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Digital Factory on a Global Scale: Scaled Agile and DevOps at UBS

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UBS is rolling out a scaled agile setup globally in Switzerland, India and the APAC region. Christian Bucholdt, head IT of digital factory management at UBS, spoke at Agile Leadership Day 2019 about their Digital Factory approach and how it will change the entire delivery organization.

In his talk, Bucholdt showed the benefits gained at UBS, the largest wealth management company. The most important benefit is transparency in regards to scope, delivery progress, capacity availability and delivery quality. It becomes more and more apparent to all stakeholders and teams, but to the business and sponsor side, what is going well and what not so well.

According to Bucholdt, UBS also gained a significant reduction in time to market. In selected Release Trains they can react to client feedback within two or four week cycles, instead of just three major releases per year. UBS also started reaping the first fruits of increased efficiency due to the focus on automation, as they can deliver in more frequent releases or run unattended nightly regression tests, instead of just once per release.

InfoQ interviewed Christian Bucholdt about the scaled agile setup, and how it impacts the UBS operating model and the delivery organization.

InfoQ: What made UBS decide to implement an agile approach?

Christian Bucholdt: As with most financial institutions, UBS needs to react to the market needs of faster and better targeted digital offerings. A setup that combines agile methodology and DevOps seems to be most promising for UBS, as it best supports the global technical platform for the Wealth Management and Personal Banking & Corporates (WM and P&C) business of UBS and yields significant quality and productivity gains.

InfoQ: How did you roll out a scaled agile setup globally in Switzerland, India and the APAC region?

Bucholdt: We have defined an operating model which standardizes the collaboration across locations and brings business and IT closer together. It is called the "Digital Factory Playbook", using SAFe as a basis for terminology. It’s a specification and interpretation of how to apply the framework within WM and P&C. Although we want to standardize the operating model, it also allows for flexibility to enable team empowerment and to support specific needs. We have built up an extensive training schedule for the various roles and have trained over 1000 employees in about 15,000 hours of training. In parallel, agile coaches have been assigned to further embed the operating model in the organization.

A quarterly assessment moves the organization more and more to a continuous improvement setup. This assessment, called Continuous Improvement Wheel, addresses twelve dimensions around agile business vision, demand management and planning, tooling and engineering practices.

InfoQ: How does the scaled agile setup impact your operating model and the delivery organization?

Bucholdt: We combine an agile methodology with DevOps engineering practices and tools in a global operating model. For us, the "Digital Factory" is not a location, but the operating model of choice in the WM and P&C organization across the globe.

The organization is set up in product-centric Agile Release Trains that follow the same continuous planning and improvement procedure, whether in Europe or in Asia. And for all these Release Trains we set the same objectives, currently with a focus on test automation and decoupled interfaces. This leads more and more to the fact that the organization "speaks the same language".

InfoQ: What have you learned during this agile transformation?

Bucholdt: Transformation takes time. Changes are not made overnight. Agile methodology and engineering practices such as clean code or continuous deployment complement each other. They have to go hand in hand in order to achieve quality and efficiency targets.

If we would have to start again, we would focus more on metrics and a solid starting benchmark right from the beginning.

Especially in the beginning, transparency can be painful, since it is much more difficult to hide shortcomings on the requestor or delivery side.

IT and business transformation need to go hand in hand. Both have to change the way they work in parallel and together.

InfoQ: What would be your advice for organizations that want to apply a scaled agile approach?

Bucholdt: Implement metrics right from the beginning in order to know if you are going in the right direction. Guide everybody using the same measures, not in a command and control style, but as guidance on how and where to progress.

Do not underestimate the resistance and political interests in a large organization. An agile setup changes roles and responsibilities. So start small with a motivated group of people, and then continuously scale up by motivating people and by fostering a culture of open collaboration. When people see the benefits, receive the necessary guidance and can contribute to change, they will move in the same direction.

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