John Deere goes Agile

Ryan in the cockpit with Tim the ISG System Tester

The Intelligent Solutions Group at John Deere recently confirmed that they have been engaged in a large-scale Agile transformation since 2010. Chad Holdorf, Scaled Agile Coach at John Deere, has been sharing news about agile in his blog, Scaled Agile Delivery, since 2008. Chad’s blog is packed with useful information and fun videos including recent posts about Deere’s tool selection process and teaching Scrum with Legos. Deere’s Agile experience is also included in Dean Leffingwell’s new book Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise Requirements and on Dean’s blog.

At Rally, we are proud to be a part of John Deere’s successful Agile rollout, and I just retuned from a visit to Deere’s facility in Des Moines. I want to give a huge shout out to Chad and thank the entire ISG team for hosting me for two days. I especially want to thank them for letting me see their cool work in action. (see photos of ISG controllers steering the 8 wheeled tractor that I was driving!)  These guys are working hard on solutions that help us build more agile farming and construction solutions to help feed our growing planet.

On the trip, I got to ask Chad a few questions to highlight their blazingly fast rollout efforts.

1. When people think about John Deere, they likely picture big tractors, not software. Why Agile?

The Intelligent Solutions group designs the technology that runs our vehicles. This includes things like displays and receivers, guidance systems, field and crop management, and information and logistics systems. About a year ago, we were faced with a hard deadline for shipping a new display in a very short timeframe. It was a do or die situation. We knew then that what we had been doing wasn’t going to work for this effort. We really had no other choice but to go Agile then, and we’re still reaping the benefits now.

Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) video controllers in John Deere tractor

ISG video controllers in the tractor above

2. I know you made the deadline, but tell me more about getting 600 people to go Agile in a year?

We took an “all-in” approach. We wanted to get everyone on the same page right away, immerse them in training and Agile concepts and kick off our effort at once. Sure, it was a lot of heavy-lifting, but it really paid off when we saw the results. We moved a huge project through our pipeline in a third of the amount of time it would have taken otherwise.

3. So did the other shoe drop? How did people react to transformation? What’s different now?

We have smart, talented people. We knew that if could figure out how to get out of their way, we would improve. Since going Agile, we’ve seen huge buy-in and ownership from the teams. They have embraced the collaboration, creating team names, ribbon-cutting ceremonies and even mascots. Physical spaces have also changed. Walls have come down and work spaces are more physically open and collaborative. It’s all part of letting people do the right things. For the first time ever, we didn’t have anyone working over Thanksgiving or Christmas — and that’s even with a big end-of-year deadline. Efficiency has been huge. What would have taken us two months before, now we deliver in two weeks. I figure if John Deere can test working software every two weeks on a tractor in a field, then Agile will work anywhere.

4. You have told me about your “OSM,” can you share more with others about this key event?

After our release planning, we have an “Oh $%it Meeting.” We use that meeting to help give visibility to and cover all the contingencies and gotchas. We’ve found that it helps to refine our next iteration and make sure that we have covered everything and are ready to start the iteration.

5. I look forward to my visit this month, but give me a heads-up; What’s your next mountain to climb?

We have a few. We’re always measuring our success to make sure we’re delivering what the business needs. We’re also working to keep learning and growing our technical understanding and to encourage a culture of innovation by empowering our people to get their ideas on the table. It’s really about continually working to assess our efforts and understand how we can improve. We’ve had a great deal of success, but we’re always looking to get better.

Ryan Martens is CTO/Founder of Rally Software, a recovering Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Unreasonable Institute and chief promoter of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado, you can follow him on Twitter @RallyOn

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