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Going Agile: Process Excellence & the Pursuit of Innovation

By Casey Greenstreet, AVP IT, Elevations Credit Union

Any organization experiencing rapid growth will find themselves outgrowing their old ways of do­ing business. In 2017, Elevations Credit Union faced this situation when we realized that our ex­pansion as an organization was outpacing our capacity to de­liver on strategic projects. It became apparent that our approach to work needed to evolve. By breaking down our approach into three simple pieces—people, process, and technology—we were able to identify the best methodology for addressing all areas: AgileScrum.

We were inspired to choose the Agile methodology because of its focus on business alignment and increased productivity, both of which are inherent to the framework — implementing this methodology also aligned with our continuous pursuit of process excellence and innovation, a quality that is integral to our organization’s culture as a recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. This type of transformation, like any large project, could not be successful without executive sponsorship and buy-in. We spent quality time educating and steering the executive team on Agile and its expected benefits.

According to Elevations CIO Pete DuPre’, “The executive leadership team entirely supports the Agile transformation, understands the associated change management and accepts that the benefits of the shift will pay out long term.”

A core principle of the Agile methodology is the delivery of Minimum Viable Products, known as “MVPs.”The tenants of this iterative approach to delivery allow for a rapid cycle of test, release, learn, and repeat that enables team autonomy and an unparalleled emphasis on quality assurance. In less than six months and even before Agile was fully institutionalized at Elevations, the team using the methodology delivered over 25 MVPs. Another key tenant of the Agile framework is transparency, with stakeholders fully engaged every step of the way.

"By breaking down our approach into three simple pieces—people, process, and technology—we were able to identify the best methodology for addressing all areas: AgileScrum"

Our organizational focus is on improving the experience our members have with Elevations, and with Agile, we can quickly deliver high quality, iterative releases that have produced benefits for our membership. These benefits are directly correlated with our strategic goal to swiftly improve our NPS-r (Net Promoter Relationship Score), which increased from the 21st percentile to the 84th percentile. Having this central organizational focus has also enabled prioritization of new projects across all business lines, while dedicated teams take care of work that keeps the business running smoothly day-to-day.

The shift to Agile was not without lessons learned. While our organization was excited to get started, we had minimal experience with Agile. We chose to be aggressive and transform teams that were working on actual, in flight projects. This made it challenging for the key players to deliver and learn at the same time.

In addition, Agile tooling and automation is a complicated and time-consuming process. Our implementation of the framework was somewhat unique, as we did not have full-time, dedicated resources. Initially, this seemed insignificant, but during our first test of Agile tools, we quickly learned that the instrument we chose didn’t suit our needs, nor was it a long-term fit. Now, we are moving forward with the implementation of a different tool that’s industry-leading. We expect that the new tool will allow us to more accurately assess our Scrum teams’ capacity and better predict the output.

More than a software development lifecycle, Agile principles have been adopted across the organization and resulted in a positive culture shift, which has motivated and inspired our team. Even with the challenges, our employee engagement jumped from the 89th percentile to the 92nd percentile of all Gallup clients. Agile has been a boon for Elevations, and we anticipate it will lead to continued excellence in the way we conduct business.

According to Elevations President &CEO Gerry Agnes, “Our team was ready for the shift to Agile and excited to be a part of this organizational transformation. Everyone is engaged in something much bigger than themselves and their day-to-day responsibilities.”

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