Thinking like an enterprise rewards

By Bob LaPorte
01:01 PM

A year ago, Premier, Inc., began a journey to transform its software product development efforts. It needed to respond quicker to changes in the marketplace, improve the quality of its offerings and deliver products to customers more quickly.

Susan Devore, Premier’s CEO, calls this “thinking like an enterprise” – everyone focused together, driving product development from business, not technical, needs.

Lean-Agile Software Development formed the basis of this transformation. Starting with one pilot project, Lean-Agile has now impacted the entire environment. Kelley Horton, director of the Corporate IT Program Management Office, says that after 12 months, “it feels like we are all on the same page, each understanding the other. We are delivering work that is of most value to the business” with higher quality and less waste than ever before.

Across the development organization, the pace of work is much more sustainable. One project recently completed a major release and there was none of the frenzy that so often goes with a release. “It was just another ‘sprint’ for us. Customers know what is coming in this release and what is next on the priority list.”

More importantly, senior leadership, product planners and architects have visibility of everything that is going on across the portfolio of product offerings. They can prioritize work rapidly to meet market conditions. And they are seeing opportunities to create a more cohesive user experience with less maintenance.

So much, so fast

How have they done so much so quickly? Through leadership commitment, trusting the process and good coaching.

Leadership. Senior leadership committed to the transition. At every turn, they emphasized that this would only succeed if the business won. They planned the rollout, offered high-quality training and prioritized pilot projects. Leaders made a point of routine visits to project team rooms and talking up the benefits. And they created systems to reward the performance of the whole group and whole teams, not individuals.

Trust the process.  Lean-Agile is “light enough” to work with every situation. Every team is using the same process and has a common vocabulary. For the first time, development teams can talk meaningfully with each other about their processes and how to improve. For the first time, the business has the visibility it needs to prioritize development work meaningfully.

Coaching. Premier had experimented with Agile “frameworks” but did not see much benefit. There was too little guidance and no view of the entire enterprise. Success came with the practical help of Guy Beaver, senior coach and VP of Net Objectives. For example, Guy used Lean-Agile thinking to help teams focus on minimizing ‘work-in-process’ so that they work together to finish tasks before starting something else. It felt slower but resulted in getting more done.”

Finally, Horton emphasized the importance of each partner in the process – leadership, business, developer, tester, analyst, project manager – understanding Lean-Agile 
concepts  so they can communicate and can learn together. This is also part of “thinking like an enterprise.”

A year into their journey, it is impressive how much progress Premier has made in achieving enterprise agility.