From “It Can’t Be Done” to “We Did It” in a Few Months

agile teams incremental delivery

By Ryan Fullmer

August 10, 2022

I love being part of a team that is tasked with solving complex and challenging problems. Applying Agile values and principles to solve those challenges is my preferred approach. I have seen Agile teams deliver innovative solutions to solve some very complex problems.

One example of this occurred on a system replacement project at a state agency. State agency staff were struggling, stressed, and under a lot of pressure. It was hard for them to get services and support to clients quickly. It was taking a month (or more) for most clients to get the help they needed.

The new system would address this situation. Unfortunately, the new system wouldn't be ready for two or three years. The problem needed to be solved much sooner.

The Hypothesis

The project team looked at the challenges staff were having. They took time to understand what was going on and what results needed to be achieved. They analyzed the problems and identified root causes.

The team developed a hypothesis. They believed that providing eligibility results in real-time would speed up service delivery. It would address one of the key causes of rework, frustration, and wait time.

The existing client management system determined eligibility for services overnight. The staff would come in the next day to see the results. It was common that the results were incorrect. Staff reviewed the cases and corrected data issues. It was time consuming and frustrating. They were working on the same cases over and over again. 

The project team met with the technical leads for the existing system to talk through solution ideas. The leads said “it can’t be done". They feared that it would break everything and the world would come to an end. That’s an exaggeration (although not by much). They let the team know the business had been asking for real-time results for ten years. There was no way to do this in the existing system.

The Solution

The project team was not deterred and tackled the challenge. They delivered real-time results for one of the services in three months. It was a minimal solution that addressed the service with the most significant performance issues.

The agency started to see positive impacts right away. Having eligibility results in real-time was paying off. The time to deliver services started to drop. Over the next couple of months, the team added more services to the solution.

It took business process changes and several more months to see the full effect. The change resulted in most clients getting the services they needed the same day. The average time dropped from a month to a few days.

The Approach

How did the team go from “it can’t be done” to “we did it” in a few short months? They applied Agile values and principles to solve the problem.

  • They identified a service that affected many customers. Reducing the time it takes to deliver the service would provide a lot of value.
  • The team committed to deliver value quickly and take an incremental approach. They delivered the first iteration within three months and released additional features on a regular cadence.
  • The team focused on developing features to meet the need and nothing more. They ran the existing programs on-demand without making any data updates. The key was to show what the results would be, not to complete the eligibility process. This provided all the value while reducing the effort and risk.

What the team did could have been done at any time in the past. Taking an agile approach helped the team imagine solutions that hadn't been considered before. It enabled them to deliver a feasible solution that met the customer’s needs.

After all these years, I continue to see the power of taking an Agile approach. It can be a game changer and accelerator to deliver innovative solutions to the most challenging problems.

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