Focus on continuous improvement has been proven to yield results far more quickly than less iterative waterfall based delivery methodologies, but many programs still require more structured risk mitigation than agile delivery can provide. Agile is well suited to delivering and improving on business capabilities, however it falls somewhat short during execution in ensuring that solutions are delivered to non-functional requirements regarding support, integration, extension / adaptability, and security.
We leveraged a hybrid model quite successfully to deliver business improvements to a large global enterprise, ultimately reducing annual operational costs by roughly $100M and contributing to six successive annual awards of the JD Power customer service award in their industry. We initially intended to deliver the solution with a waterfall approach over 12 months as a subcontract to a major services firm, however the program unsurprisingly threw us a few curve-balls during early functional demonstrations around the third month. The situation got progressively worse over the next 2 months with components provided by the prime vendor failing and/or being delivered late and timelines slipping out on the project plan. The program appeared to be in jeopardy despite some very promising progress.
Thanks to the waterfall approach, we had a strong systems design for the solution, however the shifting timeline put the delivery of business benefit in doubt and threatened program funding. Realizing this, we pushed out many automation features dependent on integration success and proposed refocusing effort on improving two fundamental problem areas in the core operational processes that were impacting service delivery to customers:
- Early and more visible identification of non-compliant work assignments that violated regulatory guidelines
- Automating first solution generation to reduce decision time from 8 hours to 1-3 minutes.
We were able to deliver these capabilities by the close of the 6th month and had a test system available and running in parallel to the existing operation in production.
The impact on the operation was astounding – the first major operational disruption was resolved more quickly and completely on the trial system than in the existing operational process, resulting in a net operational savings for the one day recovery equivalent to the full price associated to our subcontract. The system paid for itself fully during the production trial which ended immediately with a live rollout to all users.
In the end, full program delivery slipped out by 6 months. Holistic program management was crucial and renegotiation of delivery and payment terms represented an opportunity for all parties to rectify incorrect initial expectations. The change in focus on continuous improvement created a net positive gain in enterprise cash flow that created leverage for our program sponsors to reinvest. Due to our focus on achieving business results and creating flexibility around technical deliverables, our client allowed us to begin invoicing the license support revenue at the 12th month regardless of incomplete delivery in recognition of the benefits accrued through the continuous delivery program that exceeded their initial commitments to senior executives.