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Doing Agile Right: Inside John Deere's IT Transformation

John Deere's Ganesh Jayaram joins Bain's Steve Berez to discuss the company's ongoing Agile journey.


Doing Agile Right: Inside John Deere's IT Transformation

While not an overnight venture, incorporating Agile can improve company operations, customer experience and employee satisfaction. Ganesh Jayaram, John Deere's vice president of information technology, joins Bain partner and coauthor of Doing Agile Right Steve Berez to share the challenges and successes of Deere IT's Agile transformation so far.

Read a transcript of the conversation below:

STEVE BEREZ: Hello, I'm Steve Berez, a partner with Bain & Company. And we're here today to talk about doing Agile right with Ganesh Jayaram, John Deere's vice president of information technology. Thanks for joining us today.

GANESH JAYARAM: Steve, thanks for giving us the opportunity.

BEREZ: What prompted you to embark on a transformation of Deere IT?

JAYARAM: So Steve, our journey actually began back in 2017. We realized that as an IT function we needed to do a lot better in terms of delivering against the expectations of our stakeholders in a few different areas. The quality and availability of our applications, the speed at which we would respond back to requests for new features, and then, finally, value creation. Focusing on business outcomes that mattered the most.

In our first version that we tried back in 2017, it was on an opt-in basis. Our IT function colleagues tried to implement a few different aspects of the Agile rituals into our new development and modernization journey, but we realized very quickly that we were not hitting the mark. Adoption was slow. We also had a lot of technical debt. And while we moved the needle on the quality dimension, we were not quite there in terms of being more flexible and focusing on business outcomes.

So in this next iteration that we started about 18 months ago, our focus was to drive a more holistic end-to-end transformation, not just within the IT function but also to bring in our business partners and the rest of the enterprise.

BEREZ: So I see you had some great reasons for starting the transformation. What approach did you take to roll out the new Agile model?

JAYARAM: So we recognized that if you're going to drive a holistic transformation that included the broader enterprise, this is going to be both energizing on one hand, but also significantly challenging from a change management journey. So we called out three areas that we wanted to be laser focused on in terms of how we were going to change.

First and foremost, we changed what we worked on. So rather than talking about projects and thinking about orienting teams against projects, we moved to a product-based approach. A product management approach that had both IT delivery teams closely collaborating with our partners in the rest of our business and focusing on value creation.

The next thing that we changed was how we worked. We were going to focus much more on customer feedback and focusing on thin slices of value delivery in order to focus our time and attention within every sprint cycle.

And then, lastly, we really had to double down and invest in our foundation. And so we started to ramp up our efforts, both in terms of lifting the technical proficiency of our delivery teams, investing in automation, but also in training our business partners and making sure that they would embrace doing Agile right.

BEREZ: So it sounds like the organization had to go through a lot of change. Could you talk a little bit more about the steps you took on training?

JAYARAM: I've got to tell you, this is probably the most significant investment that we have made, and it's paying off in spades. First and foremost, we realized that we needed to teach ourselves—both within the IT function but also in the business world—how do we work differently? So we made an investment in physical space, first here in our global headquarters and soon thereafter in our location in India.

So we have two physical dojo spaces. We call them the Foundry. And it's an immersion area that we bring product teams to learn both Agile practices as well as technical practices from our coaches that are housed in the Foundry. The second thing that we did was to take these teams through immersion. So every time they come in, it's about 90 days of immersive training with our coaches in the Foundry.

And then, lastly, we invested in assessments. So we partnered with what we consider to be a best-in-class provider of technical assessments to really test our software engineering expertise of our colleagues, as well as investing in upskilling programs. So on an ongoing basis, both the IT delivery organization as well as the business organization can continue to both reskill and upskill on the technical as well as the product management dimensions.

BEREZ: So you've made a lot of investment in the new Agile model.

JAYARAM: Yeah, we have.

BEREZ: The acid test for me is, has it allowed Deere to better meet the needs of its dealers and customers?

JAYARAM: I would say yes. We are very early in our journey, so it's 18 months in since we started to adopt the Agile operating model, but all early results are saying it's a resounding success so far. First and foremost, we have taken out a number of horizontal layers between our engineering delivery teams and the end customer or the dealer.

And so the time cycle to getting insights and transferring them to features has considerably shortened. We've also established periodic reviews—either within the sprint cycle of two weeks or at least once a month—with our dealers and customers where we're showing them our work on features—those thin slices of value—and getting their feedback and incorporating it and making changes as needed.

And then we're delivering products, therefore, to the market in a much faster time frame. And we monitor user satisfaction scores. They have significantly improved through this period that we've implemented the new operating model. And most importantly, as we looked at the Covid pandemic that's really impacted a number of business operations around the world, for us, the adoption of the Agile operating model has really proven itself out in this time period, where we've been able to seamlessly scale up the dramatic increase in utilization of several online solutions for our dealers at levels that we never thought before.

So both in terms of user satisfaction, usage of features in our online applications and then, lastly, the employee engagement scores of folks that are working on these Agile teams has also gone up. So in all those examples, we would say it's been a great success so far.

BEREZ: It's really great to hear about the success you've had with customers and with employees. I know one of the first areas you tackled with the new model was the SAP Order Management Program. How had that been going, and how did the new Agile model help?

JAYARAM: So we made a very deliberate choice when we decided to pick the Order Management Program. This is the single largest IT program within the Deere enterprise. It's the order-to-cash management solution. And we intentionally wanted to test out the Agile operating model against it because we believed it represented all corner conditions that we might encounter in other parts of the Deere enterprise.

We tried implementing this Agile operating model in the traditional approach that we had rolled out in Australia. We had several quality issues and the program was delayed. And then we started this implementation here in the US, and it's only been a year so far. We've actually found significant improvements in terms of the pace at which we're able to take features to the market using some of the tools—like Yammer and the like—where we can get dealer feedback and be able to play it back to them.

We've been able to test the solutions out because we now have the product team that is looking at it from end to end before we take it out to the marketplace. And then as we launch it, we are monitoring the user satisfaction scores to see that there's been significant levels of improvement.

So just to quantify our accomplishments here of the last year, we would say that our time to market in terms of bringing new features in for that program has improved roughly about 60% compared to our original baseline. The number of features that we are bringing to the market has gone up 1,200% compared to the baseline that we had. So we're doing more, we're bringing it faster into the market.

And then lastly, our employees are excited to be part of these teams. And if you look at the employee Net Promoter Score, that's gone up roughly about 150% compared to that baseline. So it looks like it's a win-win-win solution as we've adopted this Agile operating model against the most complicated program in the Deere history.

BEREZ: Ganesh, those are really impressive results. Thanks for taking the time to share them with us today.

JAYARAM: Steve, thank you for giving us the opportunity to do so. It was great talking to you.

Bain Book

Doing Agile Right

Agile has the power to transform work—but only if it's implemented the right way.

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