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Going agile – looking back, and looking forwards

A status check on leading a transformational project in Product Development almost 12 months after the project kicked off.

Since going agile, we now have five out of seven agile release trains (ART) live. Middle Office, which was the first one to go live in April has had two Planning Increment (PI) events, while the Alternative Investments, Technology, Front Office and IBOR ARTs have had one event each. To date, I think we can say that these PI events have been successful in defining and planning their work as well as being able to demo their features along the way.

Twelve months on, what are some key reflections on agile?

I think Mostapha Ghali, who has been the Release Train Engineer for the Middle Office ART sums it up nicely:

“… it is a journey and one of the important aspects is that you learn how to do things as you go along. It is a mistake to think that you are not ready and use that as an excuse not to start. Also, you have to understand that once you get started it is a bumpy road ahead.

We had a lot of training before we went into the first PI but all the training in the world would not have prepared us for what happened in the first PI. It is really all about learning by doing - and this applies both to tools, knowledge and processes.

Overall however, we’ve seen great cooperation in the team, 12 release-ready features delivered after the first PI, a focus on delivering features with most client value, and transparency in what we are doing. All very much aspects that lead us to moving towards the agile methodology.

Agile development workshop at SimCorp

Agile Release Train takes over SimCorp's canteen

Such a change will always impact employees

At the beginning, my sense was that there was a lot of support for our decision to go agile. Naturally, there was some skepticism around the agile approach. Some people came up to me and said, “Why do we need to change – we have a successful model today” or “It is too big a change for us to go through on top of all the product deliveries that we have planned already.” But there were perhaps even more people looking forward to this change and were very supportive for making it a reality.

During the months in spring when we announced the organizational changes, we experienced some resistance in the organization. However, I believe that we all helped each other through these changes and now that we have been running the agile process for over six months and people have it a little more under their skin, I feel like the tide has turned, and most people are really happy about the direction we are headed.

In order to ensure all 520 of us in Product Development are aligned on this new approach, we held a recent offsite, with colleagues flying in from our four major development centers. The purpose being to share our experiences so far, and look to the future steps on the journey towards agile.

A time to align and share our experiences

At the event, we asked our team what agile meant to them and the words that people sent back reflects the range of feedback, with words such as flexibility, empowerment, change, exciting, interesting, and collaboration, standing out. I was pleased to see this feedback, and I think it captures the reactions I personally heard at the event.

Word Cloud

Feedback on our agile project from employees so far

The timing of the event was also really important – some Agile Release Trains (ART) had gone live, some are about to go live and the rest will be live within the next three months. So, a lot of different experiences and expectations, but also the feeling that we are in the middle of the transformation even though we are not all exactly at the same place.

Our experience is similar to other companies that make the shift to agile

Our keynote speaker Tony Grout talked about the agile transformation that he headed up at SKYPE as well as his current experiences from being in charge of the agile transformation at Lloyds Bank – it is always great to hear other people’s experience. Tony Grout shared his insights into the ups and downs of a large transformation; how putting frameworks and tools in place is one aspect, but changing the way you work and think is a completely different challenge and will in all likelihood take time. He noted that everyone should stay focused on the constant process of learning and adapting.

The future of agile, is now

Right now, our focus in the agile transformation work and in Product Development is really on getting all the ARTs live. We have removed the initial impediments which will allow everybody to get started working agile in their ARTs and that is our top priority right now. Then we must all remember that the agile journey is about continuous improvements – we heard that at the event and that really must be the mantra for us going forward.

If you’d like to continue the dialogue, feel free to leave a comment below, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Also, feel free to read my original blog post on going agile, Product Development at SimCorp goes agile.