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InfoQ Homepage Articles CA Technologies' Agile Transformation: A Firsthand Perspective

CA Technologies' Agile Transformation: A Firsthand Perspective

Key Takeaways

  • When it comes to mastering business agility, an effective toolset is key to maintaining peak performance and understanding how value is delivered to customers.
  • Investing in people is probably the most important part of any business transformation, so establishing a safe environment that nurtures employee confidence is essential when implementing agile business practices.
  • At its core, agility drives constant improvement and adaptation. Business unit leaders can support this by promoting continuous experimentation that’s executed, evaluated and used as a basis for improvement.
  • The value of Quarterly Business Steering as a lean-agile practice where leaders from all levels and functions within the operational value stream come together to identify risks and dependencies, and evaluate and improve strategy.
  • The importance of tracking business agility progress to identify and mimic successful behaviors, and ensuring this alignment across teams so that they tactically execute toward a common goal.

CA is the same age as I am – 43 years old – which means that CA was a technology company long before software was eating the world, and well before the concept of agile was tossed around by developers and technologists. Yet, since I arrived at CA 3 years ago during the Rally Software acquisition, I’ve witnessed leaders and teams practicing agile and business agility in ways that rival and sometimes surpass our best customers. I’m hoping that sharing what’s worked here will help you bring greater business agility to your organization, too – along with some of the business outcomes we’ve worked so hard to achieve. 

After 42 years serving the technology industry,CA must continually find ways to drive innovation and surprise and delight customers. With global markets and customer needs changing more rapidly than ever, CA needed to steer the business not only to stay relevant, but to get ahead. We asked ourselves: How can we turn the tables and emerge as a market disruptor?

Our company took a step back to reevaluate. We identified the traits and practices that made CA one of the most successful, longest-surviving tech companies in history. We logged our aspirational values, described us at our best and dedicated ourselves to removing the barriers between ideas and outcomes. We soon realized that the best path forward was an agile transformation. 

Agile isn’t just a new way of developing software, it’s a new mindset, a new culture and a new way of running a business. That may sound like a lot to take on, but the results speak for themselves. Since we began practicing agile at scale and business agility, we’ve reduced time to market, improved customer satisfaction, boosted innovation and increased employee engagement. We’ve made it easier for leaders, lines of business and teams to work together -- and with our customers -- on a global scale.  

But reinventing a business isn’t easy. It’s a transformation that must be meticulously designed as a series of experiments on and in a complex system, and these experiments need to be executed with discipline. Here’s a firsthand look at how CA Technologies successfully engineered our agile transformation, starting with our people.  

Introducingagile to your employees 

Investing in people is probably the most important part of any business transformation, so establishing a safe environment that nurtures employee confidence is essential. Telling people that have spent years building their careers that you’re going to change roles, responsibilities and the organizational structure they’ve always known can create anxiety. 

“If I take this scrum master role, will I ever be promoted?”

“I don’t even know what this new role is, what I would be expected to do?”

“Will this job carry the same status as my last role? Will I get the same pay?”

People need a clear vision of how they’re going to fit into a new, more agile world. To address this, our transformation team interviewed hundreds of leaders and team members throughout the organization to devise a formula that would help ensure trust and confidence. The result was an updated set of leadership guidelines and a published agile job architecture meant to address the most immediate concerns. For additional support, we provided:

  • Coaching and training in lean agile thinking and leadership
  • Training on agile-at-scale practices and strategic facilitation
  • Modern career pathing and role-based training

As with any large-scale organizational transformation, we identified specific components that would help make our change program more successful:

  • A guiding vision and mission to get everybody on the same page
  • Common stories and language
  • A couple of easy wins to boost enthusiasm
  • New skills, practices and mindset training 

The training involved online programs for agile basics, hands-on agile workshops and a variety of in-person, role-based programs. With that, we felt confident our people were getting the information and training necessary to embrace agile and ensure its success.  

Infusing new habits, behaviors and culture

An agile transformation involves a change in everyday work practices. At CA, this meant adopting lean strategy deployment methods to steer lines of business, newfacilitation techniques, a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), and a business agility maturity model evaluated in terms of continuous improvement. 

Within each of line of business, we began implementing "Big Room Planning,"  a facilitated working session where a large group comes together to align, focus and design a plan for shared work. Big Room Planning involves two critical practices:

  1. Quarterly Business Steering to provide focus, clarity and strategic alignment.

Quarterly Business Steering is a lean-agile practice where leaders from all levels and functions within the operational value stream come together to identify risks and dependencies, and evaluate and improve strategy. It’s like the old quarterly business reviews, but more forward looking, with collaborative working sessions on our toughest business challenges.

Before each steering session, operational value stream leaders define and articulate a proposed updated line-of-business strategy. These strategies are then matched up with corporate-level strategic goals so we know which strategies are viable and which don't currently merit support.  

