“What’s the single-most important thing to you today?”: An Agile Approach to Developing New Lifeblood Software with Stakeholders at Heart

On May 22, 2017, OIA Global’s new software system, OptiLink, went live to manage one-third of its operations. OptiLink will serve as the operational backbone to nearly every functional group at OIA, offering its customers greater value, and expanding operational capabilities and efficiencies company-wide.

OptiLink replaces what had grown to be five separate software systems with some 90 percent redundancy. These five systems weren’t just hard to upgrade and costly to maintain, but difficult to use as they aged. New, upgraded software was desperately needed. However, so was an entirely new software development approach.

OIA needed an Agile approach that directly incorporated feedback from the end user and built on user insights in order to develop a truly customized product that aligns with OIA’s unique business and allowed users to work smarter and serve the customer better.

David Harris, the product’s lead software product manager, teamed up with Agile coach Scott Henderson of Percipio Consulting Group to help guide the OIA team through their first Agile process.

In true Agile style, they started small. The project was broken down into simple, manageable components and built into a roadmap. From there the team set out to gather information, input and answers to one critical question: How can OIA deliver more value and an elevated customer experience? The responses were incorporated into the roadmap and prioritized based on business value. The living, breathing roadmap led the team through two- week sprints.

“With each update and release we’d put the product in front of our stakeholders and ask, ‘OK, what’s the single-most important thing to you today? What does it need to do next?’ We put the power back in their hands,” said Harris.

Post-it Notes took on a near-critical role, gathering on-the-fly stakeholder input and assessing how new delta features would best fit into the roadmap. While a sophisticated visual backlog was carefully managed, Post-it Notes reflected the real-time, evolving nature of the process.

“We called them the project overhead run rate,” Henderson said of the iconic sticky papers.

Early on, that run rate was concerning to Harris.

“After the first five months, fueled by so much input, my projections showed we weren’t going to hit our mark,” said Harris. “But we kept getting better as the project went on. As opposed to burning out, we gained momentum. We learned how to better manage the work, instead of trying to squeeze more out of our people.”

Key success indicators:
 – C-suite-level commitment to the process and necessary resources
 – Leadership by an experienced Agile master
 – A team well positioned to be empathetic and receptive to feedback
 – Robust feedback/update loops with a diverse group of stakeholders
 – A back stock of Post-it Notes

“We can now easily deploy OptiLink for additional customers, giving them the supply-chain and inventory visibility they require,” said Jennifer Tu, OIA’s senior director of supply chain.

These additions were made while consistently coming in 20 to 30 percent under budget and keeping internal stakeholders not just satisfied, but thrilled.

“Demands for business-critical technology continue to grow, and Percipio’s introduction of Agile enabled us to deliver more programs to our customers, both internal and external, without having to increase resources,” said Jay Hemmady, CIO of OIA.