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InfoQ Homepage Articles The CA Crew on Coaching Coaches, Mixing Cultures and Future Product Direction

The CA Crew on Coaching Coaches, Mixing Cultures and Future Product Direction

Key takeaways

  • Transitioning a large organization to use an agile approach is hard, even when the organization is accepting of the ideas
  • The danger of assuming the old way is wrong – rather respect leverage what works
  • An important skill for coaching/consuting is “out loud thinking” – explain your thought process, don’t just issue decrees
  • Listen with humility to ensure you understand the real situation before suggesting solutions
  • Agile beyond IT is now firmly entrenched

At the recent Agile 2016 conference InfoQ sat down with Ronica Roth, Steve Demchuk and Eric Willeke of the CA (formerly Rally Software). They discussed coaching the coaches, transforming CA to becoming an agile organisation, mixing cultures, the state of the products and future product direction.

InfoQ: Hello Ronica, Steve, and Eric. Thanks for talking to us today, please could you briefly introduce yourselves.

Ronica: I’m Ronica Roth. I am approaching my ten-year anniversary of being at Rally, now CA. And right now, I’m leading the Practice Development Group for our services. So coaching the coaches.

Steve: Hi. I’m Steve Demchuk, VP of Product for Agile Central. So I have the honor of talking about strategy and execution for the product site.

Eric: Eric Willeke. I am leading the Agile Advisory Team, which is currently chartered with helping transform CA itself and all of its engineering towards an Agile way of working and achieving the impact of agility.

InfoQ: That’s an interesting situation because Rally was an Agile organization from the ground up and now you are part of CA which from the outside, anyway, wasn’t. There seemed to be a fair amount of question in the marketplace: Will these two cultures mix? Are they mixing?

Eric: Well, as with any acquisition, that’s inevitable they will mix. The question initially becomes how will they mix? And which aspects of which culture will be preserved? One of the things that would be very easy for us to do and very inappropriate for us to do is just to assume ours was better in every way. And instead, it has been a journey over the last year of doing this work, of recognizing where CA is melting pot of many acquisitions, is actually able to achieve some very remarkably powerful things. And where does it need a new dose, a new perspective from an organization that in many ways, fundamentally, breathed agility at every level of the organization.

So from the outside, one could easily assume an organizational which is perceived to be 100% waterfall. We’re going to go in and find 50 years ago’s technology and mindset because we’re a mainframe company with a distributed arm. And lo and behold, our mainframe group has 116 scrum teams, and most of those teams have multiple customers in the room for every sprint demo, and they are quite reliably doing very good, a very high quality product releases. I think they’re approaching four quarters of zero defect releases in certain areas.

At the same time, you start to look at how CA as a company manages the higher level across this 300 some odd products and how it decides how to do investment. And we start to see the needs for not portfolio or not execution agility so much, but portfolio agility through business agility and learning how to reallocate and do so in a way that is compatible with the human attitudes and the expectations we, perhaps, with our Rally culture might have brought with us. So a lot of the work is taking what’s amazing that’s already there and meshing it with some new ideas and working with senior leadership to see how those ideas need to plan into the organization.

InfoQ: So you’re doing to yourselves what you’ve done for other organizations, how does that feel?

Eric: It feels really good. I kind of accepted the role with the mindset of, I’m making a home for the family that I’ve grown over five years of being Rally. And realizing that there’s a ton of like-minded people already within the organization we’re going to join, and it was more a matter of aligning an activation and supporting than it was of having to go in and perhaps tell or sell or inflict agility.

InfoQ: So with that experience, what advice would you give people who are trying to do the same thing in large organizations that are out there? Because certainly, there seems to be a lot more large organization transformation going on in the marketplace today.

Eric: I think the biggest trap we, as the Agile community, tend to fall into, is assuming about the “they.” We look at an organization and we think we know what “they” are thinking, feeling, and behaving and we forget to stop and inspect their current state and understand and gain empathy for who this new partner of ours might be. And once you achieve that empathy, I think much of the work that’s very much easier, and it’s just a matter of ensuring or selecting the practices and the values or introduction, perhaps, that is right for the organization at the speed you need to go.

Not assuming that, “Oh, they’re not doing scrum, so we must do scrum across the board” or not assuming that the first step is to install your scaling framework because there’s lots of people. But rather stopping and understanding what are the real impediments, what are the goals and the needs of this organization, and partner with the company that you are now supporting as an adviser.

InfoQ: So what are some of the big challenges that you’ve come across?

