As project leaders, we may be asked to deliver a solution to meet a major business need very rapidly. If we don't have the project management tools or development processes in place to meet this challenge, we need to improvise. This case study reflects one of those situations.
This company had acquired another large global company and needed to enable Human Resource information, processes and tools as quickly as possible across both companies to support many company systems with employee information and to enable the selection and redeployment of employees. Each company used different HR information systems, data fields, policies, and procedures for capturing and maintaining employee information and conducting business restructuring. These systems needed to be integrated as quickly as possible. One of the most pressing executive objectives was having employee information and workforce management tools available to select individuals for leadership positions at Level 3, 4 and on down through the organization.
To address this business challenge, a Workforce Management (WFM) Taskforce was created immediately after the acquisition announcement with members from both companies. The taskforce assessed the business requirements for managing restructuring and developed plans for an integrated solution:
These basic business objectives allowed the Taskforce to begin capturing business requirements. To build out a full WFM solution for all countries, however, we would need to wait in some cases for local acquisition approval.
This acquisition took place prior to the widespread use of Agile but the product delivery approach used in this Workforce Management Initiative reflected many agile concepts as we built process and tool functionality through a series of iterations as we had a reasonable understanding of business requirements. If you have had limited experience with Agile, this case study will give you some ideas on how to apply the concepts, regardless of the project management approach used in your organization.
For the purposes of this case study, I will describe our Agile Product Delivery approach for this WFM solution in alignment with concepts and terminology from the Scaled Agile Framework(SAFe). SAFe is the world’s leading framework for business agility and is a system for implementing Agile, Lean, and DevOps practices at scale. It is a robust framework that can be used for any size enterprise to improve time-to-market, product quality, team productivity, and employee engagement. Agile Product Delivery within the SAFe Framework defines, builds and releases value to users based on a user-centric design approach. There is a balance between a focus on execution and a focus on users to ensure the right solution is being developed at the right time.
One of the first steps in developing the WFM solution was to establish a robust, agile requirements gathering approach that would capture worldwide user needs. The WFM process, tool, and reports would be used by the Executive Committee and thousands of managers across the combined company. Since these managers came from two different companies and 75 different countries, they didn’t have a shared view of how to plan, execute and measure performance for this restructuring activity. The solution would need to be intuitive and aligned with clearly communicated global restructuring policies and metrics. Resistance was expected as everyone felt the threat of job loss for themselves and their colleagues.
Design thinking and having a clear understanding of the problem being solved was critical. Individuals with global WFM process knowledge in each company were engaged prior to the acquisition announcement and became part of the WFM Taskforce. We worked together to document each company’s existing restructuring policies, processes and to identify common procedures and data elements. We also ensured there was a good definition for each data element so that common data fields could be established. Based on this activity, we created and obtained executive agreement for a global process, the data that needed to be captured at each step in the process, and the executive reporting that would be used to measure performance. This initial set of requirements was used for the first iteration of solution design and development to support the Level 3 and 4 selection process.
Another important success factor was having responsibility for the end-to-end WFM solution, including the process, the procedures, the supporting tool, the executive reporting, the solution documentation and all communications. Having this shared responsibility allowed the WFM Taskforce to control all aspects of design, development and deployment of the solution. We drove the engagement of appropriate end users to gather requirements across the full solution to determine what needed to be designed and developed for each iteration.
After the initial release of the product, the taskforce engaged a larger group of experts and end users to support a user-centric solution design for the second and subsequent iterations, including:
Gathering information from these users was invaluable to ensure our solution was evolving in the right direction and could perform well enough to be used by larger populations of managers, across a greater number of countries at each level of workforce selection.
By developing on a regular cadence, an organization becomes more flexible in product development and delivery. This cadence of iterations provides a continuous flow of value for users and the timing of releases can be tuned to fit user needs. The SAFe Framework is structured to support large enterprises with complex systems and recommends a cadence that revolves around Program Increment Planning. See Working in Program Increments in this SAFe overview document for more information.
In this case study, we designed and developed our WFM solution with a cadence of 7-10 days for each iteration, however, we didn’t execute to the robust Program Increments approach that the SAFe Framework supports. We were working in a very large enterprise environment but the WFM solution was not complex enough to require more structure. To support the process of capturing requirements and informing impacted HR teams from around the world, we had a regular cadence of user engagements:
Establishing an approach of continuous delivery means working across all aspects of solution delivery, including, exploration and design, development and integration, deployment and change management, all the time. Within the SAFe Framework, the Continuous Delivery Pipeline reflects a process for taking a new chunk of capability from the requirements stage through the release of the new solution. It is considered the most important element of Agile Product Delivery. See more information on the SAFe Framework Continuous Delivery Pipeline.
