Transforming Our Organization through Agile

By: Kristy Hartmann, CA DCSS

The Technology Services Division (TSD) at the California Department of Child Support Services (CA DCSS) has adopted a new System Development Lifecyle (SDLC) Process which incorporates an Agile mindset. The goal is to embrace the values and principles of Agile such as people-first, inspect and adapt, collaboration, and a self-organizing team who create technology solutions in continuous short time increments to support the Child Support Program. The Agile model focuses on strengthening the relationship between the business and technology teams to foster mutual understanding of business needs, cultivate better communication, and get solutions faster.

The journey to implementing Agile has been exciting yet challenging, and the future looks promising. The transformation started in 2016 when TSD moved away from the “waterfall” approach, which requires each step in the process to be fully completed before the next step can begin, often resulting in needed fixes not being identified until the end of a project.

Catherine Lanzaro, TSD Applications Development and Testing Branch Chief said, “working in a waterfall SDLC was inhibiting our ability to be flexible once coding or testing began. Working in Agile embraces a culture of people first and promotes a high level of collaboration with constant feedback from the business. This ensures the final product delivered truly satisfies the business needs.”

Some of the roadblocks from the Agile implementation were educating CA DCSS on the benefits of Agile, determining how CA DCSS would adopt Agile, and working through confusion on people’s roles and responsibilities. In order to resolve many difficult issues and to focus on accomplishing their most important projects, TSD hired an Agile coach to teach the organization the basics of working in an Agile environment. TSD has tried many experiments designed to stretch the organization, such as the Hackathon in 2018, a two-week sprint where teams collaborated to achieve their targets and produce high-quality work, a huge win for the department! In just two weeks, TSD completed fifteen different initiatives and all of them were successful. The achievements from the 2018 Hackathon showcased how beneficial Agile is, and most importantly, the event revived TSD’s vision of what Agile can do.

TSD Leadership recognized that more actions were needed to fully adopt Agile, and while the Hackathon was successful, it was not a sustainable model for the department. For six months, they continued trying new experiments in order to formulate a new SDLC, evaluate what has been going well, and examine what can be improved upon based on previous experiences. TSD Leadership also sent out a survey to get input from the staff on what improvements should be made, held several discussion groups and workshops, and organized a focus group.

On June 5, 2019, the focus group spent three hours carefully reviewing the new SDLC process created from all the feedback. The focus group was comprised of 17 individuals from across the department, some with more knowledge and some with less knowledge about Agile. After collecting feedback from the focus group, TSD revised the SDLC and created new visuals to ensure clear communication. The new SDLC visuals were shared with the product owners from the Cross-Functional Team in the Office of Enterprise Project Management, Scrum Masters for the Agile Delivery Teams, and the team members from the Agile Center of Excellence in an all-day workshop designed to finalize the process and gain buy-in from the participants. All participants were extremely excited for the collaboration and the result was a new comprehensive SDLC to be used for all future projects.

How will Agile help transform our organization in the future? The Agile values and principles help the department work cross-functionally, be flexible to changes, and respond rapidly to changing requirements.

TSD is committed to using an Agile SDLC to better support all of California’s Child Support Program. CA DCSS business and technology teams are working collaboratively on projects from start to finish, from the initial change request to the intake and story creation phases, to the sprint execution, then finally to a production release.

There will be many opportunities for the business to provide inputs, interact with the developers, and see quality results throughout the entire development process. By receiving feedback frequently, TSD can evaluate the performance of their products, execute changes, and resolve the issues as they arise.

“I’m thrilled that CA DCSS is moving full speed ahead on innovative changes to the way we do business between our programs and technology,” said CA DCSS Director David Kilgore. “I am grateful for all of the staff who have persevered through this fundamental business and technology change. It’s never easy, but with the dedication I’ve seen, I truly believe anything is possible here at CA DCSS.”