A Large Scale Agile/XP Transformation
Company:Nielsen Media Research
It starts with a drop, then a ripple. The right project. The right team.
From there, word gets around. The new “tiger” team working with Industrial Logic was safely delivering projects 3, 4, 5 times faster than other teams, even winning the Chairman’s Award for Process Improvement.
During a 5-day XP workshop in San Francisco led by Joshua Kerievsky, Nielsen executive Don Carlson saw two Cisco engineers transform from skeptics to true believers in XP, an early Agile process. With this, he knew Industrial Logic had the expertise and skills to help him implement XP for a critical project he was leading.
The project involved correcting compromised data, which was crucial to their business operation. His conditions for accepting the assignment included hand-picking the team of engineers and introducing XP. He selected Industrial Logic to train and mentor his team through this transformation.
The initial project involved about 30 people, including a cross-functional group of mainframe and data warehouse programmers with Java programmers gluing it all together. It had five parts: fix the compromised data issue, build a data warehouse as a foundation for future systems, build infrastructure for data services, fix reports tied to the data warehouse, and build a number of web-based interactive reports.
Upon arriving on site, the Industrial Logic team conducted a 2-day readiness assessment. In order to succeed, the following challenges had to be addressed:
- The existing waterfall method of development needed modernizing to keep up with the need for innovation, faster time to market, and relevance.
- The cubicle work environment was not set up for team interaction.
- The 30-person team was larger than a typical team size of 6-8, making communication and interaction more difficult.
- The cross-functional team had little understanding or interaction prior to the start of the project.
- There was a perception that the team had a perfect record of delivering on-time and on-budget because they always built in a huge cushion.
After the 2-day assessment, the Industrial Logic team laid out an Agile/XP transformation strategy. It included:
- Creating an open workspace to foster team communication;
- Scheduling an appropriate amount of training, covering a diverse cross-section of people from project managers, testers, QA, managers, and everyone in between;
- Coaching to make sure what was learned was applied, including executive level coaching by Joshua Kerievsky, Industrial Logic’s CEO; and
- Ensuring that the group was open to do evolutionary design, even on legacy platforms.
The project coincided with the roll out of Industrial XP, which brought process and learning further into management. People now understood why they were building the software in the first place.
With Industrial XP, the team gained a modern way to develop software including storytest-driven development (now called behavior-driven development), domain-driven design, iteration and end-of-project retrospectives.
The whole intent of (Industrial Logic) going back and forth during the 3-month period was not to develop for us, but to show us how to develop. That was critical because now we had coaches and mentors that knew how to do this (implement XP) themselves.Don Carlson
Results / Benefits
Industrial Logic helped Nielsen safely implement XP, saving time and money, clearly defining information, building and enhancing their reputation and relationships, and increasing the overall happiness and health of the team members. Some of the many benefits included:
Safe Communications: The Industrial Logic coaches taught the team how to raise issues without triggering a defensive response. After the Nielsen team became comfortable with retrospectives, they felt safe to talk, collaborate and open up with each other.
The team felt more safe in that they could raise concerns, issues and risks and wouldn’t’ be criticized for it.Don Carlson
Safe Code: After learning storytest-driven development, the Nielsen team felt more confident making code changes, knowing they had not introduced behavioral regressions.
Safe Environment: The open workspace fostered interdepartmental communication, allowing insight and understanding into what each group’s role was and how they could contribute to help speed the process. It became a “tour stop” for Nielsen executives on how to do it right.
Safe Requirements: The Nielsen team broke down the walls between IT and the end user and began holding interactive sessions directly with customers. The results helped to build prioritized lists of features to the delight of customers.
Safe Culture: The entire approach and concept of coaching and collaboration resonated with the team. The culture created by the shift to an open workspace, training and mentoring by the Industrial Logic team, and increase in open interdepartmental communication had a positive effect on employee retention, especially among some of the top engineers.
At the end of the project, trust among all of the departments – including sales, product development, testing and data administration was at an all time high. You were changing culture more than just changing a methodology.Don Carlson
Chairman’s Award: Because of the great success of the project and implementation of XP, Don’s team was awarded the Chairman’s Award for Process Improvement by the global holding company of Nielsen. Of the 20,000 employees worldwide, there were hundreds of projects submitted for the award. Only ten were selected as winners, putting the team in a very elite group.
After that initial project, Don’s team fully bought into the process of XP. They began crushing time estimates for completion from years to months. With this success, the ripple began.
The next project involved legacy code, new workspaces, and a team not as agreeable as the first. This second project also proved successful, setting up a much larger transformation: the transformation of the entire Local Division of Nielsen involving about 200 engineers, including an offshore team.
Industrial Logic was brought back to infuse the same successful process, transforming a home-grown waterfall method to Agile. Even with additional challenges, including globally-dispersed teams in multiple time zones, the training and coaching helped people feel safe.
And by spreading XP further into the organization, Nielsen could keep up with the small, nimble competitors (smaller companies were more nimble and agile, and were creating competitive products with 10 people versus 10,000, despite Nielsen having the data, resources and the talent).
Reasons for Success
There are many reasons for the successful large-scale Agile transformation at Nielsen Media Research.
- A Nielsen executive, Don Carlson, was involved from the beginning to help manage change and remove obstacles.
- Rather than inventing their own Agile transition plan and plugging outside vendors into it, the Nielsen team collaborated with Industrial Logic on a successful Agile/XP transition strategy.
- The Nielsen team transformed their office space to enable effective communication and teamwork.
- The team followed all of the Industrial Logic’s suggestions, from chartering to training and coaching. And they had read and studied Five Dysfunctions of a Team, priming them for cultural change.
- There was a diverse cross section of people being trained, from project managers and testers to QA and managers, and everyone in between.
- The coaching and mentoring provided by Industrial Logic taught Don’s team how to build applications as an interactive Agile team – something he couldn’t learn from just attending a boot camp.
- Joshua and the Industrial Logic team had the right technical expertise, which was critical to the Nielsen team. They challenged many engineers on what was possible, and like the Cisco engineers at the XP workshop, they became believers, learning to look for patterns and sniff out bad code.
Don still gets emails today from former team members saying it was the best project of their career.
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