Exploration and Design encourages innovation and design thinking, constantly looking at what users need and then prioritizing and building capability to deliver to those needs.
Our user engagement approach was intentional to design the process, tools and reporting functionality with input from senior HR leaders to country HR leaders across both companies every week. As a result, innovative ideas could be captured and needs could be prioritized very rapidly. The initial solution was released within 6 weeks, all user/manager capability done within 3-4 iterations, and additional iterations focused on leadership reporting requests. This iterative design approach allowed us to capture more detailed restructuring and redeployment data, to automate more aspects of the process, to meet specific country legal requirements, to address evolving executive reporting requests, and to integrate financial information into the reporting.
Development and Integration ensures a quality product is delivered by developing, testing and integrating work across multiple teams for each release.
The WFM Taskforce had end-to-end responsibility for the WFM solution and as a result, all individuals that had a role in the design, development and deployment of the solution were part of the extended team. Process experts and solution developers received requirements from the WFM Taskforce and brought mock-ups and demos to taskforce meetings, allowing us to quickly refine functionality and align design across the full solution.
For example: A requirement discussed in a Monday WFM Taskforce meeting could be included in a demo for the Wednesday meeting and could be shared in the Regional WFM Planning Meetings taking place during the week. This facilitated alignment across the team so design could be finalized and then approved at the WFM Leadership Review on Thursday. This example shows how a continuous flow of approved end-to-end solution design was placed in queue for development and integration each week.
Additional integration tasks such as other system integration, testing, documentation and communication were facilitated by the deep engagement of WFM process and reporting leads who attended the weekly meetings and provided resources for these activities so a robust solution would be released to end users and managers.
Deployment of end-to-end solution capability with controlled processes and Change Management support ensures managers are able to use the solution upon release. This requires a disciplined solution deployment process that can deploy capability, release selectively to end-users, and roll back functionality, if needed.
For this case study, we didn’t separate the WFM solution release process from deployment to end users as the SAFe Framework would support. Deployment to managers for each iteration of the WFM solution needed to be closely aligned to the solution release because we were driving the entire business restructuring as fast as we could. Our primary concern throughout this program was keeping people informed about what capability they could expect from the solution for each iteration and what restructuring work may need to be delayed or conducted manually until the next iteration. We were fortunate that the first 3-4 iterations of the product addressed most user functionality and supported deployment to large numbers of managers around the world. Solution modifications made in later iterations were primarily focused on the integration of financial data and the refinement of executive reports which impacted a smaller group of leaders.
Another aspect of the SAFe Framework and the DevOps/Continuous Delivery Pipeline is culture. To have Agile Product Delivery, there needs to be a philosophy of shared responsibility across the value chain. I completely agree with this as a critical concept. One of the reasons our WFM initiative was so successful was the shared responsibility that our WFM Taskforce had in driving the full solution cycle from design through end-user deployment, and for all aspects of the solution – process, tool, reporting, and change management.
This WFM initiative was integral to the companies’ integration and was very successful in meeting the business requirements and leadership goals. Given the level of attention to the restructuring process, we didn’t have any lack of engagement by key people in the organization. By using a regular meeting structure and developing on a cadence, the team remained focused on delivering quickly to the user needs. Initial capability was delivered within 6 weeks and after 3-4 iterations (~1 additional month), the WFM solution was being used by thousands of managers around the world.
As we continued iterations to integrate financial data and enhance executive reporting, we realized that senior managers were confused about the date information being captured for employee selections, redeployments, and terminations; and how that information was used to measure progress to their integration performance. They wanted to know when their business would get “credit” for redeploying people and when they would see cost reductions to their budget. This confusion wasn’t surprising given the fact that managers were from different companies and countries, each with different historical approaches to restructuring.
The taskforce leaders stepped back and conducted a workshop to review the activities within each process step for different countries, assess the definition of each date-related element being captured and document what actions were being triggered by each of those data elements. A clear one-page document was created with each major process step, the date-related information being captured, the subsequent actions being triggered, and how the data was used by Finance and within executive reporting. For example, each employee impacted by restructuring would have several dates entered on their individual WFM record:
In countries where employment agreements prohibited rapid termination, there could be long delays between Last Day Worked and Actual Termination Date so we needed to clearly explain the definition of different dates and the triggered actions. Managers were provided this one-page document so they could understand (even if they didn’t agree) how executive report information was generated and how their performance to integration targets was measured.
There were many lessons learned in executing this business initiative, however, the most valuable to me was experiencing how the structured engagement of users and the use of iterative, rapid design and development could deliver a crucial solution in a very short period of time. Speed of delivering value is a major benefit of Agile and the SAFe Framework.
I hope this has given you some ideas how Agile Product Delivery could be used in your organization.