Eric: Its 3,100 engineers and their associated leadership structure. There’s a lot of momentum, a lot of people. It is impossible to say one thing and have everybody hear it. So messages like seven ways, seven times are critical. Creating a purpose behind a practice rather than introducing a practice is absolutely essential because I can say things as a coach and one environment, and I’ve already contextualized it. I’ve understood, I see their environment, in this corner, the organization, and I make a suggestion that maybe you shouldn’t use capabilities in this case and you can get by, which is features. And then three weeks later, I get an email from somewhere else in the organization that said, “I was told we’re not using capabilities anymore.” And trying to give the purpose behind the practice in such a way that people can start to learn how to contextualize it as they go.

Ronica: I always refer to that the greatest service you can do as a consultant, whether internal or external, is out loud thinking. Narrate your thought process. Don’t just bring the conclusion explain the thought process.

Steve: And it’s interesting. Since the acquisition, one of the things -- it was always this two-part play that Rally is good for CA on the business side but we’re buying Rally just as much for the practices and the people on the culture side. I think we’re all excited about both of those, but especially the latter where it is fun to talk about how we do product management, how we do executive coaching, how we do practices. But it has been a challenge too in learning how to have those conversations with the rest of the business and take their context in the mind, because it’s really easy for me to write. I’ve got my product management playbook but my product is pretty unique compared to a lot of the other products and the scale that people are working on. So I think one of the biggest challenges for me is not coming in with -- this is how we do it, so I want you to start doing it this way, and literally, having enough of a depth of a conversation to even say, “Can I responsibly even suggest this?” I think that’s for me, one of the harder things is learning how to listen for a long time before we start saying, “Here, go ahead and try this.”

InfoQ: You mean we shouldn’t just come in and say, “Do that, do scrum”?

Steve: Nope.

Ronica: You know it’s funny that you say that facetiously and we all laugh. I mean who would stand up and give a talk on how to be heavy-handed in consulting. Yet it’s so easy to do, like you can have all the best intentions but it is easy sometimes to stand up and be the expert and have all the answers. And I have seen this one practice work in like 50 places. So it’s easy to dismiss. I feel like just in the last week, with the one customer and with CA I had a lesson in not just listening but listening with humility.

So one was internal and someone from the PPM organization is describing some of the philosophy behind the features they’ve got in there, why things are the way they are. I’m ready to hear he’s wrong, like I’m ready to hear that it’s all traditional PPM and there’s no place for it. I’ve got to get them thinking in a new way. But luckily, I listened with humility and I was like, “Actually, I agree with half of what he’s saying.” And the other half, I know exactly where it’s coming from and I just want to start to explore new ideas. I don’t even have the answer, so let’s just do it.

And I had another one last week where I went to learn about a customer’s Agile transformation. Again, you expect to sort of hear what they’re doing wrong, but man, they’re doing a lot right and had a recent public success to prove it., “You know when we started that project? We started that project in January.” What used to take 700 days and now takes six months.

So again, I’m like, “Oh, I don’t need to come in and tell you what you’re doing wrong. I’m just going to help you figure out where to go next, what to pay attention to next.” And what a great, you mentioned partnership, what a great place to be that kind of partnership.

InfoQ: Ronica, in your role as the head of the Agility Services Practice Delivery Team -- Development Team.

Ronica: Practice Development, something like that. I don’t know. We called it Speed Team.

InfoQ: What are you doing and what do you take out of that to the teams?

Ronica: You know, it’s a lot of working within the services organization. What do we need? What are the things that are preventing us from being successful? One of the first ones was we were suddenly doing a bunch of hiring, and it’s like, “Oh, hiring has been very --” each hiring manager kind of does throw away. Let’s get some consistency so we can grow and maintain our standards. So it is some work on the hiring process. We always used to hire coaches one at a time. So onboarding was a function of, I don’t know, brute force somehow.

Now, suddenly, we’re going to hire a few people at once. So we developed onboarding so that the Rally way could continue and that we could continue to develop that. A lot of it now is sort of what do the coaches in the field need. We’re more often, in the spirit of that listening first, leading with organizational discovery engagements. We and the customer get a shared understanding of their current state and where they’re at so far. No one has ever not done Agile yet when they come to us. They’re on their journey.

So let’s spend some time helping them, see where they are in the journey. We’re doing more and more of that. Again, I think each coach was kind of using the tools they’ve learned along the way and they looked a little different. I think that’s hard on the coaches if you feel like you have to make your own template every time. So lots of collecting the patterns of what’s working and not working and then giving it back to them in a more polished reusable kind of way. All of it to me just means we serve customers a little bit better. I want my brilliant coaches spending their energy understanding customers, not reinventing every time how we do this.

