Cost reduction using SAFe®

How a focus on quality saved rework, overtime, and improved productivity across a major ATO transformation

The Situation

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) had been implementing SAFe® as its delivery methodology for a number of years ago. When a new senior executive was appointed, they expressed concerns that the implementation was focussed on implementation milestones and de-coupled from metrics regarding its the transformation’s purpose: ability to delivery faster with better quality.

ZXM consultants were already working within other programs in the ATO and were brought in to review and provide strategic recommendations to improve the program’s adaptability, responsivensss to change, and improve its productivity.


Improved adaptability and responsiveness

Reduce time to adapt to and incorporate change, particularly in a politically volitile environment.


Improved workforce effectiveness

Increase productivity, improve quality, decrease costs and decrease risks.


Resilience to change

Build-in improved ability to adapt to disruptive change in an iterative and low-risk way.

The Solution

The ZXM undertook a health check of consistency, agility, and key performance metrics:

  • Lead time to implement change.
  • Throughput.
  • Cycle time for delivery.
  • Cost of delivery and product maintenance.

Key findings were reported, issues discussed with executive, with pain points and areas of success documented with leadership. While there were some high performing agile practices, a lack of consistency and focus on value was immediately evident.

Recommendation for Improvements

  • Alignment and cadence: While some aspects of SAFe® were in use, teams and Agile Release Trains operated autonomously rather than in alignment with near-term objectives.
  • Modernise practices: Shortcuts in agile practices were widespread with a focus on standardisation without adaptation. Practices needed updating to industry standard rather than an old process definition.
  • Evolve to cross-functional teams: Functional silos reinforced by management-led teams resulted in downstream testing. Getting faster delivery meant ensuring team design consisted of all capabilities needed to deliver – design, build, test and deploy.
  • Move on from a hybrid agile model: Most programs were using Waterfall within their Sprints and doing 6-9 months of upfront design resulting in longer periods for adapting to nescesary change. To decrease total lead time meant adopting value stream management and product management over staying with traditional linear project management methodologies.
  • Move to value over requirements: Requirements management resulted in longer times for business sign-off and a focus on delivering widgets rather than understanding what was of value and then giving delivery the freedom to explore the solutions that would best deliver those outcomes.
  • Improve quality: Adopting a consistent baseline approach to the Definition of Done was designed to improve quality and decrease rework to improve throughput.
  • Consistent prioritisation by investment on impact: While there was no clear prioritisation all projects were delivered at the same time. With prioritisation would come focus.

The Results

Acting on the recommendations, the program’s composibility fitness improved within 12 months.

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.

Agile Release Trains 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 an Agile Release Train, integration and working collaboratively, and working closely with business stakeholders, meant increased throughput in a comparable timeframe to previous years. 

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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