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Introducing Aquila Heywood's new Agile processes

Steve Garnett

Chief Technical Officer (CTO)

introduces our new technology blog series with a focus on Aquila Heywood's new Agile processes

5 October 2017

Technology Blog 1: Beginnings

Our customers face a changing landscape of tightening regulation, security threats, rapid technology adoption, big data and an increasingly competitive environment.

New disrupters such as Pension Bee are capitalising on the B2C capabilities that digital experiences provide. They offer a free consolidation service on one of three pension types: tracker, matched or tailored directly to multiple-policy holders. The interface is simple and removes the complexity of pensions to put control back into the hands of individual consumers.

Tightening regulations and associated fines are driving the need for more granular auditing and reporting compliance. Changes to regulations require a responsive delivery capability, enabling traceability and visibility of complex heritage systems with increasing data volumes. This year alone has seen numerous security breaches:

  • Deloitte was subject to a cyber attack (The Guardian, 25 September 2017).
  • Equifax has reported a major cyber security incident affecting 143 million consumers in the US. The breach, initially discovered on 29 July 2017, is thought to have revealed the names, social security numbers, birth dates and addresses of almost half the US population.
  • Bupa suffered a data breach on 13 July 2017, affecting 500,000 customers on its international health insurance plan.
  • The recent WannaCry ransomware infected 47 NHS England Trusts and hundreds of companies across the world.

Meeting this threat is essential, particularly before the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on 25 May 2018. From that point, all customer data breaches will have to be reported to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) who can impose fines of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of group worldwide turnover (whichever is greater) against both data controllers and data processors.

In response to the changing external environment, Aquila Heywood's customer's IT departments are being asked to do more with less, increase productivity while simultaneously improving quality and tightening the security of products and services.

We've recognised the need for change in our own practices in order to support our customers better through these challenges. We've adopted Agile ways of working and increased automation in our software production processes, while maintaining secure physical and virtual data environments, the goal being to increase the value of our output while maintaining high quality levels and secure services.

In May 2016 Aquila Heywood ran its first Agile 'boot camp' for four days; the following Monday, we started our first pathfinder team (responsible for prototyping and testing the new approach and identifying any challenges before the whole organisation adopts the changes). The pathfinder team adopted Scrum, extreme programming practices and new tools - and fundamentally changed the way we create our products. Now, all our software development is conducted using Scrum and XP with our Product, Service Operations and Infrastructure teams integrated into the process.

We've recognised the need for our products and services to be more responsive to demand, faster to market, more secure and of higher quality to reduce the operational impact of change on our customers.

The Agile principles

To meet this challenge, we've adopted Agile principles, practices, behaviours and tools. Every problem has a particular context, as all organisations are unique. Different people, culture, organisation, systems, processes, products, tools and so on provide a unique context and different set of problems when trying to effect significant change in the 'ways things are done'. The Agile principles help to guide organisations toward the goal. When faced with an uncertain direction or ambiguous decision, these principles are useful in asking 'Are we doing the right thing?'. The principles are:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • We welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done - is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

The biggest challenge to most companies embarking on large or complex transformational change is the engagement of its people, and Aquila Heywood is no different from any other company in that respect. Both horizontally and vertically, the people within the Company need to understand why we're changing things, what that means and how to get there.

Engaging people is about communication. Maintaining regular, simple communication with the same messages being understood across the Company is essential. We've adopted boot-camps, town-halls, marketplaces, emails, communities of practice, one-to-ones and competency frameworks in order to ensure that the direction and expectations are clear for everyone.

The message has been simple: Build the Right Thing, Built It Right, Build It Fast. And our approach has been to focus on People and Culture. It has not been an easy journey. This blog series will share how we've approached the challenge and the lessons we've learned along the way. Over the coming weeks, we've invited our employees to share their failures, successes and insights into becoming an Agile Company.

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Steve Garnett is Chief Technical Officer at Aquila Heywood, the largest supplier of life and pensions administration software solutions in the UK.

Further Reading