A vision of ‘healthy living’ for everyone in Ballarat and surrounding towns, through quality water and wastewater services, is what drives Central Highlands Water (CHW). As one of 19 state-owned water corporations in Victoria, CHW operates under the Victorian Water Act but remains accountable first and foremost to its customers. Customers who rely on clean and safe drinking water, sewerage, trade waste, and recycled water services.
CHW provides fully integrated catchment-to-tap-to-catchment water services. They manage assets worth in excess of a billion dollars in order to collect, store, filter, disinfect and deliver water, and collect and treat wastewater that sustains a community of more than 144,000 people.
In order to better understand their customers’ expectations CHW undertook an exhaustive community engagement exercise throughout 2017/18. This informed a high-level digital strategy showing how their IT capability should evolve across the organisation to further enhance customer experience.
The challenge arose when it came to implementing the ideas put forward in the strategy. The desire for a more customer-centric approach and a rapid capability uplift conflicted with CHW’s traditional waterfall project methodology that was used for the ongoing delivery of asset management initiatives.
With customer satisfaction a bigger priority, Central Highlands Water’s General Manager of Customer and Community, Jacqueline O’Neill decided it was time to introduce agile ways of working, to provide a more modern approach to delivery and thinking. “Introducing agile into the business raised a few questions. But with strong governance and a focus on creating value for our customers, it soon took flight.”
O’Neill set out to find a partner that would bring fresh thinking, expertise in agile processes, and the ability to deliver a rapid engagement and uplift of IT and delivery practices. She found the right match in Elabor8, one of Australia’s most experienced agile consultancies. “Whilst Elabor8 demonstrated core knowledge and experience, we chose to partner with them based on their adaptive approach and desire to grow the capability of our business.”
Elabor8 began the process with an intensive two-day workshop during which the CHW team was introduced to agile concepts and ways of working, including Scrum and Kanban. Elabor8 then facilitated the creation of a flexible roadmap for achieving strategic goals, including how CHW would monitor the progress and success of these activities.
After this rapid inception, an agile coach from Elabor8 was embedded in the CHW Customer Experience (CX) team for three months to help gain traction from within.
With Elabor8’s help, at the initial workshop a working group that included leaders from CHW’s IT and Customer and Community teams, and the IT vendor, established a roadmap and sequence of initiatives for the three years ahead.
The group was able to articulate the problem domain, map the customer journey, and align key initiatives to develop a tangible plan backed by an understanding of their resourcing needs and reporting metrics. According to O’Neill, “we discovered that self-organising teams empowered to develop and design created additional value for our business.”
In the subsequent months, Elabor8’s agile coach worked within the Customer Experience team to deliver baseline training in Scrum and Kanban practices and co-create a physical Kanban board and other visualisations.
The large Kanban board, team canvas, delivery metrics, and representation of workflow triage evolved over time and became a focal point within CHW’s office, sparking curiosity in those passing by, including senior managers. “Creating an inviting space both physically and visually plays an important role. Our space isn’t extravagant, but we wanted to create curiosity.”
Elabor8 helped implement the ceremonies inherent to agile development including stand-ups, retrospectives, sprint planning, and work breakdown approaches that helped to kickstart and maintain cross-functional teamwork.
O’Neill says the CHW team found sprint reviews particularly energising. They discovered that showcasing accomplishments was an effective way to generate interest among key stakeholders keen to understand what the team was delivering. “We quickly recognised the importance of taking time to celebrate success. It drove a positive team culture and a desire to become a learning organisation.”
With a renewed focus on putting the customer at the centre, Elabor8 introduced prioritisation techniques and product ownership capacity, to guide the CX team in the delivery of value.
Casual learning sessions, mentoring and team-bonding activities were organised to support culture change within the team, and online collaboration tools were implemented to create a repository of information for the wider organisation.
The hands-on support from Elabor8’s coach helped CHW to put frameworks into action, deepen their understanding, and strengthen agile uplift within the organisation in a sustainable way. “As we learnt the ‘how’ we started to develop our own ‘agile identity’. Elabor8 focused on developing the individual talent of our people rather than driving agile framework.”
Translating a high-level strategy into discrete pieces of prioritised work over several years is a big task, but after a relatively short engagement with Elabor8, Central Highlands Water had a well-documented pathway to deliver their digital strategy, that considers their dependencies and resource capability. Not only did they have the strategy, but as O’Neill explains, “we were well on our way after only a short time, releasing products and services well ahead of schedule.”
Agile frameworks and work-management systems are now tailored to the specific context of CHW’s team environment and the products and asset management services they deliver.
Not only is there now strong alignment between day-to-day work and CHW’s strategy but the cross-functional team’s deliverables are clearly connected back to the business through reviews and showcases. “For us, it’s never been about celebrating the individual contribution of the CX team, it’s about celebrating the collective business effort to deliver additional value for our customers.”
Adopting agile principles within the Customer Experience team, in collaboration with an external IT vendor, was a first for CHW and the success of the project was invigorating. It has enhanced the organisation’s culture of continuous improvement and learning, through knowledge sharing, developing intellectual property, and value-led thinking.
“We were a traditional organisation that delivered outcomes through long-term projects. Recognising the risk opportunity of an agile approach, supported by leadership and the right partner, Elabor8, has driven rapid value for our customers and a business desire to become a learning organisation.”