Building Customer Morale the SAFe® Way

Author: Shaun Morris, Director of Engineering Excellence

If your agency is having difficulty maintaining high morale, you’re not alone. It is all too common to walk into an organization and notice things like waning motivation and negative attitudes, particularly when diverse teams are collaborating and critical missions exert pressure to perform on time with accuracy and efficiency. But by implementing the right systems and processes, you can tackle important components of morale and get your teams where you need them to be. Here’s how to do it by harnessing Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®), a system that supports Lean-Agile transformation by scaling Agile across the enterprise.

The SAFe approach to building morale

From experience we know there’s a direct correlation between implementing Agile processes and teams experiencing higher morale: improved processes reduce stress, increase productivity, and contribute to an overall feeling of success. We’ve seen this in our own teams, and we’ve seen it on various customer sites. So it was no surprise when we recently came across another customer who needed technology support along with help raising morale. As a SAFe gold partner, Octo felt confident that implementing the principles and best practices endorsed by SAFe would yield the desired results.

First, we examined planning because without the proper amount of planning, leaders, team members, and the customer are not aligned, causing communications to fail. Then, after identifying core issues within planning and communication, we turned to SAFe’s Program Increment (PI) Planning process, which consists of doing the following over two days:

  • All program personnel and stakeholders meet face to face as much as possible
  • Leaders set the mission and vision with the fewest constraints possible
  • Decisions are made immediately
  • Risks are resolved, owned, accepted, or mitigated
  • Requirements and design emerge from conversation
  • Teams create and take ownership of plans
  • A team confidence vote is taken

We hosted the PI Planning at the Octo Phoenix office. The customer was pleased to discover PI Planning:

  • Breaks the year into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • Builds progressively toward meeting overall goals
  • Creates time for teammates to hold targeted, productive meetings
  • Ensures everyone is focused on the task at hand

The PI Planning session immediately improved the quality of communication, which increased confidence in the process and among team members. Making team members more visible to the customer and to one another added transparency and built trust between leadership, development teams, and the customer. PI Planning also allowed the customer to interact directly with Octo’s team members, making unnecessary telephone tag and external messengers no longer part of the communication equation. And because PI Planning also forces the leadership to break up the long-term vision into tangible short-term (quarterly) goals, those goals are more realistic and achievable, resulting in a can-do attitude.

Collaboration is key

The Agile Manifesto states, “… we have come to value customer collaboration over contract negotiation.” PI Planning, in the spirit of the Manifesto, provided this customer and others we’ve worked with, a platform to collaborate – to share the mission of the organization and the vision for the products to meet the mission. Agile empowers the customer to help steer the project while gaining vision buy-in from the teams. Collaboration contributes to increased positivity within the organization, which is why this particular organization began to experience significant progress and celebrate successes.

Morale at scale

With such diverse teams collaborating on an important project, it is important to be able to work efficiently at scale, and SAFe allowed us to do that at this site and on other projects. Embracing SAFe:

  • Empowers team members and the customer to have a voice
  • Speeds up development by removing prioritization bottlenecks
  • Allows teams to own their plan/commitment
  • Encourages teams to implement innovative approaches (i.e., Innovation and Planning Sprints)
  • Promotes listening to developers’ feedback, concerns, and ideas so they know they are being heard

Using SAFe methods makes sense, not just for creating small changes (negativity to positivity among a few). It contributes to creating change at scale, causing large groups to feel more unified, optimistic, and productive. This is reflected in the quality of work accomplished as a collaboration. And it really shows in the customer’s level of satisfaction.

A culture change

When morale shifts so dramatically and at scale, it becomes something bigger – a true cultural change. This kind of dramatic, positive movement is great to see, but it is essential to acknowledge that the shift does not happen all at once. Change requires time, patience, and persistence because it happens incrementally. And the larger the teams, the collaboration, and the customer, the harder it is to create momentum. This is natural because cultural transformation comes last with any big transition – and implementing SAFe can be a big transition.  As John P. Kotter, an authority on leadership and change, states, “In a change effort, culture comes last, not first.” We know this is true, having experienced it in our current and previous projects.

Octo is an Agile company – it’s what we are known for. By incorporating Agile methods, our clients experience higher morale and meet mission objectives with greater efficiency. Team Octo is proud to help federal customers advance through the continuous journey of learning and improvement, using SAFe as a blueprint for success.