Our Technology Factory: Delivering Better Business Outcomes Through Agile Portfolio Management

by Lara Indrikovs, Director of Agile Portfolio Management and Integrated Technology, Rackspace Technology

Four Rackspace Technology employees in a meeting room mapping out a project on a white board

Good project management allows your team to focus on the work that really matters, free from the distractions of tasks going off track or budgets spiraling out of control. It empowers teams to deliver results that improve the bottom line.

At Rackspace Technology®, we constantly strive to improve management processes. We recently created a centralized IT and data organization, in which we are unifying our operating model using agile and lean principles to align to business strategy.

A fast-moving adaptive organization is highly attractive in a global marketplace where players battle established competitors and innovative start-ups alike. As a result, leading companies like Amazon, USAA, American Express and others are transitioning to more “scaled” agile enterprises.

Many businesses adopt agile practices in concert with digital transformation initiatives to boost productivity, efficiency, and profit. However, organizations often struggle to adapt to the culture, management, and mindset shifts that are required to succeed with such large-scale change.

 

Pioneering a New Operating Model

We’ve studied agile portfolio management in technology, investigating who else is doing it.

And Juan Riojas, our Chief Information Officer (CIO), says it best: “We’re pioneers. The only company that has done it to the extent that we do is American Express. Right now, nobody else in tech is doing it at scale the way we are.”

Our efforts in the technology space are focused on driving cross-functional, data-enabled infrastructure that allows us to prioritize the correct responses and uncover insights that help improve the company’s operating model — optimizing revenue, reducing churn and maximizing operational efficiencies through continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD).

8X throughput and 90% fewer defects using agile portfolio management

With the “scaled” agile approach, we've maximized our throughput in the last two years and increased it eightfold. That is eight times the number of projects, models, and initiatives we took on initially.

At the same time, we have reduced our defects by 90%.

The goal is to maximize resources and capacity and drive that value. (In the technology layer, the objective is seamless integration and a frictionless experience.)

We're no longer reactive and “order takers” but working in partnership with the executives to solve critical business challenges.

We are delivering quality, faster — and that has a huge impact. Here’s how we got there.

 

A Supply Chain Approach to Agile Portfolio Management

When you work in the supply chain — as Juan did in the first part of his career — you look at how you plan, forecast, and deliver with quality.

IT has always been great at execution. Likewise, many IT professionals excel at getting things done and are highly adaptable. Planning, however, has always been an IT area of concern or an issue.

It’s not the execution that matters, but how you plan it. How do you prepare for reliability? How do you plan for quality? How do you plan for customer needs?

In October 2019, we started down the path to agile portfolio management.

We asked ourselves: 

  1. What can we optimize? 
  2. What can we do to build the right foundation and put it in place without internal disruption?

We realized that almost 700 applications are powering Rackspace Technology today, spread across 52 service layers. We have an aspiration to take those 700 applications down to about 20 over the next three years.

Two years ago, we created the company’s first data office. Since then, we’ve also integrated data and IT organizations and formed the agile portfolio management team, “Solutions Management,” along with it. We sought to achieve agility at scale. Since then, we’ve also now integrated data and IT organizations and formed the agile portfolio management team.

We partner with Scaled Agile® on this, and together with their wisdom and consultation, our model helps IT enable the business. Scaled Agile, Inc. was founded in 2011. Its flagship product, the Scaled Agile Framework®, is a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps.

The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) is a set of organizational and workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at the enterprise level. The framework is a body of knowledge that provides structured guidance on roles and responsibilities, planning and managing work, and values to uphold.

The knowledge base is supplemented by a broad range of training, certification, and enablement solutions delivered via the SAFe® Community Platform and more than 500 platform and transformation partner companies. SAFe has been adopted by more than 20,000 enterprises and government agencies across all industries, including American Express, AT&T, Boeing, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Oracle, Philips and more.