Eric: It’s been a fascinating collaboration between Ronica and the Speed Team and the work my team is doing. I will summarize this, making sure we get to drink our own champagne and making sure our customers don’t have to eat our dog food.

Because internally, we are able to not just use our own products and validate our own solutions but at the full enterprise scale to validate our new ideas. And we have an opportunity to truly do Horizon 3 style experimentation on things that normally require full enterprise to test. So we get to do things like, what happens if you use a big room planning approach to do a problem solving workshop with 80 executives? Which will be coming up later.

Ronica: Oh, I’m like, “And how did that go?” Oh, it’s coming, okay, great. I can’t wait.

Eric: We get to take the business agility steering approach that Rally has used for, I don’t know, most of a decade, probably. But now, what does that look like when you have 1,000 developers instead of 80? What does that look like when you’re managing a portfolio of multiple hundred products not one?

Steve: I was going to say, our first executive offsite, so for us now, we’re in the Agile management business unit which is PPM, Agile Central, and ITSM. And just like Eric said, the very first meeting we ever had was actually led by Jean Tabaka and Rachel Weston Rowell, and it was done in that style where we talked about True North, we talked about mother strategies. We collaborated together, and guess how we started. We started by being vulnerable in learning who each other were. Like I said, I’ve been fighting hard for a strategy for one product for the last two years, and also, now I’m thinking about how does agility actually work in all these different problem spaces and what can I even bring to that.

So that scale I think is allowing a lot of us to grow, and at the same time, see our impact, reach a lot further. And it’s pretty fun to actually not take for granted that we’ve worked in this environment for a long time, and now we get to spread it to our own company and see how much fun it is for people to work in that style.

Eric: Yeah. And some of the growth moments that you see in individual groups are fundamentally astounding. We first invited John Deere to join one of our steering meetings as a customer in the room for our annual planning almost five years ago, and to us that’s become a matter of course. Of course there are customers in the room with us helping us determine our new strategy. Of course they’re part of our engineering planning sessions helping us to evaluate what’s going on a roadmap and save us from ourselves before it’s too late.

And now I get to watch another GM, another general manager and another business unit that’s done a lot of team level agility but never thought in that way and say, “Oh, am I ready to invite customers into mine or should I wait one more quarter?” And the question isn’t ever, “Do I have to?” or even “Can I?” It’s when is the right time? That’s the language I get to interact with on the exposure I get into people coming to see this new way of working.

InfoQ: What’s happening out in the marketplace? What’s the state of agility?

Steve: We’ve talked about this one a lot. It’s funny. Eric was talking to me I think a full year ago or even beyond about the hunger and the demand for more flow-based understanding. And we’re not talking about just for a team level, we’re talking about the organizational level because people really want that visibility to say, “What flows well through my organization? What’s not flowing well through my organization? How can I help?”

I’d say that especially in the last six months, I’ve seen that really pick up the demand at both the team, the program and the portfolio level to say, “I’m hearing the words. I want to see a histogram of what’s going on. I want to be able to look at multiple release trains and make sure that my investments are going to the right place. Help me do that.” Before, he asked me a year and a half ago, we were talking about portfolio agility and we had a lot of great ideas about that in the market, but people are still really struggling at the program level. I’m seeing really good program level capabilities now, so I’m excited about the opportunity that’s giving us now to actually spread that way of thinking to a bigger impact.

Ronica: Well, that stuff is what’s going to help us go outside IT. There’s so much more of that, I’m getting as fun, kind of a side thing almost for a while, a quarter or two. I was coaching our own marketing group. I think it started before the acquisition even. Oh no, it was after because it was driven by -- there’s sort of an increased injection of width that came out of nowhere from the acquisition because that group works so differently and our group was drowning.

So my marketing team was adopting some scrum and SAFe practices, which was fun because I talk about not knowing the answer. I don’t know which ones will work and which ones won’t work in this environment. And ever since I did that work, I get asked a couple of times a month for somebody to come talk to -- can we do Agile in HR? Can we do Agile in marketing?

Eric: Procurement, gave me a call.