A typical CA Quarterly Business Steering agenda starts with updates from leaders from marketing, sales, finance, etc. Next come facilitated working sessionsmeant to collaboratively identify problems and bright spots with both the current business and proposed strategies. The session ends with a confidence vote on the final plan to ensure alignment. Once leaders are aligned and focused on a strategy, product direction and the related work can easily follow suit. 

  1. SAFe PI Planning for each development value streamto help ensure that risks and dependencies are visible early, delivery is rapid, quality remains high, and we’re working at a sustainable pace.

At CA, our business units are almost all leveraging the Scaled Agile framework (SAFe) and SAFe PI Planning as the cornerstone of our development value streams. These practices have been instrumental in the creation of new habits leading to a new organizational culture.

Tools and technology deliver success in business agility 

Any master of their craft will tell you that experience and skills are only half the equation. The right tools and materials are equally vital. Likewise, when it comes to mastering business agility, an effective toolset is key to maintaining peak performance and understanding how value is delivered to customers. 

Agile is all about transparency of value delivered, and that’s very hard to achieve without a global platform through which everyone can view effort, progress and outcomes. Investigate multiple solutions and look for one that offers deep visibility into work being done and value being created--in real-time and across the portfolio. This should include the ability to:

  • Identify when teams are over capacity
  • See the quality that’s being delivered
  • Seamlessly plan and track work and dependencies as you scale agile across teams and portfolios
  • Integrate with must-have tools and provide reporting data automatically 
  • Support and enhance your teams’ efforts (without getting in the way)

Track business agility progress

At CA, we use a business agility maturity model that helps ensure we’re leveraging the same behaviors we’ve seen drive success in other companies. We use scorecards to highlight progress within each business unit and guide future improvement actions in our Quarterly Steering Meetings and PI planning. Scorecards allow teams to self-assess their performance, but aren’t (and shouldn’t be) used as reward/punishment determination rubrics.  

Ensure alignment

A strategy grid is another important tool, loosely based on the Hoshin Kanri x-matrix. This grid articulates business strategy in a simple way and helps ensure we’re continuously tying activities and results back to overall business goals. It focuses activities on a few specific strategies and helps each business unit communicate their goals, align their individual strategy to that of the wider business, and understand how initiatives are connected.

To begin building strategy grids, assemble the value stream leadership team. In the meeting, start with true north/vision, then cover up to three line-of-business strategies and critical initiatives. Once leadership has a common perspective on goals and priorities, alignment can be extended across teams so that they tactically execute toward a common goal.

Create visibility

Last are the technologies fundamental to the day-to-day activities that drive customer value. Our Agile Management solutions, CA PPM (Project & Portfolio Management), CA Agile Central and CA Flowdock are used by thousands of employees across our business to track project and product value delivery. Using our own tools helps us see how we’re delivering to our investment strategies and helps us plan and work collaboratively to maximize productivity, quality and adaptability.

As well as providing everyone from senior managers to developers with visibility of all current initiatives and their outcomes, these technologies enable employees across geographically diverse locations to work together as a single team inside a virtual room. This will grow increasingly important as you scale. 

Extending agile across the business

Agile wasn’t designed to sit in isolation in development. To maximize value, it needs to be applied to every department involved in launching new products and servicing customers. Extending agile benefits—collaboration, adaptability, and the ability to sense and quickly respond to market changes—across the value stream is what’s referred to as “business agility.” 

Once CA’s legal, marketing and customer success leaders saw the engagement levels and results agile practices generated in the product organization, they were anxious to learn how agile practices could focus and align their work as well. 

We engaged these teams with a Critical Initiative Planning session to decide on the most urgent work to be done and how it should be prioritized and broken down into experiments and sprints. The teams used CA Agile Central to track their activities and results.

Being accustomed to extreme precision, our legal teams experienced a few challenges until they devised a method of breaking down work into smaller pieces that allowed them to  maintain high levels of quality. The entire department eventually saw great results, including faster improvements to contracts and legal websites. Today, it’s well positioned to support CA as we grow and move more operations to a SaaS model.

Already focused on customer experience and accustomed to systems thinking, our Global Customer Success team swiftly adopted lean agile thinking. We met with 30 leaders in a Big Room Planning meeting and crafted a detailed, sprint-based approach (a hypothesis and means to begin the experiment) to improve customer satisfaction across our product portfolio.

Today, as most organizations have found critical, we’re also scaling agile within our IT shared services teams, too. By extending agile throughout the value chain, we’re learning to innovate with discipline; we’re learning faster, smaller experiments; and we’re delivering higher value more frequently to our customers.

