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Keys to Success

By Cornelia Pool  |  Posted 05-07-2009 Print

Covad CIO Cornelia Pool describes how her team worked with a outsourcer to successfully reinvent the company’s software delivery process.

Even though distributed agile software development may seem at odds with a methodology that has its roots in small, co-located teams, Covad and Persistent adapted agile methodologies to work effectively across companies, supply chains and even continents. The teams managed the different time zones and other barriers in order to improve Covad's bottom line.

We also moved away from having communications flow through vertical teams--such as analysts, architects, developers and quality assurance--to forming cross-functional teams that communicated directly with each other. These functions could now also be distributed geographically. We maintained a strong onshore team that continues to set the strategic direction, in combination with strong operation execution among the teams.

Leadership, Agility, and Incentives: The Keys to Success

The Persistent-Covad partnership was based on a leaner team, improved communications, a deeper knowledge base of our processes, and setting firm expectations with clear metrics and exit criteria--all done with the goal of achieving higher productivity. The Persistent team understood our business as well as the impact that their work had on the company and our customers.

Hands-on leadership was another important shift. As long as each project was completed within predetermined parameters and productivity metrics (i.e., budget and timeline), the team was free to bring new ideas to the table.

This kind of autonomy encouraged developers to innovate from fresh points of view. The method built mutual trust among team members. Questions such as "How could we solve this problem?" and "If we change and do things a certain way, would it make things X percent better?" became standard practice. 

In other words, instead of simply being "the vendor" handing over a set of specs, Persistent became part of the solution. This approach went a long way in cultivating strong relationships and building confidence, as well as a knowledge base. It was a leap of faith, but it worked extraordinarily well.

In addition, the team adopted an agile development process that encouraged frequent inspection and adaptation; a leadership philosophy that encouraged teamwork, self-organization, and accountability; a set of engineering best practices that allowed for rapid delivery of high-quality software; and a business approach that aligned development with customer needs and company goals.

But taking agile development even further meant working across geographies with offshore team members. Building efficient, agile teams across a 12-hour time difference was non-trivial and required fine tuning. Best practices were developed, including daily communication, monitoring and reviews.

To achieve business process optimization, we incentivized team members (Covad and Persistent) with recognition, as well as "bonus" dollars and gift cards. Rewarding stellar work and initiative led to enhanced creativity and process innovation. The key for management was to give incentives and encourage the correct and desired behavior.

By design, Covad's leadership team made sure that all developers saw end results to gain an understanding of how they impacted the bottom line. This helped each team member feel like an all-around contributor with a sense of pride, rather than "just a coder." 


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