Our customer, a very large mail and parcel delivery enterprise with tens of thousands of employees, recognised that future-proofing for the digital era meant significant changes were needed within its Lodgement and API (L&API) team.
Necessary changes included investing in specific talent and capability and delivering new modern service platforms. A cultural change was also needed, moving away from traditional hierarchical models to a more agile, team-based collaborative mode.
Embarking on this digital transformation journey saw the L&API team grow rapidly from 40 to 100 employees, however, talent to lead in Agile was scarce, and the team was being run by someone without agile experience. This meant team members weren’t focusing on the right things and everyone was spread very thin, essentially doing agile rather than being agile.
“They were growing fast; the digital space was getting quite large and they were keen to find ways to do it better. The leadership team recognised that because they were trying to scale quickly, they needed good people to come in and create stability. And that’s where we stepped in.”
The team was also working with a heavy reliance on downstream platforms run by the Systems Integration Test (SIT) team. This lack of control and the siloed fashion of the team’s operation meant the delivery of projects was cumbersome and long lead times were required to get changes into production.
The company consulted Elabor8 and further key issues were fast identified:
- The ways of working were not well embedded, with limited agile processes. The teams were not working together. They had no visibility of what each other were doing, or no way to align their work to a common roadmap or plan.
- Each team member was task-switching and working on multiple items simultaneously, with multiple hand-offs and large wait times, leaving them feeling overloaded and that work progress was slowing progress;
- Releasing newly developed software was very difficult and extremely slow.
To help boost engagement, drive progress, and create an environment where agile could prosper, the company partnered with Elabor8 to lead agile in the L&API team.
An Elabor8 release train engineer was also eventually brought on board to help the L&API team’s agile capabilities so members would become proficient in building and running new platforms, rather than just fixing existing code.
“Elabor8 was a good partner for us because it has the kind of talent we’re looking for. We were seeking a number of Senior Agile Leaders and Iteration managers at once and they were already nearly impossible to find,” says the company’s head of digital engineering.
When Elabor8 first started, the L&API team comprised only one scrum team. Within a year, there were four more, all led by Elabor8. As new scrum teams were created, the program started to operate as an agile delivery train within the scaled agile framework (SAFe).
As most of the business’s delivery capabilities were provided by its Digital Delivery Centre, Elabor8 chose to operate the SAFe program as one delivery agile release train among many others in operation within the company.
“When Elabor8 helped us transition from scrum to SAFe, they helped us bend to the agile way of working – and evolved our operations as the asset became less about just ‘build’ and became more about ‘build and run’,” says the head of digital engineering.
Despite a ‘learn and improve’ strategy mandating a minimum monthly major release, upon Elabor8’s arrival, the L&API team had not carried out a major release for nearly nine months.
Over a period of 12 months, with Elabor8’s guidance, the L&API agile release train was able to move from a minimum monthly release cadence to releasing multiple times a week, often multiple times a day.
“When Elabor8 first went in, there had been a long while between major releases, maybe six months, with things getting only partially released or being held back by the business. One of the main things we spent the first twelve months doing was really unpicking that and getting their DevOps practices really clean with little to no downtime.”
A ‘business as usual’ team was also set up to alleviate the rest of the team from activities such as amending customer defects, customer lead improvements and minor technical debt. This freed up the team’s time to focus on developing new features and addressing some of the company’s biggest technology challenges, without distraction. Elabor8 also helped the L&API team improve and streamline its workflow to other teams – including the SIT team – to ensure processes ran pragmatically and there were regular product releases to market.
Under Elabor8’s leadership, the L&API team didn’t change significantly, nor did the skills of team members. What changed was the process and the way they worked together.
A clear process around the ways of working was implemented. This process covered how work was governed, how work was prioritised, how work was broken down from large and complex into the teams, and how it was tracked and released into production.
Individual roles, responsibilities, and purposes were clarified, playing to people’s varied strengths, and a culture of mutual support was instilled and nurtured.
“We had quite a few people in there, embedded in all teams, old and new. We took on key roles – running individual teams, funnelling work into those teams, and assuming responsibility for everything being delivered. In this way, we were able to create stability until we got the processes and headcount right, while affecting an uplift across the whole release train and value stream.”
A shift in language—from ‘Here is the work you have to do’ to ‘Here are the outcomes you need to achieve’—reset team motivations and encouraged creative problem-solving, empowering the team to self-organise based on individual strengths.
By focusing on small wins and celebrating together more frequently, goals became more achievable, and a narrative of success was born.
One year after engaging Elabor8 to lead and scale agile, the L&API team had:
- Passed 40 million parcels through its L&API platform;
- Taken two custom-built enterprise web-based lodgement platforms to market;
- Doubled the number of successful changes carried out;
- Doubled the number of deployments delivered per week (avg of 3.8p/w);
- Progressed from monthly releases to multiple daily releases;
- Significantly decreased ticket times to resolution;
- Shed its interdependencies on other teams in the company.
“What we created was what they themselves had envisaged, they just had no idea how to get there or what was truly possible, and I think we unlocked that for them.”
An example of the new, agile normal: One day there was a problem printing labels across the company’s retail and logistics infrastructure. As you can imagine, printing labels is very important for a delivery company and an issue like this could be devastating for revenue. Thankfully, the new and improved L&API team came to the rescue, quickly ideating, building working prototypes, writing and deploying code to fix the issue, and the problem was solved the same day.
Most of the business’s products and services are now enabled through its L&API team in modular components and new services are built as microservices, which add value to the basic functionality.
Plus, since trusting Elabor8 with the L&API team’s transition to agile, the speed and quality at which new features now get to production have increased across the whole company.
“While you can decide to go agile quickly, that doesn’t make you agile quickly. The learning curve is harder for some people and shifting a whole team, let alone a whole organisation as large as this, will take time, as well as support from leadership.”
With Elabor8’s guidance and support, the L&API team changed not only how the rest of the company sees them but also how they see themselves.
By engendering a culture of mutual support and empowering them to solve problems at the roots, they transformed into a highly competent, efficient, and engaged team.