Sustaining business agility when old ways beckon, new challenges arise 

Adopting agile is like adopting a new exercise regimen. You know there are big benefits, but it still takes effort and perseverance. At CA, our transition has been successful by any number of metrics. Seven LOBs continue to make steady progress in agility and continuous improvement with occasional leaps forward. But one LOB–originally a shining star– briefly struggled and slid backwards. Why? Because cultural changes, like trips to the gym, are difficult to maintain. Staying motivated is essential and there are several methods to help:

Leverage an agile coach

Coaches are invaluable in helping you maintain discipline. Agile has always incorporated on-site coaches who act as feet-on-the-ground leaders that drive the agile implementation process. They’re an essential part of a successful transition. 

CA is implementing a global team of agile coaches to guide day-to-day practices, mindset and interactions. There’s at least one coach inside every major office looking for ways to improve mindsets, encourage customer value and ensure a sustained commitment to business agility.

Leaders strive for continuous improvement

At its core, agility drives constant improvement and adaptation. Business unit leaders support this by promoting continuous experimentation that’s executed, evaluated and used as a basis for improvement. This is why retrospectives are so important. They allow you to learn from your successes and mistakes while continuously evaluating existing processes.

Teams will always need to adjust to new market challenges, so an adaptive and experimental lean, agile mindset at the heart of your business is critical. Each LOB must take ownership of agility and everyone, from leaders on down, must regularly analyze their own mindset to ensure they’re acting in a manner consistent with this new culture.

Adjust leadership development programs

Your current staff know agile leaders lead differently. But they won’t be around forever. And if your business is growing, you’ll need additional leadership soon anyway. Installing new leaders unfamiliar with agile processes is a roadmap to relapse. Grow your leaders from within by incorporating agile ideologies into existing leadership development programs.

Celebrate your achievements

Sometimes, nothing is more inspiring than stepping back to admire and celebrate how far you’ve come. We’re reflecting on our success and sharing it with other organizations as part of our own current celebration!

Five Steps to getting started with agile

As you’re considering whether agile is right for you, or how you can better support your existing transformation, here are five recommended steps to follow:

  1. Get your executive and senior leadership team together to identify your most critical business challenges and their root causes. (Try a Big Room Planning Session.) Ensure leaders are aligned on those challenges as well as desired outcomes.
  1. Evaluate if and how agile can solve those challenges and achieve those outcomeswith a seasoned agile transformation consultant.

During our evaluation, senior leadership participated in multiple sessions with agile consultants to discuss the challenges we were facing. We used root-cause analyses to understand the issues and clearly illustrate how agile-oriented changes would (or would not) address them. Leaders participated in agile training and even played games to visualize how agile could address each challenge. 

This is also the point at which we measured the urgency and appetite to invest in the organizational changes necessary to meet our key goals:

  • Become an innovative, organic growth company
  • Increase customer satisfaction 
  • Increase responsiveness and reduce time to market
  • Deliver insanely high-quality products 
  • Improve efficiency and predictability of the customer value we deliver
  1. Decide whether your organization can currently handle a transformation in culture, practices and technology.
  1. Commit to a value stream workshop to decide how to structure your products’ execution engines (your IT or product development organization) in a lean/agile manner.

Have a structured discussion with senior leaders in each line of business. Take into account how much is going on in the organization and in that context, evaluate your people’s capacity to undertake additional change. Leverage lean/agile value stream mapping workshops to measure how big of an organizational change will be required. Then estimate when you can start training your people and using enterprise-wide portfolio execution technologies. 

At CA, this process involved an analysis of existing organizational practices that helped us identify the functional changes that needed to occur. We learned how work was visualized, and how the organization tracks investment to delivery. We conducted interviews to illustrate employee mindset and behaviors as well as the social and emotional lenses through which changes would be perceived. 

  1. Learn by doing!

For CA, agile was the perfect solution. It was able to address critical challenges across multiple LOBs, some of which we tackled simultaneously and some individually, depending on the best timing for the business. We’ve launched over 25 trains and held hundreds of Big Room Planning sessions. 

Just a couple of years in, we’ve improved employee and customer satisfaction rates, increased product quality, sped up time to market, improved predictability of delivery, and innovation has exploded. And we’re still learning every day--by doing. 

If you’re ready to get started with an agile transformation, CA can act as a valuable roadmap. Agile may not be capable of solving every last problem, but it can go a long way in preparing your business for disruption and delivering you a host of agile-based competitive advantages. 

About the Author

Christine Hudson is a Senior Director of Enterprise Agility and leads a small, but mighty global transformation team responsible for enabling CA Technologies’ internal agile transformation across seven business units for over 3,000 technology practitioners. She and her team support leaders and teams at all levels as they strive to adopt lean-agile practices, including SAFe and QSM strategy deployment, and as they find the courage to work more transparently, practice having difficult strategy conversations more collaboratively and strive to bring their whole selves to work.

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