Ronica: Oh, nice. And that’s just one piece of Agile outside IT but I think about another -- it’s having a conversation with some folks who were leading transformation in an IT organization. I described the idea of using Kanban to manage the transformation itself. And this executive is like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “And then you could see how things flow all the way down. It’s in the team.” They’re like, “Yes, we want that in company strategy. We want to see a company strategy and have it flow all the way down.” So they’re managing it in flow, but more importantly, it’s tied all the way from top to bottom so that everyone is working inside of context. Again, we’ve talked about that for a long time. Now, it’s being pulled from us, I think. That’s what I’m seeing, anyway.

Eric: I’m seeing the same thing. I mean over the last couple of years of consulting with MCA and the opportunities to talk to other internal transformation leaders I’ve had over the last year, what I’m saying is the numbers under consideration are continuing to grow. I mean five, seven years ago, we’re thinking of the scrum team level. It’s like, “Okay, one team, two teams. Hey, you’re pretty awesome. You did four teams at once, Ronica, well done.”

Well, fast forward to maybe two or three years ago, yeah, it was pretty routine to do five, seven teams, then 10, 20 teams started becoming the norm. And then it’s to the point now where we’re going to launch eight release trains on the next quarter, impacting 40 teams, almost mechanical because the practices in the underlying assumptions have been worked out and the patterns have been understood. So we’re able to do that fast.

Ronica: We had a customer doing a train a week for a while.

Eric: Yes. I worked with a customer almost a year and a half ago that launched five release trains in one week. Why? Because they needed to. It’s becoming driven by the business now, and once you start to look across the entire value stream and engage the business, you start to get all these people that care that you never met before.

Steve: I think the second trend for me that is probably the most exciting is now when I’m going out and talking to businesses, they’re talking to me about being a technology company, and I don’t care what industry they’re in. So I have banks, financial institutions, and insurance companies telling me that they are now a technology company. They’re a technology company that has this great specialty. So how are we going to help them? I love that way of thinking when you’re sitting at the biggest bank in a country and they’re telling you that they really are no longer can be a financial institution. It’s pretty exciting to know what’s possible. And for me as a consumer, I’m really excited about that knowing that the things that I’m going to be using in the industry can be driven by modern techniques, which I think Agile and Lean is our best chance to do that.

Eric: I think you hit on something there, and Ronica alluded to one of our customer visits. I think increasingly, the work at least I’m doing is consultants and that I see what my peers doing. It can be directly tied to what you see companies doing in the market. Well, they brought this new thing into the market and it’s being successful, and I can point to how agility helped them achieve that. And it’s no longer down in the weeds or in the back office or an IT. It’s front and center in how companies are working.

InfoQ: Thanks for talking to us today.

About the Interviewees

Steve Demchuk is a VP of Product Management at CA Technologies, where he is responsible for the direction and implementation of the CA Agile Central product roadmap. In this role, Steve leads the charge in translating CA Agile Central’s overall product vision and strategy into a roadmap that engineering teams can deliver upon. He works with the Agile Management R&D team to build the features and functionality that solve problems for customers and drive their ability to innovate and execute forward. Beyond the roadmap his position is responsible for management and career development of our team of Product Owners. Building on his history of working with customers on their Agile journeys, Steve’s vision is to ”build product that our customers are proud to use.”

Ronica Roth - Services Practice Lead, Agile Fellow, SAFe® Program Consultant, Certified Scrum Trainer, Co-author: “Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity”. “A firebrand of wisdom, tempered by practical application …”—that’s how colleagues describe Ronica, our services practice lead, who has more than 15 years of experience in agile practices. Ronica evangelizes all things collaborative, creative, agile and lean with incomparable energy and passion. Her current mission is to equip CA agile transformation consultants and agile coaches to build learning organizations that honor the individual, give everyone the chance to do what they do best, and harness the power of teams to amplify great work and produce great stuff (including software). Based in Boulder, Colorado, Ronica speaks and writes regularly on agile topics and on our ability to support agile transformation and agile organizations. She also teaches certified Scrum and SAFe courses. Get to know her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Eric Willeke - Advisor, Business Unit Strategy, SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer, Co-author: “Agile Business: A Leader’s Guide to Harnessing Complexity”. Eric’s personal vision statement, “Helping everybody on a project sleep better at night,” speaks volumes about his passion for continuous improvement and unlocking human potential. As an advisor and leader of the internal transformation at CA, he works side by side with people at all levels of the company to remove barriers to the company’s collective success. You’ll find Eric advising executives, facilitating organizational design workshops, identifying and mitigating adoption risks, mentoring internal coaches and consultants, teaching SAFe and Kanban classes, and sharing his work by speaking at conferences worldwide. Find more about Eric on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.


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