You’ve likely heard plenty about agile engineering over the past couple of years, as software developers and project managers across the world adopt this more collaborative and efficient way of working. But what does it look like in practice, and how are large organizations working to implement its benefits?
At WEX, we’ve committed to an agile workstyle across our global offices and lines of business, having recognized that it allows us to align better with customer expectations and react faster to market change.
As we continue to transform into an agile organization, we’re keen to share and to learn more—and in a way that’s accessible to all. We even recently invited the larger conversation around agile into our new global headquarters in downtown Portland, hosting meetups for both Agile Maine and UX Maine.
“Organizations like Agile Maine and UX Maine have created a community of agile practitioners in Portland that further reinforces that the city is a growing technology center,” says Mark Dolphin, WEX’s VP of global program and integration management. “WEX is committed to growing that community.”
WEX’s agile beginnings
As for WEX’s own initiation into all-things-agile, the seeds were planted more than five years ago, but really began to take root in 2016, when David Cooper was named our chief technology officer. He saw the way that we were developing software was unsustainable. Though he didn’t call it “agile” at the time, he encouraged agile behavior across the organization and celebrated those already working this way (e.g, our ClearView technology was developed using the Kanban agile methodology). One of Dave’s first stated objectives at WEX: the formation of smaller, integrated, cross-functional teams.
We began by embracing agile software development and replacing the classical “waterfall” method, which is linear, structured and can require a year to execute a concept to market—by which time the market is likely to have changed. As we transition, we continue to try many different flavors of agile development—scrum, iterative waterfall and Kanban included.
Playing it SAFe across the organization
Seeing how much faster we were able to get new products and technologies from concept to market (what once took us 11 months is now taking us three to four months), WEX then implemented agile as an organizational mindset, committing from the top of the house down and from the bottom up. We are now applying it to all of our core applications and building smaller teams. Further, we’re bringing the work to these teams, rather than bringing the teams to the work, as we once did.
For organizational or larger-scale initiatives, we take a disciplined approach. Ensuring that our scrum teams across the different lines of business all pull their oars in the same direction, we use SAFe (Scalable Agile Framework) as a methodology to coordinate our initiatives. We’re now expanding SAFe into our Over the Road engineering team lead by Francois Du Toit, SVP of global fleet development, and have introduced it across our corporate payments team under the leadership of Ryan Taylor, our global VP of corporate payments product development.
Says Dolphin, “SAFe uses the metaphor of a release train. Each scrum team develops a set of features, or train cars if you will, and once the cars are together, that’s the train. The objective is to ensure all the cars leave the station at the same point. It’s exciting to see the teams’ enthusiasm with SAFe adoption. They are becoming very high performing and are committed to continuous improvement. The teams are cross disciplined, and the software engineers, scrum masters and testers are really enjoying the camaraderie. It’s been fun to watch.”
Now that we’re structured this way, WEX has an even greater ability to respond to the marketplace, to test and learn, to fail fast, and to introduce innovative payment solutions quickly.