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The Journey of Giant Leap with Agile



I first heard of Agile around 2005 when I was consulting in the technology division of the New York Stock Exchange. We worked in an onsite-offshore model for Satyam Computer Services on maintenance and support of NYSE’s applications. In one of the meetings, a project manager mentioned that we should be changing the way we deliver and actually consider using the agile methodology. At that time Satyam was CMM 5 certified with quite a few SIGMA 6 experts around and obviously, we all thought we are the best in business and how much more can we improve and more importantly WHY CHANGE. Moreover, product owners and scrum masters didn’t seem that cool of a title as compared to black belts, green belts, and champions. So, the fleeting discussion on agile was just buried then and there.


Incorporation of Giant Leap Systems


We started GLS in 2013. I was the Co-Founder and finally had the authority to run things the way I deemed best to produce results. That also meant changing the light bulb on my own if it wasn’t working.


The projects that we started were based on either product ideas that we had conceptualized or a product by way of a lead customer. Meaning, when a customer approached us to develop something, we make them our lead customers and develop a product based on their requirement. Of course, the decision was based on detailed analysis to make sure the product has a market and value. At least that is what we thought.


Throughout my career, I have always been a keen observer of each of the processes and liked to challenge the relevance from time to time. In my experience, all the processes were followed in theory but not in practicality. This meant that the process checklist was up-to-date but it never solved the problem for which it's there and hundreds of hours are wasted. Hence, if you want to keep evolving, keep innovating, then change is not a choice but is a necessity.

So, here was our chance to do things our way and with that thought, we started with a lot of energy and passion.


Why Agile?


A few months into the projects and we started having issues with customers going back and forth with their requirements, we as a company was not able to grasp what they actually needed, not able to close deals as the effort from the customer side and the time-line seemed too daunting. Mostly, it was all that the other companies around us, big or small, were experiencing and not to be too bothered about. But hold on, we are different,  encouraging bold innovations, remember our tagline?. Yes, we needed change.


We as a team had expertise in various development and project management methodologies and could write papers on waterfall, spiral, iterative, etc. So we started exploring all the options and hit upon the concepts of lean start-up and agile. This somewhere struck a chord and we just deep-dived into all the material that was available on agile.


The thing that intrigued me the most and later on the team as well was that somewhere it was mentioned “Agile mostly fails as it works against the social and professional structure of humans especially Indians”. I could understand why as I realized while reading about the agile manifesto and scrum values that actually all this sounds fun but actually implementing it may not be. The thing that got stuck in my mind was the fact that all these core values and artifacts are not rules of law for the way in which it has to be followed or interpreted. These can actually differ culturally, socially, or even mixed in the case of geographically dispersed teams.


We had informal interviews with friends and acquaintances who were working on Agile and more often we heard stories of failure. The good part was that during these discussions themselves, we were able to visualize why it was failing for them and what they should actually be doing. This made us positive, not because we thought we were better than those big shot Agile consultants who have been working with these top-notch companies, but because we were leaning to the positive side of the curve even when it meant change. That made us confident. So, we started our journey with agile knowing fully well that it was a long road to success, not going to be easy, but achievable with a determined, patient, and positive bunch of individuals.


The start


Soon we realized that it was not only a long road but an expensive one too. We started spending a lot of our individual and collective time brainstorming the different artifacts and their implementation. We had to restructure and put cross-functional teams in place.


The biggest challenge came while understanding the manifesto and the core values in our context. We wanted this to be very original and what we actually believed in, rather than what it's supposed to be or what others are doing. This meant we as management had to change our beliefs. The biggest resistance also came in the same area when we wanted the team to imbibe this understanding and value system.


We had sprint disasters in terms of planning, estimation, and execution. With great difficulty, we had convinced our investors and customers of the need for change and even they were developing cold feet.


But, as I said, we were a determined, patient, and positive bunch of individuals. We kept our eye on the goal and persisted. We worked on our team’s dysfunctions one by one and moved at a lackluster pace for the first 4-6 months. Nevertheless, we were improving sprint by sprint.


Where have we reached?


Well, after the first six months, I dare say, we not only survived but excelled. We have been quite successful with incremental releases and significant growth in velocity. We have high-performing cross-functional teams working on SCRUM and Kanban with a passionate set of individuals as product owners, scrum masters, architects, and developers.

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