We spoke to Melissa Pickering, the Director of Enterprise Portfolio Management at DigitalGlobe, one of the leading providers of earth imagery. Melissa, who is also responsible for DigitalGlobe’s scaled agile transformation, told us how adopting agile throughout her company has led to better business decisions and helped create a culture of continuous improvement.
Why are agile practices important for a satellite imagery company like DigitalGlobe?
DigitalGlobe is one of the leading providers of earth imagery. We have four satellites that take high-resolution imagery of the earth. There are a lot of different uses for imagery, anywhere from evaluating what changes are happening on the earth to helping to respond to national disasters.
We were at risk for missing deadlines with particular contracts. We had new ideas that we really needed to get out the door. And we really wanted to serve new ideas, but we couldn't do any of it because everything that was in the system was taking so long to get done.
When I was writing code 15 years ago, it didn't matter that you worked on the same thing for five or six or seven months. Nobody was pushing on you to get it out the door the way we are now. The reason that agile is important is because the world is different. We have to respond to what's going on in the market. And that’s just not for a satellite imagery company—it’s for everybody. And so to be able to look at all of our work and make smart business decisions about it is how it has to be from now on.
“If it’s just a checkbox of all of the things that you need to do to be agile, you’re not doing agile. And the cultural changes are complex.”
— Melissa Pickering, Director of Enterprise Portfolio Management, DigitalGlobe
How and why did you adopt agile at the enterprise level?
We had one division that started using agile inside their organization as a grassroots software development practice. They were building an interface for our customers to access the archive. The rest of the company started to take note, because they were delivering on their deadlines faster, and they were really able to increase the revenue on the product that they were working on.
So that piqued the rest of the organization's interest. And then we started to investigate what adopting agile through the company would look like, because the rest of the teams weren't seeing the outcomes that we wanted to see. We adopted agile because we were not getting work out the door as fast as we wanted to.
What would you say to a company that's considering adopting agile practices? Is there anything you would do differently next time?
It’s really easy to look at agile as a process that will get you better revenue, but there is a lot more to it. “If it’s just a checkbox of all of the things that you need to do to be agile, you’re not doing agile. And the cultural changes are complex.”
So getting executives on board is key. You need to have executives understanding what they're asking for, and you need to have HR engaged from day one because you don't get innovation or strong, cross-functional, high-performing teams just from tacking a process on it. If I could do things over again, I would involve HR from day one and have them understand, what is an ideal agile culture? What is the culture of continuous improvement? And what's the impact of doing all this to an organization? HR can help everyone understand that this is something that the company is really buying into. You will be an amazing company if you can get the cultural part right.
But every company is different, so you can take a stab at a vision and lay some groundwork and lay out some expectations, but then don't get too married to it. I think doing a lot of deep work with the people that are going to be your champions is important in the beginning. Work with the stakeholders throughout the organization continuously. Do retrospectives. How is our transformation going? What should we pivot to? And ensure that you have champions that are helping you throughout the company.
How has CA helped you to position your organization for success?
The group that started agile on their own were very wise and brought in agile coaches. They did a series of internal trainings.They started small, but they just wanted to share the practices.
We really needed some guidance to walk us through the big picture. We used a coaches to help us do our first Enterprise (PSI—Potentially Shippable Increment) Planning session. That was really key because we had almost 200 people in our first planning. It was amazing, and it was helpful to pair agile external coaches with our company roles. We did team launches and SAFe training. And we got support from the transformation coaches to help us structure our artifact hierarchy from the beginning.
We also made CA Agile Central our tool of record. Early on, teams were using a variety of tools. But when teams have all of their own tools and they're all individual, you can't roll them up into one portfolio. So we couldn't see all of the work at the portfolio layer across the organization. We'd have five items from this tool and five items from that tool and trying to merge all of those things together was difficult.
So we standardized on CA Agile Central as our tool for the entire portfolio. Having everything in one tool gave us a couple different levers to pull. We were able to have everybody on all teams have one place to look to know their plan of record. And they started having conversations like, "What are the priorities for our company?"
How is agile helping you accomplish your goals at DigitalGlobe?
At an enterprise level, we've essentially been agile for two years. We know that it's working because we are able to see all of the work now. Sales is starting to check in and say, "We have this new thing. Can we do it?" So that's one success indicator. Another indicator that it's working is that we are actually getting work out the door. We have more releases per quarter, and more new products, and so that's another win.
The whole point of teams using agile is to be able to make better business decisions, to be able to respond to the market, and to be able to create new ideas. Having one holistic view into the portfolio enabled us to fiercely prioritize and focus on the most important work. To be able to pivot on something every quarter and do that with some sort of container holding you safely through it is really important for businesses.