Medellín, in the north of Colombia, is known as the city of eternal spring and we were warmly welcomed by the local Agile community on arrival. Our first visit while we were in town was to Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM). EPM is owned by the Municipality of Medellin and provides electricity, natural gas and water to millions of people in the region. It is a large, complex organisation; the building we visited had 4000 employees alone!
Our host for the day was Claudia Toscano, an Agile Change Agent at EPM who is helping to lead the company’s transformation to Agile.
The IT department in EPM started their Agile transformation in 2014 with a pilot project. With advice and guidance from Kleer, experts in Agile coaching and training, they understood the size of the task involved in transforming such a big organisation to Agile and they agreed that a big bang approach was not the way to go. An inception phase was initiated which included coaching software development teams, management and clients with the introduction of performance indicators to measure success. Pilots and experiments were (and still are) carried out with frequent inspection and adaption. It was important to build a high trust and engaging environment where the Agile values and principles could thrive.
Apart from a strong emphasis on the cultural change aspect, EPM also focussed on engineering practices and technical excellence with outside help from 10 Pines from Argentina, and Ceiba Software and Tech and Solve both from Colombia. A DevOps team was created. Teams have continuous integration and continuous delivery processes in place; they had the ability to incrementally release software at the end of sprints from an early stage. Test automation is in place, from unit test level through to automated integration and GUI functional tests. Business Intelligence applications are built in Microsoft SQL Reporting Services and QlikView, however they are struggling to find a tool that is suitable for automated testing with QlikView (if anyone has any advice on this, please let us know!). TDD and ATDD are actively practised by 4 of the teams. In total, 12 teams practice a form of Scrum or Scrumban when including support teams. Monitoring and metrics are in place for code coverage, code complexity, vulnerability and number of bugs.
I really liked the use of performance indicators and see it as a powerful tool to help get insight on the ‘state’ of their Agile transformation. In an act of great openness and transparency they shared with us all their measurements since 2014. We saw some impressive stats, here is a small sample:
– By investing in DevOps and build automation, EPM has so far saved 324 working days
– In 2014 11% of internal clients recommended using Scrum and Agile, in 2016 this was up to 71% and in 2017 this reached a perfect 100%
– On a scale from 1-5 team satisfaction regularly scores between a 4 and 5
– On a scale from 1-5 customer satisfaction regularly scores between a 4 and 5
In an article in Business Harvard Review by Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland and Hirotaka Takeuchi, they recommend to “Start small and let the word spread.” This quote is epitomised by EPM. The word is out about what they are doing and Lucero, Product Owner in the Geniio Scrum team, told us about how people from other parts of the company visit her to ask what this “Scrum thing” is and “can we part of it?” Positive messages reached all the way to the president of EPM and now even he is asking questions and wanting to know more. 55% of projects use Agile. Due to the success so far, they are planning to make that 100% in the coming years.
We love to meet and talk to people practicing Scrum, and as well as Lucero, Claudia had arranged for us to meet the rest of the Geniio team to discuss their experiences and their Agile journey. We also met with people with more overarching roles – the Enterprise Coach, Customer Relations Manager and Architect who are there to guide all the teams and assist when required.
The core Geniio Scrum team consists of 8 people. Interestingly, team members come from 3 different companies as EPM use outsourcing partners for some of their resourcing needs. The Scrum Master and Product Owner are EPM employees while 2 development team members – Business Intelligence and UX – are from Manar Technology. The 4 other development team members are from Intergrupo – a company specialising in digital transformation. Intergrupo also supply an additional Scrum Master to help support the team. Despite coming from different companies with the challenges and complexity this brings such as the team not being co-located all of the time, they have managed to become a strong cross functional team where everyone works towards a common goal.
Javier, the team’s Scrum Master, told us that some of the team members were sceptical at the beginning, but it did not take long before they really started to enjoy the new way of working. One of the reasons that they adopted Agile was to satisfy their customers. The team loves getting early feedback and seeing customer satisfaction increase motivates them only further.
The team has come a long way since they started. In their 38th 2-week sprint at the time of our visit, they told us that although they are from 3 different companies, each with their specialisms, they find it important to involve everyone in backlog refinement and planning meetings. Different minds bring different ideas to the table. This approach has sometimes been challenged in the past, seeing it as a waste if their specialism is not required for the stories being discussed. It has however worked well for the Geniio team and it has avoided having 3 ‘silo teams’ within one team.
What really left an impression on me was the strong relationship between Lucero, the Product Owner, and the rest of the team. Lucero and the team really understand what the Product Owner role entails, and the developers emphasised how engaged she is. It was a struggle at the beginning, Lucero having to do her previous job in addition to taking on the PO role. It was too much, she had many late nights to keep up with the workload. It was recognised that something needed to change, and help arrived to support Lucero in her day to day job. The relationship between her, the Scrum Master and the developers is based on mutual respect, trust and passion for the products they deliver. They all agreed that to deliver a great product, you have to be in love with it. Part of their success is how Product Owners are genuinely empowered to make decisions.
User story maps are defined and continuously updated to manage priorities and indicate dependencies. They try and work on one of the 4 product areas at a time but sometimes this cannot be avoided. Geniio are independent from the other Scrum teams so can plan and release with autonomy. This is ideal for them, however, some of the other Scrum teams do need to integrate with each other regularly. 3 of the other teams work jointly on a project called ‘Dynamo’ and use Nexus as the basis of their scaling strategy.
When we asked the Geniio team what their most valuable metric is, they answered: ‘how big the smile is on our customer’s face.’ Looking at the client Net Promoter Score I can only conclude it is a very big smile 😊
Thanks to Claudia for organising our visit and to Luis Mulato for helping to introduce us to so many people in the Agile community in Colombia.