During Covid-19, the need to focus on safe transport accelerated. Transport for NSW saw residents looking for safer transport alternatives, increasingly turning to walking and cycling to move around—and the Active Transport branch was born. Headed up by the Director of Active Transport Portfolio, Data & Analytics at Transport for NSW, Active Transport faced a thrilling challenge—to meet the unprecedented demand for active movement, with infrastructure requirements to match.
As well as the impact of safely moving NSW residents, Active Transport’s function regarding sustainability and the environment means it attracts a lot of attention from within Transport for NSW. The Director is responsible for overseeing the successful execution of as many as 350 simultaneous projects, each at different phases of completion, and working with an expansive team that includes civil engineers, strategists, and data and analytics experts.
As a new team with a large-scale remit, Active Transport had the potential to shape the way it operated.
The new team blends a wide variety of skills from civil engineering to program management, IT, and data specialists. While government departments have a reputation for being inelegant and slow to make decisions, our client wanted to set the branch apart by implementing an agile framework—an approach usually reserved for software development, but with application to the branch’s multiple projects and conflicting priorities.
There had been a common view across the team that planning and other upfront activities had to be completed and signed off before work could commence. That was a significant blockage for projects, making the team slow and unresponsive to changing or new work. Combined with a mixture of internal and external projects, these factors made it impossible to execute time-sensitive strategies at the necessary pace.
“Without an appropriate framework in place, visibility of the projects was limited and planning at a portfolio level had become a major challenge.”
It was difficult for leadership to see what work was in flight and how it aligned across the whole team.
As Covid-19 progressed and the branch matured, public demand for active transport options also increased—more people wanted to walk or cycle. The Director wanted his team to be agile, so it could act quickly to meet this growing need. Additionally, he wanted to integrate the teams to operate as one, bringing strong cohesion and collaboration.
“Because what we do has health, environmental, and sustainability outcomes, everyone talks about active transport. There is massive support for our team—we are a very small team, but we’ve got the power of the entire organisation supporting us.”
While our client has experience working with agile frameworks, he felt he would have a better result with the support of an expert consultant. With Elabor8 already working within a different area of Transport for NSW, its role was extended to implement this new framework for the Active Transport branch.
The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) is one of the most popular frameworks in the world—a relatively complex set of organisational and workflow patterns designed to facilitate agile working at an enterprise level, with a range of complexities available to be implemented.
The Director had been a SAFe® practitioner for more than five years, and after consultation with Elabor8, it was agreed that it would suit the scale and intricacy of Active Transport’s needs. SAFe® would empower Active Transport to give visibility of current goals, works, and priorities to the wider organisation and better manage its various tasks internally. Creating an aligned portfolio of work would also mean information could flow upwards and downwards, allowing for input from all levels.
Knowing that successful implementation of SAFe® requires strong buy-in from the organisation, Elabor8 Senior consultant Kieran Bianca took responsibility for stakeholder management. Working with teams and executives at multiple levels he communicated the value SAFe® could offer the organisation. Kieran also helped promote an agile mindset within the branch, encouraging team members to participate in the trust-building and transparency that would allow projects to be executed most efficiently.
Our client believes that without Elabor8, this level of engagement would not have been possible. “I did not have permanent staff to be scrum masters and agile coaches. So, I was looking for a partner.”
After leading SAFe® training, Elabor8 started small, implementing SAFe® events such as stand-ups and iteration planning. Gradually, more advanced practices were incorporated, including Value Stream Mapping and Lean Portfolio Management (LPM). Over time, the framework has grown to meet the precise needs of Active Transport, and the implementation is designed to continue to provide a framework for success. “We have been able to have that continuity. I simply did not have the bandwidth to work with everyone in the team, and that’s where Elabor8 has helped.”
An agile framework like SAFe® can be theoretically ideal, but without the right execution, it will not work. From running program increments to engaging and training relevant staff, Elabor8 continued to share tools and insights from its previous experience to give Active Transport the best possible chance of success.
“There’s always a benefit to being able to dip into the knowledge that exists within an organisation like Elabor8.”
Active Transport started this process with no framework in place. Every person on the team was trained and then worked through a series of Program Increment (PI) Planning sessions, demonstrating learning and improvement along the way. Now, SAFe® is in a place where it can be harnessed for improved visibility across the department and be sufficiently nimble to support Active Transport’s evolving ambitions into the future.
“I did not have ambitions of a high level of complexity,” says the client. “I need to make sure we keep delivering. Using a construct like SAFe® helps us in being more agile and able to deliver those outcomes.”
The Director believes one of the biggest benefits of the Elabor8 engagement has been the dramatic improvement in management visibility.
The teams were able to quickly establish good, coordinated planning practices through the PI cycle, while tooling through Jira and Jira Align now provides a single source of truth for the work.
Iteration reviews quickly became the highlight of the cycle, providing stakeholders with excellent visibility of progress. Initial audiences were small but grew to include a larger stakeholder group and these reviews now facilitate the main update on current work, allowing teams to reduce the number of progress meetings.
For the first time, leadership is able to see all the work in the system, how it connects together and flows through the teams.
This is providing leadership within Active Transport and across their stakeholders with radical clarity. “We have greater visibility and transparency of the work than ever before.”
By partnering with Elabor8, Active Transport was able to implement SAFe® with the level of organisational buy-in and support, and willingness from the immediate team, required to make it a success—an outcome that simply would not have been possible otherwise.
The teams continue to grow and deepen their agile practices, instituting a scrum of scrums to help coordinate. Planning together has shown them that their work is highly interrelated, and they see their next steps as adopting more advanced SAFe practices such as Participatory Budgeting, as well as further evolving the Continuous Delivery Pipeline.
The success of the Active Transport teams is starting to attract interest from other areas in Transport for NSW and is serving as a role model for other teams in the wider Active Transport portfolio.
As our client says: “We don’t talk about ‘SAFe®’ at all, now. It’s just the way we operate. Within Active Transport, we have made it work. Elabor8 has played a pivotal role in taking us to the point where it’s now business as usual.”