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How do you divert a waterfall..?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Agile, Apprenticeships exemplar, Solution Design and Innovation

...the same way you eat an elephant, in manageable chunks.

My name is Simon Swinburne. I am the Solution Architect working on the Find an Apprenticeship exemplar. This service is the catalyst that is helping the Skills Funding Agency to embrace the Agile methodology.

A bit of scene setting…

The Skills Funding Agency has the ultimate goal of effectively and efficiently delivering its’ services. There is a clear motivation to succeed not just in terms of user experience but also in terms of delivering sustainable and adaptable solutions in a rapidly changing, but an increasingly cost constrained, sector.

The Agency have historically had little in house expertise and relied on a small number of large suppliers to deliver our services through waterfall approaches. Our ability to deliver changes rapidly has been limited.

So, how are we making the change from waterfall to agile...?

Chunk 1 – Jump in with 2 feet

The Skills Funding Agency has undergone a significant reorganisation to embrace the challenges ahead. This was not an insignificant step!

Chunk 2 – Don’t get caught in the headlights!

The FindApprenticeship Service delivery schedule fell at just the time the reorganisation was taking place. Should we wait for it to be competed? We couldn’t. A team, using an experienced Agile supplier, was set up that could continue with the delivery of the service and also start to learn more about Agile. Indeed part of their remit is to enable us to become self-sufficient in due course

Chunk 3 – Work out what you need to do

Can you boil the ocean? No! We managed to learn this from others so didn’t even try. Working out what should be included in the minimum viable service is essential. The old notion of phase 2 of a project never happening no longer applies. Focus on phase 1, just make sure the future capability aspirations are not prevented by the approach you adopt.

I know I have significant technical challenges coming in phases 3 and 4 of FindApprenticeship service. There will be considerable integration requirements. I have identified these and started the wider discussion , but not allowed them to delay delivery of a minimum viable service.

Chunk 4 – Challenge the inhibitors

This is the part that has been a little harder going. Changing direction can be a difficult thing to do, especially if it involves challenging the existing convention. At times I have felt a little like ‘Rocky’ having to go 10 rounds, but each bout gets easier as everyone’s experience and adoption of Agile grows. Lets face it, we are in the process of rewriting the rule book so that should be expected.

It’s not a bad thing to be constructively and critically challenged, being asked why we want to do things differently. If I can’t give a good answer then maybe we shouldn’t be doing it, if I can then why shouldn’t we? Having senior organisational support for constructive challenge has proven extremely valuable to me, without it I am sure we would be in a different place.

Chunk 5– Deliver

This might sound obvious, but our strategy has been delivery. Getting the minimum service out of the door has been a real driver for us. The experience has been insightful too. Feedback from the beta service has directly impacted on feature development. This is a significant change to the way we deliver our services.

Do you have to deliver the final solution straight away? We certainly haven’t. There are several areas where we know the required capabilities will be delivered in a different way in the future, but those solution are not ready yet. Rather than just stop we have implemented various intermediate solutions, clearly planning to change later so implementing in a way that allows us to.

I would have been called crazy if I had said a year ago that we could deliver changes within a week of being identified. We have totally changed the way that solutions are delivered. We have proven that it can be done, the text books really are right! ( This will be subject of a future blog )

Chunk 6 – Share

FndApprenticeships have been the first down service to follow GDS standards. We have made significant effort to share our experiences with other teams. They have been able to benefit from our trail blazing which is great. What’s even better is that those teams are now sharing back, creating a virtuous cycle.

Chunk 7 – Iterate

Go back to chunk 4 ( infinite loop )

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1 comment

  1. Comment by tim m posted on

    Good post Simon