With the Environment and Planning Act’s Digital System (DSO), the Dutch government strives to improve information provisioning and make it easier to comply with laws and regulations. Complexity was an issue DSO struggled to overcome due to many development partners involved. Xebia supported the waterfall approach’s replacement with an Agile way of working, using SAFe as a framework. To date, DSO has completed 16 Program Increments, the first users are connected, and there’s a program in place to add more. Moreover, the collaboration between partners has evolved into a powerful coalition, enabling DSO to solve problems and move forward much quicker.
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Working in an Agile way with SAFe
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In 2015, the Dutch government adopted the Program for a new Environment and Planning Act. This act determines how physical space is used nationally, regionally, and per municipality. The Act strives to enhance information provisioning to citizens, entrepreneurs, and government officials by synchronizing thousands of laws and regulations in its Digital System (DSO). DSO is a complex, multi-layer, and multi-annual program that official authorities have until 2029 to join. The immense scope and the vast multitude of stakeholders threatened DSO’s capacity to be fully operational in 2021.
The 6-year DSO program was challenged on three levels: communication, overspending, and underdelivering. Issues that are common in substantial government programs and often lead to ‘analysis paralysis,’ as was the case with DSO. Xebia supported the transition from a traditional waterfall approach to an Agile way of working. Adopting Agile and SAFe helped DSO complete Program Increments, onboard users, and improve the way partners worked together significantly.
"SAFe has just the right mix for us to work. Agile enough for quick delivery and enough structure to be approved by the governmental organization."
Before partnering with Xebia, DSO was working according to waterfall principles. This approach can slow down processes, especially in large and complex environments. Therefore, DSO decided to go agile and asked Xebia to support the transition. The Agile way of working is focused on: collaboration between stakeholders, exposing dependencies, solving them, creating a joint vision, delivering results, and sharing knowledge. As Agile is a proven method that offers structure and a shared language, it seemed the best option for DSO.
Step 1: Breaking a habit
DSO’s culture included endless discussions, eager to find common ground. Xebia advised to break that habit by planning the first Program Increment (PI) Planning session just five weeks after starting. This ‘pressure cooker’ approach forced parties to quickly move past disagreements or uncertainties and keep their eye on the ball.
Step 2: Time to introduce SAFe
Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is known to increase productivity and shorten time to market. The framework aligns teams, as well as all stakeholders involved in solution development. For smaller organizations, just Scrum might be a good option, but working in a big organization that deals with large-scale mission-critical programs, SAFe offers a better fit. SAFe applies system thinking, builds incrementally with fast learning cycles, bases milestones on working systems, reduces work-in-progress, and decentralizes decision-making by organizing around value. To prepare for the first PI Planning session, over 60 stakeholders attended a customized training course, after which Xebia supervised the SAFe implementation.
To start working with SAFe, responsibilities were redefined for key leadership roles like Product Manager, Business Liaison Manager, and Program Architect. Coached by Xebia, Fre Zwart, and later Danilo Jeletich, took on the role of Release Train Engineer. Marnix van Wendel de Joode and Jarl Meijer, both senior Agile Consultants at Xebia guided DSO’s adoption of a cycle of six sprints: five regular and one Innovation Planning sprint to learn how to improve the next Program Increment.
Results: from thinking to doing
From the first PI Planning session to now, an enormous change is noticeable. DSO has quickly moved from ‘analysis paralysis’ to actively delivering and learning. Instead of creating a massive product through tight contract-driven project management, DSO shifted to incremental delivery based on trust, cooperation, timely adjustments, and actual use.
The strong leadership team and commitment of the teams played a huge part in the success created together. The quality DSO offers has significantly improved through intense collaboration between Business, end-users, and IT, introducing new standards, test environments, continuous delivery, and service management.
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