Working with the Scaled Agile team, our group focuses and energy on the planning side of the business partnership itself. We have effectively created a complete organizational structure by bringing CDO, CIO and CTO organizations together. This enables things like elastic engineering and entirely new ways of thinking about a project or challenge.

We consider this “the modern IT” and the framework for our “technology factory.”

 

The “technology factory”

With the concept of the “technology factory,” our agile portfolio management group is turning the tide.

Technology Factory – Designing roles and responsibilities that are agile but at scale. It’s creating a data and technology supply chain for CI/CD of internal IT and data and solutions — from strategy to planning, solving, implementing, release, and evaluation.   The Head of Analytics at Google Cloud, Bruno Aziza, coined the term “data factory.” We’ve expanded the term to “technology factory” since we’re applying the approach to both data and software development.

A key success factor is this SAFe® implementation, which is helping us through the planning, preparation, and long-term enablement of a new way of working and synchronizing across 26 value streams/portfolios. In addition, we’ve found that the Scaled Agile process improves customer satisfaction, lowers cost and overhead, and creates greater engagement while boosting collaboration and reducing lead-time.

We immediately noticed improvements in the key factors that shaped our entire predictive analytics strategy. NPS increased by 10x compared to before, and we could view the NPS in a proactive rather than a reactive state because we integrated all the data and kept it in one place. We were able to accelerate our journey by using decision trees, bringing the current data together and starting to look at the customer experience and really translate that into operations.

As a result, we've seen tangible and stunning results now that we’ve recently integrated into Integrated Technology Solutions (ITS), our internal Global IT and Data organization.

We concentrated on two factors: start driving a better customer experience through NPS and reduce/mitigate churn.

We averaged about 80 production defects a month, an unprecedented number that we knew this process would directly reduce. So, today I’m happy to say that the average is eight defects per month.

At Rackspace Technology, 51 separate ITS delivery teams ran, planned, and managed their backlogs and workloads independently. Each used different, unique processes and setups. With agile and the technology factory, that dynamic changes. A single team member can say they have just one business partner to work with.

I like to borrow this analogy from the world of classical music: It's like we are an orchestra made up of 51 different musicians. At first, each member plays their instrument independently and in their preferred key. And what we have is a cacophony of sounds.

With Scaled Agile, the orchestra benefits from this level of facilitation and planning, allowing everyone to play the same notes, tempo, and key. As a result, we can make beautiful music.

 

How we’re Solving Together™

  • We're building the foundation now. First, we will teach everyone how to work skillfully agile.
  • In the short term, we will stabilize everything and make sure we continue to deliver consistently.
  • Soon after, we'll look at our final architecture with all executives to ensure everyone feels aligned with the system. Then it's on to training and full implementation.
  • We’re taking the friction out of Rackspace Technology. We’re doing it at scale, and we're benchmarking it as something that's best in class. 

We’ve created a function of operational excellence that focuses more on the process. It’s a complete zero-based approach to system redesign. We are using concepts that typically involve operations and applying them to IT. At the same time, we're using novel methodologies at scale. They're used more for software development, not system transformation, but we're using them for that lens.

The saving opportunity is in the double-digit millions! 

 

A New Revolution in Digital Transformation

As the tech industry talks about how IT must work better with the business, we view ourselves as enablers of business transformation and more transformational than traditional IT.

Most IT firms today are on the traditional side of order takers. We are flipping this, using our technology factory model of scaled agile — from help desk down to data.

We've delivered opportunity scoring models, a natural language process “sentiment analysis” on our NPS comments, lead scoring and product recommendation engines for our sellers. It’s tangible because we work with the business as consultants to identify those challenges. So, we’re delivering and building a bridge to the technical solutions, the data solutions.

We’re measuring ourselves by the value we're driving and how much we are continuously improving and delivering.

We’re a world leader in digital transformation, and we’ve only just begun. It’s going to be a great ride!

Read more about the Three Steps We Took to Cultivate a Data Solution Portfolio.

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