It was somewhat fitting that the second Tasktop Connect (December 6, 2018) took place just a stone’s throw from Congress in Washington DC. After all, one of the chief aims of the event is to help enterprises, agencies and institutions to improve governance over their software delivery value streams to generate more business value from IT. And judging by the reaction and feedback of the delegates in the room, many organizations left the event with a much clearer vision of how to reach that critical goal.
On a brisk clear day in the US capital on the 7th floor of the iconic Newseum overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, over 80 attendees from leading organizations listened intently to a fascinating array of presentations from Tasktopians, industry thought leaders, and visionary customers on the power of Value Stream Integration and Management, the Project to Product revolution, the Flow Framework™ and much, much more.
Tasktop’s CEO and co-founder, Dr. Mik Kersten, and President and COO, Neelan Choksi, kicked off proceedings by reflecting on a remarkable year for Tasktop and the wider IT industry. Citing the emergence of Value Stream Management and the launch of Mik’s Project to Product book, both Tasktop leaders agreed the industry is moving in the right direction. “It was great to see validation of our vision for Value Stream Management via the Forrester Reports on the VSM market,” beamed Neelan. “Even better was the fact that the vendors involved in the Forrester New Wave™ are not competitors. They are Tasktop’s partners. We’re all in it together.”
Mik and Neelan also considered the impact of Mik’s book and the criticality of moving from project to product. “When I asked Mik to write the book, I don’t think we quite expected the reaction we’re seeing,” Neelan admitted. “Currently, Project to Product is the number four Amazon best seller in Business Management.”
Mik – who highlighted that all the author proceeds of the book will go to supporting women and minorities in tech – added: “The fact that the book is ahead of leading bodies of work on project management further illustrates that we need to move to a product-centric model to become software innovators. The potential of the Flow Framework™, in particular, to help drive change and transformation is immense – it’s bigger than Tasktop, bigger than any one company.”
The entertaining and conversant Dave West – CEO, Scrum.org – provided context to the sheer enormity of the challenges facing organizations in an unpredictable digital world. One that is being shaped by digital globalization, mother nature and, of course, technology. “All things that were true in mass production in the past age are fundamentally changing, demanding a new means of production,” explained West. “For that, we need a grand unifying theory for software delivery. Scrum, DevOps, design thinking and Lean are great tools, but it’s basically about scaling empiricism – which is hard. Yet with the right teams, focus on skills, and the right production environment, you can do great things.”
Talking of doing great things, steps forward Jeff Zahorchak from Select Medical. While Select Medical’s solutions and services were extremely integrated across teams and domains, its solution and software delivery methodology were not. The healthcare services provider identified five key problems that the company wanted to address across a successful 90-day implementation initiative:
- Work requests from multiple sources
- Entry of data into multiple tracking systems
- Planning and execution across teams
- Missed opportunities to deliver more
- Heroics to meet deadlines
“With fragmented systems, we had to be heroic to meet deadlines and expectations, with everyone working at 110 percent,” explain Jeff. “The first thing to address was work intake, so we developed a web-based intake form to create one channel and enable leadership to vote on priorities.” The company also needed to improve on workflow between teams so “it didn’t fall off the stage – so we used Tasktop and consolidated onto two tools to improve our system of record. It was up and running in couple of days with 48 users and we received 1,274 help tickets in 24 hours! We can also map our product value stream to how we deliver services to manage velocity and use resources wisely against user demand.”
With ears pricked and interest piqued on the Flow Framework™, Mik and Tasktop’s Senior Value Stream Strategist (and former customer), Carmen DeArdo, presented on the nuts and bolts of the pioneering new management paradigm to connect IT to the business. “As technologists, we know we need to change something – but heaven forbid we speak to the business,” joked DeArdo. “But as Microsoft’s Jeffrey Snover said at DevOps Enterprise Summit Las Vegas in October, if you’re operating as a cost centre, people on the business side are going to see you as a cost.”
