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Agile triggers project results for a top Australian university

The situation

When one of Australia’s leading universities initiated a program to modernise its research management system in 2012, it took the traditional waterfall approach of planning everything in a sequential, linear process. However, the University quickly realised this model was not viable for an educational institution of its size and complexity.

During the three-year program, vast amounts of time and resources were invested in detailed analysis of current and future state processes, leading to an extensive procurement process to select a new research management system. Despite this, the program failed to deliver to customer needs, and many of the university’s stakeholders started looking for new ways to move forward.

Taking an agile approach

With a broad understanding that change was necessary, the university engaged Elabor8 to assist in transforming the way the program was run. This involved:

Educating the team and executive stakeholders on agile fundamentals and the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

 Preparing and transitioning the project team to agile ways of working

Implementation of SAFe through program backlog development, visualisation of work and PI planning

Providing onsite coaching and delivery support

Together Elabor8 and the University leveraged SAFe to deliver a new research management system called myResearch. The project was completed in nine months, for a cost of less than $2 million.

Adopting agile fundamentally changed the way the University approached business transformation projects and stimulated a cultural change in the organisation. While the delivery timeframe and cost of the project were extremely efficient, the real benefit to the organisation was a new way of working, and the resulting shift in thinking. Arguably a waterfall approach would not have initiated such a change.

A fundamental shift

Following the successful implementation of myResearch, the University delivered another new portal for use by its body of students and staff. During this process, teams leveraged iterative delivery methods to digitise and rationalise hundreds of online forms for staff and students alike, releasing a vast amount of value for administrators.

The university also took an agile approach to delivering a new learning portal to support PhD students completing their required professional development activities.

Within four weeks of beginning the project, the University was able to confirm that the system it selected was fit-for-purpose after it carried out a number of experiments with different student cohorts — an exercise the previous system implemented just 18 months earlier had failed to do.

In another separate project, the University’s IT department engaged with the Faculty of Law to adjust its student intake process. As a result, the faculty saw a 1,200% reduction in time to producing a letter of acceptance, reduction in double-handling of administration tasks, and the digitisation of key registration documentation.

Embedding lasting change

To reflect its shift to agile, the University made changes to its physical environment by knocking down walls and creating a “family dining room”. This bold move was crucial in helping people to understand that agile was creating a truly different way of working.

The organisation knew that simply claiming to be agile and doing the ceremonies were not enough. For people to understand that problems were being tackled differently, a fundamental mindset shift was needed.

As well as the University’s IT and Research Management departments, the organisation’s Marketing and Human Resources team also embraced agile.

Elabor8 helped the University use SAFe to create transparency and alignment, allowing the program to execute with quality.

A key change was the improved connection between the business stakeholders and the program team, who sat together on a daily basis. The result was greater transparency and earlier identification of problems, which helped to build trust both inside and outside the team.

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