When a global pandemic hit the world while John Deere was just starting to implement an enormous collaborative technical change affecting its worldwide employees, agility took on a whole new meaning.
In early 2020, the Collaboration Services team at John Deere was in the middle of piloting Microsoft Teams in preparation for replacing the current collaboration tool, Skype. The Teams platform was cloud based, a clear advantage to the on-premise version of Skype. But, when the entire salaried workforce was sent home to work during the pandemic, the team decided to step up their game, all while working virtually.
From May through September, the team migrated 50K knowledge workers globally – starting with 100 users per week and accelerating the pace to 7000 users in one week.
They executed 70 training sessions, attended live by more than 5800 users worldwide, and saw a dramatic increase of both Skype and Teams use during the migration period, and kept each solution stable and usable for all employees.
User satisfaction increased from 61% to 87%, and they realized cost reductions of $1.5m per year in Intercall usage ahead of what they had originally planned.
Working together to achieve success: The Scrum way
To successfully accelerate the migration, the team was challenged to find faster ways of migrating tens of thousands of users from Skype to Teams, and they addressed that challenge through upskilling and collaboration.
According to Stephanie Farrell, engineering manager for meeting enablement and messaging, the team was working with three different products during this migration, with people on different teams. To address this, employees from those three product teams were pulled together to build an agile, fully stacked team with a dedicated product owner and scrum master and used Scrum tactics to successfully integrate the migration.
“None of us had gone through Scrum training,” said Rich Words, team engineer. “But our scrum master did an amazing job of getting us out of our silos and set up a structure where we could easily determine what tasks needed to be in our backlog and in our work in progress (WIP) stage. It became a well-oiled machine.”
“Each week after migration, the team would have a post-migration retrospective meeting to talk about the unique issues from that week and identify a "try" for the next week,” said Farrell. “This was key to accelerating the number of users migrated each week.”
The team also relied on feedback from users to help identify roadblocks and impediments in the migration and deliver value quickly by rolling out the collaboration features first, then the meetings platform. The employees realized the value sooner than if the team had waited for the full solution to be ready.
Quick upskill to accelerate results
As the team better understood the manual steps required to migrate each user to Teams, they realized they needed a faster way to manage the migration of thousands of users. Team members stepped up to the plate and discovered opportunities to automate the migration, which not just sped it up, but eliminated the potential for human error and improved the quality of the migration.
Words knew nothing about how Teams worked, yet he was responsible for integrating the voice platform. So, in the spirit of being agile, Words took short classes on Teams to quickly learn about O365 and the cloud voice components, which enabled him to deliver value in small chunks. When he learned something new about the features, he put it into play. This new knowledge combined with Words’ previous automation experience created opportunity for Words to work together with other members of the team and the automation group at Deere to develop an automated bot, which helped to accelerate the manual steps that needed to be completed.
“The bot really helped us accelerate our pace by eliminating the manual steps we would have to take to integrate a user. It freed us up to focus on higher-level tasks,” he said.
In combination with the bot, team engineer Erich Matteson also did some quick upskilling to incorporate all the processes into one complete workflow.
“I started with small, simple scripts which eventually were reused and incorporated into an overall script that automated the entire migration workflow,” said Matteson. “I knew basic PowerShell commands, but the requirements for this project were a bit more complex.”
Farrell explained that Matteson got up to speed quickly by completing a couple of classes. He also took advantage of online Microsoft documentation, which was easy to learn, and became an effective reference for him. “The majority of upskilling Erich did, he learned by doing, and when he ran into issues, he reached out to others who had more experience and knew more about PowerShell,” she said.
This opportunity reminded Matteson there is so much to gain in speed and quality through automation in the implementation and support of infrastructure products using new, modern frameworks and programming languages such as python, ansible, and PowerShell.
“Even though a bulk of our solutions are purchased and not custom development, it's important for engineers like me to stay fresh and current in my programming skills,” Matteson said. “I see upskilling in PowerShell and getting comfortable with programming again as a big tool in my toolbelt.”
For Matteson, this experience reinforced the power of development in driving an increase in automated solutions and created excitement about getting back to his programming roots.
For Deere employees, dealers, and customers, this experience demonstrates that even a pandemic can’t stop the value that John Deere agile teams can deliver across the globe.