Mik continued on this thread. “We need a common language between the two sides and that’s what the Flow Framework™ is about. We need a new lens to look at product value streams as an investment portfolio, not a cost.” After breaking down the main components of the Flow Framework™, the discussion landed on how to improve end-to-end flow of work from ideation to operation and back through customer feedback to improve end user, and business, value.
Drawing on his experience as a Technology Director at Nationwide, Carmen posed a rhetorical question: “How do you know if your transformational investments are working and that you’re going faster if you’re not measuring the whole value stream? You need to know what’s slowing you down. What you’re waiting for. As Dominica (DeGrandis) says, a lot of answers lie in your wait states.” Mik nodded enthusiastically and pointed out that “data is only meaningful if it’s end-to-end when you can see the whole picture.”
Another Tasktop customer reaping the myriad benefits of a value stream approach is Mark Ford, Lead Developer at TIAA, who was once again presenting at Connect. Mark’s session focused on the Fortune 100 financial services company’s transition, and transformation, from Tasktop Sync to Tasktop Integration Hub. “We all face disruption and change and need to be prepared. What happens if you come to work one day and your tool has been taken out? Or there’s been an M&A? That’s why connecting your tools in a modular way is so important. Tasktop helps us weather the storm to swap tools in and out and mitigate that disruption to your workflow and existing product value streams.”
We were delighted to learn that Mark can take a rest now and again too. “Tasktop is so intuitive and easy to use that even people with no development background can set up and manage an integration – which means I can take a vacation without my laptop!” Describing Tasktop as a “universal adaptor” for TIAA’s production environment, Ford was also buoyed by the value stream visualization that Tasktop provides via its landscape view feature: “I saw that and thought – oh wow! Who doesn’t want to plug in their endpoints and artifacts into the tool and see how work flows?”
Music to the next speaker’s ears, no doubt. Dominica DeGrandis, Director of Digital Transformation at Tasktop and author of the highly popular Making Work Visible, masterfully walked through the parallels between poor communication and hand-offs between medical professionals and institutions, and software delivery, with regards to the depreciation of end user value. “With specialization comes more complexity and more means for communication at different stages of the value stream. This causes fragmentation, work build up, and manual hand-offs that cost time and money. Just as the Cirque Du Soleil demands perfect hand-offs, so should your value stream.”
So where exactly do you begin with creating a visible value stream? Carmen returned to the stage with Tasktopians Jeff Downs (Senior Director, North American Pre-Sales), and Mara Puisite (Senior Pre-Sales Engineer) about the powers of the Value Stream Architecture Mapping. “When I was at Nationwide, Jeff came into work with us with Tasktop’s Value Stream Architecture diagrams exercise,” regaled Carmen. “We printed the diagram out and blew it up on the wall so you couldn’t miss it and everyone could see where our work was. This idea was incredibly powerful and integral in changing the way we saw and analyzed our work. Because if you don’t take control of your process, your process will take control of you.”
Mara reflected on the epiphanies that occur when undertaking the exercise. “Does everyone know every tool your organization is using and is involved in your product value streams? We asked one customer if they used Jira and they said no – after speaking to another team, it turned out they actually used many instances of Jira!” To which Jeff added: “If you don’t know where work is flowing, how do you know where work is or even originates from? Get your people, and tools, talking. And keep asking questions about where work stems from until it’s crystal clear.”
Carmen bobbed his head knowingly: “These maps give you and your teams something to talk about. They stimulate “a-ha!” moments to help everyone better understand their roles, their work, and what a thought-out integration strategy can really do for your business.”
Carmen’s former colleague, Kristen Biddulph, Scrum Master at Nationwide, spoke around her experience on helping integrated cross-functional teams to produce better work faster and move from project to product. She borrowed a term from the military to help forge stronger collaboration across a product value stream: “Commander’s intent defines what success is within an uncertain, dynamic and resource-constrained environment. Does that, or does that not, sound like software delivery to you?”
