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Agility on the Move – How Implementing Scrum Transformed the Nevada Department of Transportation

Agility on the Move – How Implementing Scrum Transformed the Nevada Department of Transportation

People often have preconceived notions about who can successfully implement agile practices and who cannot. Technology companies are “naturally” agile, right? And governmental agencies, hopelessly mired in bureaucracy, could never produce teams that function in a truly agile way.

Not true.

It turns out that predicting who will be good at an agile practice like Scrum has little to do with the industry or type of work being done. Instead, a better indicator of who will be successful in their agile transformation is the openness, commitment, and interest of the people involved. When organizations and the people in them are open to learning agile concepts and practices, they have taken a key step towards being successful in their adoption of Scrum.

Such is the case with the Nevada Department of Transportation Information Technology (NDOT IT) department. Located in Carson City, NV, just a short half-hour drive from the beautiful Lake Tahoe region, NDOT IT builds and maintains the technical systems that support the state’s complex network of roads, highways, and bridges. They originally contacted The Druckman Company to enquire about enrolling a few employees in a public Certified ScrumMaster course. However, it quickly became obvious that it would be more beneficial for NDOT IT to host a training course onsite.

The NDOT Leadership Scrum team, with their ScrumMaster Jeremy Brien

The NDOT Leadership Scrum team, with their ScrumMaster Jeremy Brien

NDOT IT and The Druckman Company continued to work together over the next 2+ years, using a combination of onsite training and coaching to help NDOT IT move to a model of agile project management. As a result, nearly every team within the department is now using Scrum. They have also begun to reap the benefits of managing projects in an agile way, including increased transparency and predictability. They are an excellent example of a governmental organization using Scrum to better serve their citizens.

Why is NDOT IT succeeding in their agile transformation when other organizations have failed? While many factors play into whether agile practices and values take root in an organization, there are three key factors that have most dramatically contributed to NDOT IT’s success:

Having Full Support of Their Leadership

So often, leaders who want their teams to adopt agile practices take a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude. They expect teams to shift their thinking to agile while the leaders still cling to their desire for waterfall-style “plan it all up front” projects and reporting mechanisms. NDOT IT leadership, by contrast, was fully supportive of the agile transformation right from the beginning. They invested in their teams by getting them trained (nearly every IT employee attended either the Certified ScrumMaster or Certified Scrum Product Owner training, while some attended both) and providing regular coaching, both internally and with an external agile coach, to help teams adopt this new way of working.

The Slumbering Wombat Scrum team, holding their daily Scrum in the Lounge

The Slumbering Wombat Scrum team, holding their daily Scrum in the Lounge

The leadership team even took it a step further. They realized they could organize their own work in a more agile way and formed the “Pointy-Haired Boss” Scrum team (a reference to the popular Dilbert cartoon strip character) that consisted of managers only. In doing so, the leadership team showed staff that they too were willing to embrace doing their work in an agile way.

“When we first started with Scrum, I thought it was a touchy-feely social experiment,” admits Chief of Information Technology David Wooldridge, “But what I learned is that Scrum forces you to make decisions based on priority and manage your workload. That kind of focus has been incredibly valuable to us.”

Including Stakeholders Early

Too often, stakeholders are included in the Scrum process as an afterthought – and organizations are surprised when those stakeholders show little interest in or engagement with the Scrum process. NDOT IT avoided this problem by including stakeholders in their very first training. Key stakeholders who would be involved in the early Scrum pilot projects learned about Scrum right alongside their technical counterparts. As a result, NDOT IT was able to integrate the product owner role successfully into the business right from the start.

In preparation for stepping into the product owner role on the first Scrum pilot project, Human Resources Personnel Officer Melody Duley participated in the very first Scrum class at NDOT IT. “I wanted to attend the training not just to prepare for my role as product owner, but to learn about Scrum as an approach to project management,” she says, “and as an HR professional, being certified in Scrum gives me a unique skill set.”

Seeing Agile Transformation as a Long-Term Journey

The best way to learn Scrum is simply by doing it. Once a pilot group within an organization has received training on the basics of Scrum, the ideal way to grow their agile skillset is by simply doing Scrum. But in their eagerness to change, some companies rush their agile transformation and, as a result, leave staff feeling overwhelmed, insecure, and defensive. You cannot “schedule” a transformation. Rather, it should be viewed as a long-term process of continually moving up the mastery curve of Scrum, getting better at each element of the process over time.

Personnel Officer Melody Duley was an early adopter of Scrum

Personnel Officer Melody Duley was an early adopter of Scrum

NDOT IT realized that their transformation would be a gradual process. They held several onsite Scrum trainings over a period of a couple years, with additional coaching visits from Certified Scrum Trainer and Agile Coach Angela Druckman. By establishing a long-term relationship with a trainer/coach, they were able to work together as a unit to support the staff as they developed mastery of the Scrum principles.

“We know there is still work ahead of us to become a fully agile organization,” says Deputy Chief of Information Technology Kimberly Munoz, “but the agile bus has left the station and everyone is fully buckled in for the journey. We look forward to faster time-to-market for our customers and improved quality of service, while reducing costs and maximizing convenience for our end-users.”

Learn more about career opportunities with NDOT

Learn more about public Scrum certification courses or starting your agile transformation with The Druckman Company

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Comments

  • I really like how this article shared some of their techniques for achieving effective organizational change and widespread adoption: 1. Gain Leadership support 2. Engage stakeholders early 3. Get started -- "ideal way to grow their agile skillset is by simply doing Scrum", and 4. Keep positive momentum -- "a long-term process of continually moving up the mastery curve of Scrum" Thanks Angela for this article and for your great Scrum Master training last year.
    8/7/2017 10:55:13 AM Reply
  • I retired from NDOT IT 8 years ago and was the first ScrumMaster. I went and paid for my own Scrum training in Silicon Valley. It was not supported by upper management at the time but I started implementing Scrum with my own team. I am glad NDOT has embraced this Agile Project Management methodology.
    8/7/2017 7:41:08 AM Reply
  • Thanks, Angela! Great Article! We appreciate your guidance in our Agile Transformation. We still have a lot of road ahead of us on our journey, but it's been a blast!
    8/3/2017 4:07:37 PM Reply

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