Partnering to Deliver in the Era of Downsizing

In today’s unstable business environment, market volatility, rising operating costs and escalating competition have hit every business in some way. Covad, the owner and operator of one of the largest national broadband networks in the United States, has been no exception.

Covad faced challenges in meeting software delivery dates when I began managing the company’s information technology services. My charter was to provide better IT options to more effectively support our expanding business and product portfolio–even as shrinking budgets and headcount combined to put enormous pressure on our business. 

Despite the challenges posed by the accelerating pace of change, we became energized by this change–and the initiative to improve our competitive position quickly resulted in a total transformation of IT services. 

New Technology, New Ideas

To start, we initiated a careful analysis of gating factors that could limit the throughput of our software and IT teams. We evaluated alternative methodologies and tried out several variables. At the end of this exercise, I adopted Scrum, an iterative incremental process commonly used with agile software development.

Since the process is team based, it allows us to manage resources more efficiently. And because it delivers projects iteratively, it helps us to better control the progress on projects. Scrum was also a key to transforming the organization through improved communications.

The next step was to find a trusted partner. We collaborated with Persistent Systems, an outsourced product development leader with deep telecommunications expertise. Our objective with Persistent was to work together in unique ways to drive change, namely by creating an interactive development cycle that would improve productivity. Everyone gets cost reductions from outsourcing, but my goal was to move beyond that and truly innovate.

With an eye on organizational productivity, I had to empower all stakeholders, from the Covad business owners in California to the support people in India. Critical success factors included setting the right strategic direction, building an all-star team and achieving operational excellence on a daily basis.

Early on it became clear that to make the program work on a larger scale, the individual teams needed to be self-organizing and self-managing. As a result, we merged two dominant software development paradigms: pure outsourcing, and Scrum. 

Before we could execute, we needed to resolve the innate tensions between the two models. The strategy was to put our business at the center of the IT initiatives, while leveraging the Persistent team’s engineering expertise wherever possible.

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