To build on this definition and develop a steadfast hypothesis to improve certainty and control in such environments, Kristen reiterated the importance of “shifting left” in the value stream – dropping a mind-boggling stat in the process: “We incorporated Lean and Agile into our planning and organizing stages. The result? 64 percent improvement in cycle time!” The organization has also moved to fast flow and feedback Lean approach to meet its new Minimum Marketable Product (MMP) baseline to reduce time-to-market. The focus of the approach, Kristen explained, was on the “Happy User Peak” – the sweet spot between number of features and user happiness.
It’s not just the insurance, financial and other commercial sectors that are thinking beyond Agile and DevOps to improve speed, accuracy and quality of their end-to-end value streams. The government sector, and their agencies, are ramping up their transformations too – despite the space’s well-known hesitation to fully embrace Agile and other IT innovations. Deloitte’s Federal team presented on their experiences with both cross-team and cross-agency communication barriers. “With multiple different tools being used by the government agency and vendors, nobody could agree on what an “issue” is,” explained Kyle Williams from Deloitte. “Meaning no one source of truth and a lot of heartache and confusion.”
“Coupled with the usual challenges of contractual hurdles, cyber security, and stretched out implementation periods for programs, this made real-time collaboration nearly impossible,” added Kyle’s colleague, Fabio Echavarria. “No one was speaking to the same language and this undermined the validity of the data. By finding that common vernacular between tools and teams through Tasktop, we were able to improve collaboration between government and vendors using real-time dashboards that highlighted discrepancies in the process.” By connecting tools and making work visible, concluded Fabio, the utilization of Agile and other tracking tools “skyrocketed” in the agency.
It appears that the federal government is gradually beginning to wake up to realities of large-scale software delivery. According to Robin Yeman from Lockheed Martin, presenting at Connect for a second year in row, the Department of Defence is seeking inspiration from the commercial sector to create and optimize “software factories”
Research into tech giants like Google and Amazon has resulted in the DOD’s Defense System Board’s influential recommendation report to transform the agency’s software delivery and digital prowess. Highlighting the “explosive increase” in demand for software-implemented features in weapons, Robin added her own recommendation – “securing the software factories and the entire value stream; security used to be out of the equation, now it must be part of the product lifecycle”. She also advised that fed agencies think beyond cross-functional teams to provide a broader skill set to the individual “who have fears around keeping their job, understanding where they fit in and how they can provide value.”
Data and flow play a crucial role too, as Robin’s co-presenter, Suzette Johnson from Northrop Grumman, explained. With the lifespan of tools becoming shorter, Suzette spoke on the importance of standardizing the data layer across the lifecycle for better metrics – “not SLOC (source lines of code)!” – as well as making risk stories a primary part of the backlog.
Mik and Dominica elaborated on what these better metrics look like – and how it can improve the business decision-making and strategy. Breaking down five core metrics of the Flow Framework™ – Flow Distribution, Flow Velocity, Flow Efficiency, Flow Time, and Flow Load – Mik walked attendees through Tasktop’s own journey using these metrics. One story Mik shared was about a product team which had gone through a feature-rich release. After the release, the number of defects and debts increased which drove up the team’s WIP (Flow Load). This overload of work negatively impacted the team’s happiness. So Mik responded to this by reducing the team’s Flow Load and prioritizing working off the accumulated debts and defects. This resulted in this team, which had been the unhappiest the prior year, becoming the happiest team.
