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HOW to work in an Agile environment in the software development life cycle

Updated: Feb 19, 2019

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Keeping its finger on the pulse of the latest business strategies, Nationwide began its software development transformation a decade ago. In 2009, the firm centralized its IT function, sharing areas such as its data centers, infrastructure, security platforms and more. In fact, it also realized it could centralize and optimize the methodology and practices used in software development – the same year, Nationwide made its first foray into Agile methodology. Whilst Agile wasn’t new, it was now broadly adopted across all its enterprises for the first time. For Guru, the next step was to see if Agile could work for large transformation programs. “Our experimentation with Agile goes back a long time ago when we had small teams experimenting with this methodology,” Vasudeva recalls. “But we wanted to see if we could scale Agile at an enterprise level. In other words, could we start using it for almost all software development?”

“We brought these Agile teams together and asked them if they could harmonize the methodology. That’s because we believed that if you had a fine-tuned process then we could create a shared capability in which you could reuse the repeatable processes, methods and tools. It was really hard because people in these fields are very focused on their own version of Agile. But, in the end, it was very successful, and we began to slowly build our Agile development center.”

Lean prowess

But Agile was just the first building block in Nationwide’s transformation. Wanting to take this a step further, the insurer and financial services provider decided to scale its use of Agile substantially in 2011, so it employed Lean techniques to achieve this. Harking back to the early days of industrialization, Nationwide adopted the idea of a so-called “software development factory” complete with development lines that would finish one step needed to create code. By giving each line a clearly defined role that it could repeat (such as scrum master, tech lead, requirements lead and test lead), this helped to enable rapid development of code, as if it were a factory. The insurer also implemented a visual management system, allowing developers to gain information on the shop floor quickly, as well as Gemba Walks – a fundamental Lean management philosophy. “Gemba Walks enables leaders to visit the shop floor and to see first-hand the issues teams are facing,” notes Vasudeva. “It allows information to flow from frontline teams to senior management in real time. Leaders also become more enmeshed within the workings of the factory instead of managing it in a spreadsheet or a dashboard.” Wanting to scale this even further, Nationwide also showed that these cutting-edge methodologies could be used not only for computer programming languages like Java but could also be applied to Cobol, Packages and ETL code.

This mammoth investment, Vasudeva says, was starting to pay off. By 2014, Nationwide’s software development teams had proven better quality and better productivity using industry benchmarks, and it had also created up to 50 development lines. However, Agile methodology wasn’t entirely widespread, it only covered less than 30% of software development at Nationwide. “We conducted a Gartner benchmark that showed that our Agile development line was better than the industry standard in terms of productivity, however Nationwide as a whole was still 7.8% worse in unit cost compared to the industry. We estimated that we could get close to 12% savings by adopting these practices across all our software development – that's around US$60mn annually.” With this in mind, Nationwide’s decision to scale these methods enterprise-wide was an easy one to make. Today, the firm has around 200 software development lines, almost all of which have adopted this blend of Agile and Lean. Zeroing in on quality, productivity and time to market, Nationwide has also streamlined its benchmark metrics, and today it can trace around US$60mn of savings on an annual basis. In its most recent benchmark in 2017, for instance, Nationwide reported 7.8% better unit costs – that’s a 15.6% increase compared to its benchmark from three years earlier.

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