Cost reduction using Scaled Agile across a major program of work

How a focus on quality saved rework, overtime, and improved productivity across a SAFe® Agile Release Train (ART) for a major program at the ATO

The Situation

Enterprise Projects’ Program of Work within the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) had been adopting agile ways of working a number of years ago, however when a new SES (Executive) commenced in the area, there were concerns around effectiveness and benefits realisation from agile as she was not seeing the results of increased ability to delivery faster with better quality that programs such as Revenue Platforms were achieving.

ZXM consultants were already working within other programs in the ATO and were brought in to review and provide recommendations on how to improve the program’s agility as well as build capability beyond one or two programs and have a standardized consistent approach across Enterprise Solutions and Technology (EST) Group.

The Solution

The ZXM consultants observed and attended key agile events and discussed issues, pain points and areas of success with with leadership teams. Whilst there were some great pockets of agile happening at team level, there were a number of key areas for improvement.

Recommendation for Improvements

  • Alignment to the ATO scaled agile framework, based on SAFe® – the Scaled Agile Framework.
    with many teams working in silos.
  • Agile teams were doing shortcuts in agile processes and weren’t actively inspecting and adapting work practices each Sprint due to delivery pressures.
  • Focus on testing practices as teams were doing function testing in lower levels and integration testing was further downstream and not coordinated by the agile teams.
  • A hybrid agile model was most commonly adopted where teams were waterfalling sprints and focused on widgets rather than business value.
  • Inconsistent approach to the Definition of Done.
  • No clear prioritised program backlog and product management processes were not aligned to the scaled agile framework

Alignment to Scaled Agile Framework

The agile reboot focused on aligning to the ATO scaled agile framework and addressing anti-patterns and behaviours that had emerged that were preventing them from improving. This involved ZXM consultants working with the leadership time to review the operating model to see where we could get more alignment to the scaled agile framework and remove duplication of roles and confusion regarding roles and responsibilities. For example, there were multiple Release Train Engineers (RTEs) running “mini” Agile Release Trains within the program, so the operating model was changed to have one RTE with all teams working from a single product backlog for the program. This eliminated the artificial silo between sub-program groupings, encouraged cross functionality, and the ability for the program to respond to the needs of the wider program. 

ZXM worked with teams to help improve their planning events (PI planning) and Inspect and Adapt workshops as well as one-on-one coaching with Scrum Masters and Product Owners to help build capability. At the program level, ZXM rebooted the Product Management Groups processes and they moved towards Features being  prioritised for delivery based on value using WSJF (weighted shortest job first) rather than a rigid project schedule. Teams were given  clear direction on development and testing practices/guidelines and what was required to meet the definition of done.

The Results

Within 12 months, the program’s agile capability had improved with the teams consistently delivering more features each PI, completing all testing work within the PI (with less spillage over sprints and PIs) and a noticeable decrease in bugs. The Executive was surprised that not only had defects decreased by over 95%, that the trend was continuing down and a big goal for Q2 Release 2020 of zero defects was set for the ART agile teams. This bench mark is well on track to be achieved.

Costs Reduced and Quality Improved

Not only was there a decrease in defects, this was achieved without compromising agile practice or increasing overtime to meet delivery timeframes, in fact overtime hours were dramatically reduced compared to previous years resulting in considerable cost savings for the program with a 90% decrease in overtime required to deliver.

Teams worked at a sustainable pace and went back to basics and developed good agile practices to support their delivery. Self organisation and focus on goals as a train, integration and working collaboratively as a team, and working closely with business stakeholders meant that teams also delivered more features in a comparable timeframe to previous years. Business and leadership expressed that they had seen a great increase in improvement at PI planning.

ZXM coaches conducted regular program and team assessments and this ART started to consistently rate highly compared to other ARTs at the ATO, the majority of agile teams on this ART have been assessed using Agile IQ® and are displaying a baseline of capability maturity of level 3.

Reduced costs

90% decrease in overtime compared to previous 12 months.


95% Lower defects

95% decrease in defects over 12 months.

25% Productivity improvement

25% Improvement in productivity meant more value delivered to customers.

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