Defence Giant Boosts Productivity with DevOps

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About the Client

This case study relates to a UK-headquartered defence, security, and aerospace company with worldwide operations. We worked with its Product Delivery department, which is responsible for more than 80 back office solutions supporting over 40,000 employees.

The company wanted to test DevOps principles against a suite of enterprise applications ahead of potential roll-out across the wider organisation. With our support, this exercise achieved an exponential increase in software changes, from 100 to 2,500 per year.

Challenge: Embedded Processes Hindered Innovation

Traditionally, this organisation approached the delivery of IT solutions in a similar way to its manufacture of aircraft and ships. This worked in the analogue era, but keeping pace with business demands in the fast-paced digital economy was increasingly challenging.

As with many large enterprises, change was a slow and difficult process. This led to a growing perception within the business that IT was hindering innovation, rather than enabling it. Furthermore, the enterprise was shifting from on-premise to SaaS solutions. It was clear that traditional ways of working would quickly come unstuck on new, evolving cloud-enabled software platforms.

The principles and practices of DevOps were identified as a way to address these challenges, and the Product Delivery department was ringfenced as a testbed. Prior to transformation, it achieved between 50 and 100 changes per year for the enterprise’s HR, Service Management, ERP and SharePoint services. Each change was managed through standard waterfall and service management structures and practices. This often made project-to-service transition complex and painful, especially in scenarios where IT delivery was outsourced.

The goal was to evidence how these processes could be improved through the application of DevOps principles, before expanding the model across the rest of the organisation. Having read The Phoenix Project, the enterprise’s Service Governance Lead saw the potential benefits of DevOps. However, he was under no illusion about the challenges associated with translating the theory into practical steps that deliver tangible outcomes. To ensure the initiative had a fighting chance, he engaged us to work in partnership with his team.

“This support empowered us to address deep-rooted barriers and achieve lasting change, evidencing the benefits that this way of working might bring to the enterprise as a whole. All transformation leaders should consider expert at-elbow support to keep activity on-track throughout the inevitable challenges that will be encountered on the journey.”

Global Operations Director

Solution: Nurturing a Transition from Project to Product-centric Work

We provided consulting services, training and coaching to help instil a product-centric mindset, boosting accountability, responsiveness and adaptiveness.

In part, this involved close one-to-one mentoring and support of the internal leader spearheading the transformation. We ensured his transition from Service Governance Lead to Head of Product Delivery had meaning and impact.

At the outset, we assisted in creating a strategic plan clarifying the advantages of DevOps ways of working, as well as time and education requirements and how outcomes would be measured. Achieving executive buy-in throughout the organisation was critical, with the task positioned as the starting point for a far-reaching cultural transformation, rather than an isolated IT project.

A DevOps Day for the entire Product Delivery department and key stakeholders introduced the concepts of systems thinking, Lean and Agile. We orchestrated and facilitated the event, bringing it to life with games and simulations.

From here, we provided regular, ongoing support over a nine-month timeframe to roll out and embed new ways of working. Core features of this process included:

1. Product teams

Product-centric teams were established to build and support each of the four enterprise systems, namely SAP, SuccessFactors, SharePoint and ServiceNow. We helped teams and individuals acknowledge their role and relevance in the system, addressing any misunderstandings that arose.

2. Visualising the work

To eradicate silos and supercharge collaboration, we helped visualise the work and improve flow using Kanban boards. We also established a definition of ‘done’. This enhanced transparency, ensuring time was focused effectively and blockers were identified and addressed quickly.

3. Practices and ceremonies

We facilitated two-week sprints involving ceremonies such as daily stand-ups, sprint planning, sprint reviews, demos, retrospectives and backlog refinement. This improved communication and visibility within teams, and we encouraged a disciplined approach to stand-ups and work-in-progress limits.

4. Improving the flow

Additional best practice procedures included a relentless focus on the flow of work through teams, with better visualisation of movement achieved through burn-up and burn-down charts and cumulative flow diagrams. Swarming was adopted to improve teamwork, and we prioritised service performance and experience over product change.

5. Customer engagement

Product teams were encouraged to generate consistent value for customers and bring them on the transformation journey. We assisted with prioritisation, focusing on Minimum Viable Product and batching releases for incremental value delivery. We also facilitated regular communications surrounding current and future releases as well as implementing a healthy backlog of customer requirements.

Outcome: Change is Now an Everyday Event, Not a Big Event

The changes implemented with our support and guidance drove a fundamental shift in the attitude and aptitude of the Product Delivery department. Teams now work more cohesively with people taking greater personal responsibility for ongoing performance and improvement. The initiative was also extended to include an additional SAP system, Salesforce, a business intelligence service and bespoke in-house applications.

There have been noteworthy improvements in the delivery of back office systems, with tangible achievements including:

  • Increased profitability for one business group, thanks to simplified operations, enabled through a consistent flow of changes across various applications.
  • Consolidation, integration and improved cost efficiency of IT and finance processes through the implementation and exploitation of ServiceNow.
  • Modernisation and simplification of HR processes enabled through the implementation and exploitation of SuccessFactors.

The commercial advantage of embedding DevOps is evident in the substantial uplift in software changes: from 50-100 to more than 2,500 per annum. It’s the associated cultural shift that will drive long-lasting, cumulative benefits.

Team members take pride in their product, focusing on reducing technical debt and unplanned work. This unlocks greater capacity for interesting new work, and team morale has enjoyed a two-fold improvement. Furthermore, better management of technical debt has resulted in a more supportable system where changes are easier to implement. Overall, there’s been a 30% reduction in incoming incidents, and customer satisfaction levels have also improved.

These achievements prove that agility is possible for large enterprises with extensive legacy systems and processes. The Product Delivery department has enhanced customer satisfaction, boosted employee morale and improved performance by making change an everyday event, not a big event. Today, the department has a culture which embraces ongoing improvement of IT applications, enabling it to adapt quickly in line with emerging opportunities and challenges. The initiative earned buy-in for DevOps at a leadership level, while encouraging the wider team to interrogate traditional ways of working.

This case study is based on work completed by DevOpsGroup before the team joined forces with Sourced Group, an Amdocs company.