Best Buy Canada Makes Agile Transformation

Thriving in rapid change – an impetus for transformation

In 2016, Best Buy Canada faced the challenge of staying ahead of competition, remaining relevant and thriving in an ever faster changing world. Dave Evans needed to lead Best Buy Canada’s software development effort to meet that challenge. “I didn’t think we were working efficiently,” he says. “As a heavy waterfall shop, we had too much waste in the process. For all the effort expended, not enough value was being delivered.” 

As senior director of eCommerce at that time, Dave thought there was a better way to deliver the product. “We used to have a massive list of projects,” he says. “Every business unit knew that every four years they would get a project built. Projects became bloated as people tried to get everything they could within the scope of a single project, and this had the impact of slowing everything down.” 

“Internally we decided to transform how we would deliver software,” says Dave, who was one of the early architects of the project and is now the company’s CTO. “We wanted to shift from a waterfall approach to Agile and to put our focus on product instead of project. 

Supported by leadership, Dave hired agile42 to assess and pilot the shift to Agile. In mid-2016, agile42 got to work with an assessment that showed an exceptional company with great employees, hindered by management process bottlenecks and a somewhat fragmented infrastructure in which people worked in isolated silos. Recommendations included integrating staff into cross- functional teams emphasizing transparency of team performance and investment in testing environments that mirrored production environments so that quality code could be delivered. Decision-making would be pushed to the teams and they would be encouraged to redefine ways of working, and recognized for what they were learning. Priority would be given to cheap and frequent deployments with a focus on code quality metrics visible to the entire organization to boost code craftsmanship.

Other recommendations included greater customer centricity among product owners and making the company’s vision more visible while empowering teams to own strategies for achieving it. 

Creating agile teams

Many of the agile42 recommendations matched with Dave’s view, and starting in June 2016, he began realigning teams with cross-functional skills around domains such as website, mobile, logistics, deliveries, and business intelligence. After starting with half a dozen teams, more teams were added over the summer until by February 2017, all web technology teams—about 150 people—were working in Agile teams. 

Each team had a scrum master and a product owner, but otherwise the teams were self-forming, with certain rules around what skills a team required, for example, there would be somebody with seniority, a tester, a front-end developer, and a back-end developer. Because each team was chosen by its members, says Dave Sharrock, agile42 coach, “They really rolled up their sleeves and solved problems as teams.”      

“We needed to get them shipping every two weeks quickly,” says Dave (Sharrock). “Best Buy Canada has an early-fall drop-dead date to have everything in place because of Black Friday. That pressure meant we were very tightly focused. We had all teams doing stand-ups one after the other, and the scrum masters were supportive and aggressive. If they needed access to release products into a pre-production environment, they got it fast, working with the CIO to get support from the IT group.” 

There were pain points, according to Marius de Beer: 

“An immediate problem encountered by the first teams is that the rest of Best Buy was not prepared for teams delivering value every two weeks. The mechanisms to get the team’s work into production didn’t exist. The change approval process, the audit trails, access to systems, the training, the support staff—nothing was prepared for it. So almost immediately the new teams started exerting pressure against the rest of the organization because the teams were moving faster. In two weeks, everybody was angry with each other. 

“It was painful and slow. The teams trying to deliver value were dependent on other teams that had not been part of the transition. It required a lot of conversation with, for example, the team that was responsible for putting new code into production.” 

According to Marius, by design there was no pre-set master plan for everything that should be done, and as the teams expanded their work, each iteration encountered new problems: “I always compare it to going to the gym,” says Marius. “You can’t walk in on Day One and lift X pounds of weight. You have to lift just slightly over your range. To help teams learn to work through difficulties, the secret is to expose them to challenges that hurt a bit but are not so challenging that it paralyzes them. Leadership takes on new definition. Instead of a manager solving problems, you grow the team by shielding them from what could paralyze them, yet allow through what will stretch them.” 

Catalyst for continuing agile transformation

“We always pitch ourselves as a catalyst,” says Dave Sharrock, of agile42’s role in the process, which ended more than a year ago. “Our job is to help lay a foundation so the organization can blossom, and Best Buy Canada has clearly done that. They are now doing things we would never coach them on, and that’s exactly what we look for.” According to Dave Evans, who as CTO has reorganized his teams into five new technology groups, “This journey will never be done. I’m looking for some stability so team members can master their domains. Then it’s about delivering more and faster, continually improving.” How important has the Agile transformation been? Thierry says, “Given that technology is a core driver of business performance—and in some cases entire lines of business exist only due to technology—my view is if we had stayed on our previous course it would have put the existence of the company in question over the next decade. “Visible culture change is driving an appetite for the rest of the organization to adopt. They may not have the same burning fire that was in technology, but the appetite is there. We have plenty of work to do to roll out Agile through the rest of the company.” 

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