How Elabor8 helped University of Melbourne adopt an agile mindset

14 February 2022 Consultancy.com.au 4 min. read
Profile
More news on

Among a roll-call of leading Australian organisations, consulting firm Elabor8 has over the years assisted several universities with leveraging agile methodologies, including the University of Melbourne (UoM). A look into the consultancy’s project with the university and its outcomes provides insight into the value added agile can bring to both IT and non-IT functions, as well as the benefits of an expertly guided transition.

Closing in on its 170th anniversary, the University of Melbourne is one of Australia’s oldest and most respected institutions, having over its history produced scores of internationally renowned academics and political leaders.

This rich legacy doesn’t however serve to insulate the university from contemporary challenges, such as widespread digital disruption and the necessary shift to remote learning and operations as brought about by the global pandemic.

The University of Melbourne adopts an agile mindset

Moreover, a steady reduction in academic funding has led to a far more competitive and challenging market. Here, the Business Services division responsible for new IT development at UoM recognised it could play a key role in helping the university increase responsiveness and maintain a strong customer focus, as well as increase visibility and transparency across teams and have a greater awareness of delivering value sooner. Yet, the team felt siloed.

The belief was that workplace culture could be improved with a more team-centred approach, and that a higher quality of delivery would enhance productivity and in turn serve the requirements of reducing IT costs and risk. Agile was thought of as a possible solution, and the Business Services team ultimately selected Elabor8, in part due to the consultancy’s pragmatic and fit-for-purpose approach aligning with the unique business environment of a university.

“We wanted to change the way that we worked and the way that we interacted with each other,” said Liam Whelan, UoM’s Transformation Lead for the project. “We wanted to embed better practices to strengthen our customer focus and to help with agility to speed up delivery of value to our stakeholders. We believed that agile might be an effective alternative method for us, and after a review of several consultancies we selected Elabor8 to assist.”

Project

To demonstrate early proof of value and how the rest of the university could potentially function, its ServiceNow platform team was first selected as an ‘exemplar’ due to its good mix of people attending to defect-related enhancements along with project work, with an agile ‘test, learn and improve’ approach adopted for the pilot. The Adaptive Ways of Working (AWOW) initiative would eventually be rolled out to 70 further teams across a variety of functions.

For the pilot, Elabor8 provided the ‘exemplar’ team with coaching and delivery support, including agile fundamentals training, a team purpose and design workshop, kanban board design (a visual workflow tool), team health checks and chartering sessions, and the creation of the team backlog of work. During the run phase, Elabor8 established and taught agile team practices and cadence, working with the teams on backlog value, flow of work items, and efficiency.

Over the course of 21 months, the scaled project saw more than 600 employees – working in both IT and non-IT related areas including finance, human resources, OHS, facilities and campus services – trained in over 30 agile courses, adding value through a shared knowledge base. Elabor8 also worked with the university to establish and bolster an AWOW leadership team, which has helped identify new portfolios, programs and cross-functional teams.

Outcomes

The project was further underpinned by a data-driven approach, both as a means of testing the operating model hypothesis and to drive improvement through proven successes. According to the partners, the benefits of AWOW were evident university-wide, results which Whelan describes as ‘undeniable’. Measurements showed a more than 200 percent productivity increase in the overall throughput of work, with teams delivering a third more valuable work.

Overall, quality improvement rose by more than a quarter through better prioritisation and the reduction of defect/technical task rates, with at least 30 percent of low or no value work eliminated before it even reached the delivery teams. In addition, the AWOW initiative improved team engagement by 15 percent, while team alignment rose by almost 20 percent. There was also a positive 30 percent increase in the understanding of why the teams exist.

“Not only were the teams who were part of the initiative more productive, but the quality and value of work they performed improved,” comments Whelan of the success. “What we were striving for ultimately was not just different approaches to achieving speed in delivery, but actually tackling the perceptions that people had about the way they performed too – a total shift in mindset. Elabor8 was vital to the breakthrough that we had with our teams.”