to them, “We really have so many bugs?” Sometimes you need to bring the real situation to the forefront to create an urgency sense, that’s all. We defined a challenge with the team, who wants to bet? Do you think we can decrease this number under four?

Team Challenge: 40 to four. Participate in this challenge 🙂

The number was visualized on a big TV in front of the teams. Now in each sprint and in any deployment, team looking to reduce that number. That means, the refactor was not because of the refactor or Uncle Bob said to write clean code, but it’s for improving quality and customer satisfaction.

Look at the impact of your work and go ahead with more power.

In this company, we had some internal users, that we called the traders, who use our application to increase the wealth of their customers. One of the interesting things we discovered was that we involved them in our daily standups. At the end of the daily standup meetings, we were calling one of them, and asking them two questions: 

1. How many bugs did you record today? 

2. In your opinion, the quality of the system is better than yesterday or not?

These questions let us knew our customer/user’s feelings about our application and at the same time it creates a really great empathy for developers. They are looking to make their customers happy with high-quality software, so any refactor or improvement should help us to reach this goal. 

The initial list of technical debts was not a fixed list and was changing during sprints. But the result was incredible. In four months, the teams were able to bring this number down to almost below 4, it has also begun working on new features too.

Actually, our technical debts list did not just contain refactoring, but also there were other technical things too, such as adding microservice monitoring, adding health checks services, and documenting important parts of the system, and so on. Or other initiatives like separating the test environment from production or create a beta-customer environment. After observing the results and reducing the bug, human relationships also improved extremely.

What was a significant result?

As I said at the beginning, the problem with the company was not the use of scrum, what the company needed was a high-quality product that would make these:

1) Make adding features easy

2) Led to customer satisfaction 

3) Developers are proud of the quality of their work.

Reported bug chart

Tangible results over five months for business:

1) Extremely reduced technical debt and the increase of the ability of the team to handle feature development 

2) Increased a tangible level of trust between team members and leaders 

3) Increased company profits due to the ability to attract and retain previous customers

Because my main beneficiary in this project was the CEO, I asked him to express their opinion on the outcome of the project in one sentence:

“You dear Asad did it well. A deep understanding of human relationships, rooting for issues rather than dealing with the foliage, continued presence in teams, and tremendous experience and understanding of the problems of teamwork in Iran, made the previous challenges that were in Omid disappeared completely. Thank you very much. “

What is the future of Omid?

Transformation is an endless journey that will have many ups and downs. Especially there is a great distance to the fluency point, so I was at the beginning of this journey with Omid’s guys and I hope this path will continue in the future by guys themselves.

Be agile and good luck

Asad Safari