Focusing on Cycle Time to Improve Time to Market

ZXM coached a Shared Services team to use key Kanban metrics such as Cycle Time to improve their time to deliver.

The Situation

ZXM was working the MC Identity Matching (MCID) Team in the Australian Taxation Office. This team support several major programs and as a  shared services team, were a critical integration point for and they often inherited the work from teams outside their functional area. Work was always “spilling” over to the next Sprint as it wasn’t getting completed within the necessary timeframes. 

They were often faced with reactionary “urgent” work requests and often found they had many work items being undertaken simultaneously. The sense of urgency impacted prioritisation by value and created a congested workload resulting in team members constantly context switching between existing inflight tasks and new “urgent” ones, multiple handovers, and more work coming in than what was being  completed. Some items had been sitting “in progress” for over 3 months.

The Solution

The leadership had wanted the team to start to move to more agile ways of working and align the MCID team delivery process with that of major program areas they interfaced with across the whole of the organisation. There was a lot of resistance from within the teams as the nature of the shared services work was seen by some in the team, as “not suitable for agile”. 

ZXM agile consultants suggested the team start using Scrum with Kanban. Combining the two approaches would: 

  • Bring transparency to the work that was being done.
  • Align this team to the planning cadence of other teams at scale.
  • Introduce some rigour to the prioritisation of work by using a Product Backlog.
  • Help create a sense of achievement for the team through using Sprints, a Sprint Goal and a Sprint Backlog.
  • Focus on improving the flow of work.
  • Limit how much was being worked as a way to improve the time it took to deliver. 

Given the complex and often unplanned nature of the MCID work, undertaking a Kanban approach was aim to minimise disruption and iteratively build upon current delivery practices, and processes and not jeopardise their current commitments. 

ZXM agile consultants facilitated a one day hands on Kanban training course for the team. This course exposed the team to key concepts, metrics and principles of Kanban including:

  • Making work visible.
  • Using cycle time.
  • Making iterative improvements.
  • The value of working in small batches of work. 

The team over a course of a few days were tasked to refine their work and make all inflight work visible using a digital wall.

Making their work visible showed the team there was a significant amount of inflight work. Some active work items were two and half years old. Stale work items were cleaned up, completed and then closed. A “stop starting and start completing” concept and the Product Owner’s  prioritisation of the backlog based on value, was used to better manage and visualise all the Team’s backlog of business-as-usual (BAU), project and ad-hoc work.  High value work items were the only items brought into In progress column in their Kanban board. Any new work item was assessed and prioritised against all the work in the backlog. Any new work being give to the team had to go into the backlog and to be discussed with the Product Owner thus shutting down the previous “back door” where program areas asked for favors from individual team members to complete work that wasn’t a strategic priority. The an organisational value and alignment view was critical given this was a shared service team who served many major programs.

The Results

For the first time, the team had a clear backlog of prioritised work that when brought in was able to be  delivered in a timely manner. Their roadmap horizon iteratively changed from a reactive ad-hoc daily view to one of several weeks to eventually a complete program increment (3 months). Forward planning was able to be undertaken to pre-empt work that needed to be done before committing the team to any additional work. In flight work was actively reviewed and plan in the Daily Stand-up.

The team became more  collaborative and engaged. Functional silos of design/build/test were broken down as they worked together to develop  how to approach a challenge, improvement in a process or close a gap within the teams domain. The ZXM coach worked very closely with the team leader and the scum master in fostering engagement, collaboration and building a single vision, goal and strategic intent for the team. Communication and education in an Agile mindset was paramount to the success of promoting a self-organising and collaborative team. This needed to be not only communicated to the team but also seen by the team that their leaders were adopting and living these principals too.

The key metrics used to improve time to market were Lead time (time between when the work item was first created until it was marked as done) and Cycle time (when the work item was first brought into flight by the team to when it was marked as done). In the space of 3 months Lead time dropped from an average of 52 days before Kanban to 17 days post the team undertaking Kanban. Cycle time halved from 20 days to 10. These results reinforced the principals learnt in the Kanban training particularly the principal of small batch sizes and actively managing flow of work. . It also allowed for earlier intervention on slow moving work and improved delivery confidence in this team from the Major programs of work they served.

Prioritised Roadmap

Focus on organisation objectives through using roadmap to guide work coming in from programs and reduced adhoc work of lower value

Improved Time to Deliver

Improved cycle time and lead time to deliver work items. 50% reduction in cycle time and 30% reduction in lead time within 3 months

Improved Transparency

Greater transparency of work in progress, stronger collaboration, faster to react to changing client needs.

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