In 2021 the Digital business units of one of Australia’s oldest manufacturing and construction supply companies needed to rapidly adapt, after executives declared that the company would pursue a remote-first future. This included retiring their office footprint and enabling remote-friendly workflows based on agile principles. Key goals of the agile transformation were improved speed to market, greater adaptability in feature delivery, and improved flexibility for team members.
Initially, the business adopted the Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe®, but quickly realised it was not ideal for their circumstances. With only twelve people being split into two or three teams the overhead of running SAFe® just didn’t make sense. They approached Elabo8 to create an agile way of working that was tailored to the company’s specific needs.
The Head of Digital wanted an alternative that they would pilot with three teams. It needed to achieve the following:
- Increase communication between the teams
- Improve effectiveness and efficiency in delivery
- Enable visibility in remote-working to inform decision-making
- Help to discover and codify best-in-class agility for their context that could effectively scale
The remit was to deliver a bespoke ‘ways of working’ model, co-created by leaders and teams, within just four weeks. One of the key constraints was availability, with all members of the leadership group having intensive commitments.
Elabor8 consultant, David McKenzie, remembers, “Giving up their office and moving to a fully remote-working environment was putting a lot of pressure on this very small team. But what was great was that being a small team, we could get them all together and help them work out a better, agile way for them to operate in the future.”
Elabor8 started by running a series of workshops using the Remote Agility Framework, Team Launch patterns and Team of Team patterns. The aim was to help the staff decide for themselves how they wanted to work together remotely.
The remote:af Team of Teams Launch served to align multiple teams on culture, how they work, and communication. The Team of Teams launch was broken down into a series of workshops over four weeks, segmenting the pattern into smaller chunks:
- Social agreement
- Governance Values and Landscape
- Workflow / Cadences, including alignment on metrics and data
- Decision Design and Team Interaction Design
1. Social agreement
Culture was first. “It’s important to build a social agreement at the divisional level that establishes the expected behaviours across teams”, David explains, “We call them social contracts, but really it’s the behaviours we do and do not want to accept. Helping them define how they want to work, how the work moves through, how it’s delivered, what the checks are, and so on.”
Once the global social agreement is in place, Team Launch patterns helped each team develop a custom workflow and social contract appropriate for their requirements. Then, using the Team of Teams launch, each team member was able to design their own workday, and each team designed their own work system. Anchoring everything to the Team of Teams launch, ensured there was consistency across the entire business unit.
2. Governance values and landscape
The second key sessions for the leadership team were facilitated around the challenges of governance. The leadership team mapped a robust view of their landscape, including external stakeholders and influencing factors on the teams, and developed a set of principles to inform the governance of the portfolio. The leaders co-created the governance values that would inform decision-making across the business unit.
David said, “What surprised me was how quickly they came to a quality outcome; how robust the governance values were; and how they’ve stood the test of time since the workshop. In 90 minutes, they were able to generate principles that inform every decision made in this context.”
3. Workflow / cadences, including alignment on metrics and data
Developing the workflow and cadences followed. This session focused on helping the team understand what success meant for them and how to recognise it using specific measures. Having established a workflow, it was vital to design the operational cadence necessary to track the work. This involved determining ways to plan, review and refine their work. On top of these arrangements, the leadership agreed to institute a fortnightly meeting, across the division, with a focus on exploring metrics and resolving dependencies between teams.
4. Decision design and team interaction
The final leadership session centred on decision-making and understanding the complex nature of how the teams interacted. To protect the time of their teams, the leaders needed clarity on how to structure decisions so that work could flow. Using agile Governance Values, the leadership team decomposed their decisions, which allowed low-risk decisions to be decentralised, increasing each team’s speed.
According to David, “My goal was to surface the spaghetti, so they could see all the complex interactions. To make better use of their time, we used the Event Planning Canvas to fold managing those interactions into their cadence.”
In total, Elabor8 spent six hours over four weeks with leadership creating a custom ‘ways of working’ model. In parallel to the leadership workshops, Elabor8 also facilitated three team launches. The team launches inherited content from the leadership workshops, enabling autonomy, while assuring consistency.
Each session provided a platform for teams to be transparent and align on how they were going to pursue continued growth. Leaders gained clarity and alignment on major pain points like shared purpose and values, governance, decision-making and risk, dependency, and impediment management.
David points out, “What worked so well was we weren’t just taking a process off a shelf and forcing an organisation into using it. We utilised something that’s a bit like the Scrum of Scrums from SAFe®, something else that’s like a Kanban board, and so on. But it was all very specific to how they work and how they needed to work.”
Building an agile way of working that’s specific to a particular workforce really lowers any resistance to change. They can see how it’s going to help them do their job rather than resenting a cookie-cutter solution being forced upon them. In fact, following the initial four-week engagement, the company invested in a program to embed the model and scale it outwards throughout the organisation.