CA Technologies: Moving the needle for Agile teams

Doing work for the sake of doing work is boring. Super boring. But give individuals who work at organizations a very clear picture of the purpose of the work that they’re doing, and they tend to stay longer and actually go the extra mile in order to make things happen.

They have an understanding how the work that they’re doing on a day-to-day basis is connected to the grand scheme, and how they can impact the success of that bigger picture. Shannon Mason, VP of product management for CA Agile Central, said, “Everybody’s usually focused on straight business metrics, right? Did we move the bottom line? Are we making more money? There’s also an internal focused metric that we’re looking at. We want people to blow out their concept of what it means to be successful.”

CA Agile Central’s philosophy is that there are better ways of working to leverage all the Agile principles, whether a developer is practicing Scrum, Continuous Flow, or Kanban. The product is purpose-built to actively support this ideal. Agile Central, formerly Rally Software, started in 2001. Mason joined the company 10 years ago. She shares, “We fundamentally developed a product with the ideals and the output of the manifesto in mind. Everything that we do and have done in this system is with that backbone still in place.”

Focus on metrics, automated information sharing

According to Mason, one of Agile Central’s major benefits is that it decreases the amount of information sharing that has to go between people who “want know and track things,” and the folks that “make the magic happen.” She says, “A developer can go inside of Agile Central and essentially leverage all the things around an integrative development lifecycle. They can move work through their system, through their flow, even if that work is connected to bigger pieces or bigger organizational strategic objectives. They don’t ever have to send out an email that says, ‘Hey, the status on this work is complete,’ or, ‘This work is still in progress.’ We automatically track those minute details that oftentimes get sent over email or stored in a spreadsheet, or that a stakeholder might get just in a hallway conversation update.”

The product also focuses on the analytics and the measurement component of a project. Teams that are practicing any sort of iterative development process are looking to optimize how they work and how they operate. Mason says, “We have tons of data inside the system from a cumulative flow perspective. It shows developers the way that they’re moving work through their system — whether there’s a bottleneck, or there’s too much work in progress. It also shows the impact that it’s going to have on velocity.” This is performed not just at the team level, but also at the teams of teams of teams levels that are looking to coordinate with each other.

Fitting Hybrid IT into the picture

The Hybrid IT melting pot that blends legacy apps and hardware, development tools, developing for the cloud, and moving through different development platforms is part of the practical aspect that Mason says Agile Central embraces. “One of the things we’ve always wanted and sought to do is to be able to pull people into the system. I’ve had Waterfall teams inside of Agile Central be able to mock up their entire process. They go through all the checks and balances and are able to use all the analysis and kind of flow that we can see inside of the product, which then allows them to connect with their other teams that might be practicing, might be a little bit further along in their journey, and actually interconnect and work in an active way.”

According to her, what tends to happen in those scenarios is that those Waterfall teams end up going to Wagile, a combo of the two, and eventually end up seeing all of the productivity their peers have, and then moving over to a more adaptive way of thinking about it.

Part of Agile Central’s DNA is believing that Agile is a great way to work. She qualifies that, “The other side is also being super aware of meeting people where they’re at, and that they might be in very different places. You limit the amount of guard-rails, and you put those guardrails in the right places.”

While the competitive landscape is stiff, CA differentiates itself in a number of ways. Mason describes a portion of her customer base as still having a very traditional PMO in place, and managing traditional projects, although she says she sees a gradual shift to more product focus. “You’ve got the programmatic understanding, or teams of teams understanding. You’re practicing Scaled Agile Framework, sometimes the value streams conceptualization of that. And then teams, and then how teams deliver work. For us, one of the big things within CA is that there’s something that we have in each one of those critical areas. We’re involved from the moment a company starts thinking about whether or not it wants to fund a particular improvement, or fund a new product, to the way that it thinks, then distributing and arranging and organizing all of that work, and then to tracking, whether or not the team is heading towards that particular goal, to the moment it gets deployed.”

The CA background provides broad support for enterprise  management. Many of its customers are in heavily regulated environments and have added security at each layer. Its interconnectivity, specifically with an eye towards managing complex planning and complex execution across thousands of people.

Mason points out another key difference between CA and its competitors, “A lot of our competitors have something that looks like a SaaS offering but often times it’s an ASP, so they’re providing a service. We have a true multi-tenant offering. It allows us to do very complex analytics against our customer’s data to provide them a lot of great insight into how they’re operating and to baseline their information. They get the availability and uptime that comes with being able to structure their system from that perspective. That’s not something that you see across all of our competitors.”

Change is hard, but go with the flow

The next stage, according to Mason, will be to embrace going back to the basics. She says, “So let’s remember why we went through this big change in the first place, right? It was to achieve high value for our customers — to create a really engaging environment for our employees and make sure that we were really aware of the problems that we were trying to solve, and to try that incremental solutioning process. What has happened over the last few years, frankly, is that people really focused on process and speed of delivery. I think we forgot a little bit about why we went through it in the first place, which was just to build better things.”

She describes “feature factories” as an element of the original focus that needs to be looked at closely, “Even here at Agile Central, we noticed this behavior is within ourselves. We would congratulate ourselves on the number of features that we would complete every single quarter and completely forget the other side of that question, which was, ‘Great. Are people using them? Do they like them?’”

The second part, aside from the back to basics, is achieving full organizational flow. Developers used to think about Agile as encapsulating many different components. “It wasn’t just that you did Scrum, Kanban or continuous flow was usually in there. Lean principles were in there, test-driven development and behavior-driven development were in there.” The groups that Mason’s working with that are really pushing the boundaries are focusing on what it looks like to have full organizational flow.

She describes the historical play by play of developers building things faster, then settling on a DevOps strategy.“So you got the things out there faster, but then what are the things that are upstream that can also practice that same, very focused, day to day planning, pivoting, persevering mechanism that exists inside of most engineering organizations?” she asks and adds, “If I were to take a bet, it would be that at some point in the near future we’re going to be practicing flow versus practicing what is a more Scrum-like approach that’s currently practiced.”

Next-gen Agile focused on business outcomes

Next-gen Agile is on the horizon, and it will leverage new technologies like machine learning and predictive analytics to expand its focus from program management to business outcomes. Mason’s excited about Next-gen Agile because it’s making use of everything that developers currently use for better outcomes. She says, “That rotation around looking at very specific delivery metrics is just one facet of what it looks like to be successful. Then when you start to think about it within the concept of how we flow work through the entirety of the organization, from the moment that we think about ‘Maybe we’re gonna do something,’ to the moment that we actually put that out to production, or someone’s going to leverage it, we’re gathering all these data points.”

She suggests, “Right now most organizations track that sort of information, but they’re probably tracking more whether or not they got the feature done, and we’re trying to actually pull in not just that data point, but also the data points that surround whether or not you achieved the objective that you were seeking to achieve, right? The company’s goal was to release a new piece of functionality that helps organizations understand how their plans change over time. We find that people are going to that page, and so they’re using it, which is fantastic. Those sorts of metrics, that sort of information, starts to build a more multifaceted understanding of how we’re operating as an organization, versus just focusing on one space.”

That said, there’s some really interesting data that’s starting to come out around organizations that have clarity of purpose. In closing Mason points out, “We tend to think about purpose and clarity as things that are more altruistic, but if you look at businesses that are publicly traded, that have a clear, discernible idea of what it is that they want do for their customers, they tend to have a significantly higher return on investment. That doesn’t happen magically, that happens because everybody understands what it looks like to kick butt.”

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Content provided by SD Times and CA. 

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