Elabor8 helps Transport for NSW unit with adopting SAFe

08 March 2023 Consultancy.com.au 6 min. read
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When Transport for NSW launched its new Active Transport unit, it had the potential to shape the way the branch operated. With the remit of overseeing the execution of as many as 350 simultaneous projects, the unit decided to adopt an agile way of working.

The background

During Covid-19, the need to focus on safe transport accelerated. Transport for NSW saw residents looking for safer transport alternatives, increasingly turning to walking and cycling to move around – and the Active Transport branch was born.

Active Transport faced a thrilling challenge – to meet the unprecedented demand for active movement, with infrastructure requirements to match. That meant that the department during peak times is responsible for overseeing the successful execution of as many as 350 simultaneous projects, each at different phases of completion, and working with an expansive team that includes civil engineers, strategists, and data and analytics experts.

Elabor8 helps Transport for NSW unit with adopting SAFe

The challenge

As a new team with a large-scale remit, Active Transport had the potential to shape the way it operated.

The new team blends a wide variety of skills from civil engineering to program management, IT, and data specialists. While government departments have a reputation for being inelegant and slow to make decisions, Active Transport wanted to set itself apart by implementing an agile framework – an approach borne out of software development, but nowadays commonly applied across processes and teams.

At the time, there was a common view across the Active Transport team that planning and other upfront activities had to be completed and signed off before work could commence. That was a significant blockage for projects, making the team slow and unresponsive to changing or new work. Combined with a mixture of internal and external projects, these factors made it impossible to execute time-sensitive strategies at the necessary pace.

Without an appropriate framework in place, visibility of the projects was limited and planning at a portfolio level had become a major challenge.

As Covid-19 progressed and the unit matured, public demand for active transport options also increased – more people wanted to walk or cycle. For the Director of the Active Transport team, the objective was to make the team so agile it could act quickly to meet this growing need. Additionally, he wanted to integrate the teams to operate as one, bringing strong cohesion and collaboration.

While Transport for NSW had experience working with agile frameworks, the Director of the Active Transport team felt he would benefit from the support of an expert consultancy firm. An expert in agile consulting, and already working within a different area of Transport for NSW, Elabor8 was tapped to implement the agile framework.

The process

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is one of the most popular frameworks in the agile world – a relatively complex set of organisational and workflow patterns designed to facilitate agile working at an enterprise level, with a range of complexities available to be implemented.

The Director had been a SAFe practitioner for more than five years, and after consultation with Elabor8, it was agreed that it would suit the scale and intricacy of Active Transport’s needs. SAFe would empower Active Transport to give visibility of current goals, works, and priorities to the wider organisation and better manage its various tasks internally.

Creating an aligned portfolio of work would also mean information could flow upwards and downwards, allowing for input from all levels.

Knowing that successful implementation of SAFe requires strong buy-in from the organisation, Elabor8 took responsibility for stakeholder management. Working with teams and executives at multiple levels, the consultancy outlined the value SAFe could offer the organisation, and helped promote an agile mindset within the unit, encouraging team members to participate in the trust-building and transparency that would allow projects to be executed most efficiently.

The solution

Active Transport started this process with no framework in place. Elabor8 helped train every person on the team and then worked through a series of Program Increment Planning sessions, demonstrating learning and improvement along the way.

After leading SAFe training, Elabor8 started small, implementing SAFe events such as stand-ups and iteration planning. Gradually, more advanced practices were incorporated, including Value Stream Mapping and Lean Portfolio Management.

Over time, the framework has grown to meet the precise needs of Active Transport, and the implementation is designed to continue to provide a framework for success.

An agile framework like SAFe can be theoretically ideal, but without the right execution, it will not work. From running program increments to engaging and training relevant staff, Elabor8 continued to share tools and insights from its previous experience to give Active Transport the best possible chance of success.

The results

According to the Director of the Active Transport team, one of the biggest benefits of the Elabor8 engagement has been the dramatic improvement in management visibility.

The teams were able to quickly establish good, coordinated planning practices through the Program Increment cycle, while tooling through Jira and Jira Align now provides a single source of truth for the work.

Iteration reviews quickly became the highlight of the cycle, providing stakeholders with excellent visibility of progress. Initial audiences were small but grew to include a larger stakeholder group and these reviews now facilitate the main update on current work, allowing teams to reduce the number of progress meetings.

For the first time, leadership is able to see all the work in the system, how it connects together and flows through the teams. This is providing leadership within Active Transport and across their stakeholders with radical clarity. “We have greater visibility and transparency of the work than ever before,” said the Director at Transport for NSW.

By partnering with Elabor8, Active Transport was able to implement SAFe with the level of organisational buy-in and support, and willingness from the immediate team, required to make it a success.

The teams continue to grow and deepen their agile practices, instituting a scrum of scrums to help coordinate. Planning together has shown them that their work is highly interrelated, and they see their next steps as adopting more advanced SAFe practices such as Participatory Budgeting as well as further evolving the Continuous Delivery Pipeline.

Meanwhile, the success of the Active Transport team is starting to attract interest from other areas in Transport for NSW and is serving as a role model for other teams in the wider Active Transport portfolio.

“We don’t talk about SAFe at all, now. It’s just the way we operate. Within Active Transport we have made it work. Elabor8 has played a pivotal role in taking us to the point where it’s now business as usual,” concluded the Director.