I always introduce myself as a failed developer who moved into IT management and leadership! What brought me to Hastings is simple, I took a career break and after a few months, I was told by my wife to find a job! However, what keeps me at Hastings and most importantly, is the people and the passion we all have to lead, shape and deliver enhancements that positively impact the platforms used by our customers and colleagues. More recently we have transformed the way we work and implemented a scaled agile framework called SAFe. Not only has this improved the frequency and quality of our releases, it has also created a great set of cross departmental teams working together to a set of common goals and processes. Following our implementation, myself and some of the team have also gained the SAFe Program Consultant certification and now train other colleagues on an ongoing basis.
SAFe describes itself as ‘a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles and practices for Lean, Agile, and DevOps.’ In practical terms it provides us as Hastings with guidance that supports us in delivering changes to our IT systems and platform across our agile cross functional teams. For example, every ten weeks all teams and key stakeholders get together in an offsite location and plan our work out for the next ten weeks. We plan work over five, two week iterations and during the day identify or remove dependencies or risks, and confirm our overall objectives to our stakeholders. Once planning is completed we move into our two week iterations and have in place a number of ceremonies to give the teams all the time, support and direction required to complete our previously agreed objectives.
A few of my own personal learnings include, ensure buy-in on the SAFe principles and ways of working across all levels and suppliers/partners (leaders need to walk the walk) otherwise it will be less productive. Also, to be very visible and transparent with the work we are doing and the problems we encounter – hide nothing. My final one would be if the pressure builds to meet deadlines, do not reset to factory settings, hold the line, get the teams involved, provide direction and intent and get them what they need to get the job done. SAFe is not a silver bullet, you can still read its guidance and do it wrong! So have a peer group or network outside your organisation so you can see how others do it, and share your own success at the same time, because you will probably find some things you have found simpler than others and vice versa
I would say some of the benefits are that it gives the teams a common purpose and a view of ‘why’ we are doing the work we do. It also heavily encourages technical excellence and gives an opportunity for everyone to have a voice and empowerment to make a difference, as SAFe says to ‘relentlessly improve’. On a more subtle level, using an Agile approach just adds to the overall ingredients in the recipe of what makes Hastings an enjoyable and rewarding place to work.
During the ten weeks, which SAFe calls the Innovation & Planning iteration (the last iteration), we run a number of sessions that are in place to finalise the current ten week period of work, whilst giving us time to prepare for the next ten weeks. This is where we also provide the teams time to complete learning and development. One of the Hackathons is over a two day period, where all team members (including our business areas) can suggest and try out new ideas. These can range from the use of new technologies, proof of concepts to generate new business ideas and creation of new tools to help us in the work we do. At the end of the event the results are revised and next steps agreed. We have been doing this for a while now and have generated a number of new ideas that have either been implemented, or are on our backlog to complete.
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