The energetic and always inspiring Nicole Bryan, VP of Product Development, then brought proceedings to a close by discussing how Tasktop’s metric journey is driving the company and product roadmap, including some fascinating stats into how our customers are using integration:
What Attendees Had To Say
Tasktop Connect provided insight into the emerging ideas of enterprise flow with the Flow Framework™. Connecting up the value stream of agile product delivery. The event combined great customer case studies with focused content on the ideas of flow. A great event for anyone who needs to knit together a product value stream.’ Dave West, CEO, Scrum.org
“For me, Tasktop Connect 2018 was a great success as Tasktop continues to outshine itself year after year. I really enjoyed hearing from thought leaders such as Dave West, Carmen DeArdo, and Dominica DeGrandis. They spoke around central themes of reducing complexity, the importance of keeping your infrastructure current, and ways to measure output over the entire delivery pipeline. Those are key points that I need to take back to my day job and turn into realities.
It was also great to hear from fellow Tasktop customers regarding their implementation success stories. I learned several tips that I can use to set up new integrations in Tasktop Integration Hub, such as getting people to speak a common language early on and the benefits of standardizing tools and processes. I especially liked Kristen Biddulph’s suggestion of vertically slicing feature sets to consider UX, Service Layer, and Persistence in one shot (versus the more traditional horizontal development approach). That’s a great idea! And of course, Tasktopians Jeff Downs, Mara Puisite, and Nicole Bryan gave some great advice on integration preparation and additional insights into the future directions of Tasktop.
The conference provided a terrific opportunity to share our collective voice as customers and to really feel that our opinions and our support is greatly valued. Well done Tasktop – I’m already looking forward to next year!” Mark Ford, Lead Developer, Global Corporate Solution Technology, TIAA
“Tasktop Connect gave me the opportunity to reconfirm the intent and purpose of Tasktop as an integration infrastructure for measuring and managing IT value. At Nationwide, we deployed Tasktop a few years back to simplify our 3rd party IT asset integrations, and the ground work we’ve laid enables us to architect a visible value pipeline. As Nationwide shifts its focus to products, using the data from our applications to measure product value will be critical. Connect provided me insight into the journey of other Tasktop customers, and an industry perspective of the importance that a visible value stream has on great IT companies.” Joe Schlegel, Manager, ITBSA Data & Analytics, Nationwide
“Best part for me was the knowledge sharing with other customers.” Trina Molnar, DevOps Leader, Nationwide
“As a new business partner, attending Tasktop Connect 2018 was a great introduction for us to the Tasktop ecosystem. We were able to learn a lot about the products and their use, as well as meet the Tasktop team and customers. Most impressive is the energy and enthusiasm that everyone brought to the event. Seeing how passionate Tasktop customers are is very motivating. Looking forward to Connect 2019.” Scott Althouse, VP of Everything Else, Alidade Technology
“The Tasktop Connect event provided a ton of insight into everything that makes the Tasktop Integration Hub the awesome tool that it is. Hearing the inspiring stories of how other teams, like Dave West from Scrum.org, use the Hub for their mission critical operations to provide clean, concise reports, gave me a much stronger understanding of what is possible with the tools. We looking forward to helping more of our clients with their Tasktop deployment!” Alex Baldwin, Agile and Technology Practice Manager, cPrime.
“The Tasktop Connect event, hosted in a city filled with history, was jam-packed with sessions that emphasized Tasktop’s experience and passion for its integration products. Most inspiring were sessions that shared real-world and practical insights from the likes of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.” Willy-Peter Schaub, Software Engineer, Director, AJATO Transformations Limited
“This was first time that I attended a software vendor conference with not a single slide about products. This really amazed me and made me feel enthusiastic about the value of the new approach of Flow Framework™. It is clear to me that the framework will provide IT departments within organizations with a solid path to add real value to business objectives, making their Agile and DevOps initiatives only part of a bigger picture.” Sergio Cedillo, Avalanche Labs
A BIG thank you to our sponsors
We’re ever so proud of our comprehensive and ever-growing partner network. Our partners plays a vital role in supporting our customers’ diverse and exacting needs, and greatly help us make a success of Tasktop Connect every year. Check out the links below to learn more on how they can help you with various facets of your software delivery value stream:‘