Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) is one of the largest integrated herd-improvement organisations in the world. Since 1909, this dairy-farmer-owned cooperative based in Hamilton, New Zealand, has provided services to dairy farmers. Its core purpose is to help farmers become more efficient and profitable by genetically improving their animals and by providing information systems and technology that make it easier to farm.
Initially all software development at LIC was the role of the IT department which catered to the needs of all business streams. With demand for IT services growing, LIC split development into two departments — IT and the Farm Systems team which focused on all customer-facing software products. While this enabled the business to be more responsive, the new Farm systems group still used traditional waterfall development methods which were proving too cumbersome for a fast-moving, customer-driven product range, and it was decided an Agile approach should be adopted to speed up the business.
The first step to introducing an Agile approach included a two-day facilitated workshop. This included Agile training to provide the tools and techniques needed to be successful, as well as implementing this approach in a real world scenario with actual LIC projects. Teams scoped the projects they were working on, identified the user stories, prioritised and estimated them and produced initial product release plans.
An important part of the workshop was for the team to identify pain points in the current development methodology and how they impacted the successful delivery of software projects. A number of pain points were identified and covered the whole gamut of communication and waste, which have become synonymous with software development projects.
What resulted was not a branded Agile methodology but rather a pragmatic set of practices that fit with the Agile philosophy and aligned with LIC’s values and behaviours; from iterative development and daily stand-ups to co-location and adaptive planning. The selected practices form the core of LIC’s Agile approach and were specifically aimed at creating a more collaborative environment with cross-functional teams.
One year after embedding Agile practices, LIC realised clear and measurable benefits. Improvements include increased visibility and ownership leading to the right products being delivered within the set time, scope, and budget. Release cycles for the core product went from one per year to releases every two months, which has resulted in greater customer involvement, visibility, and customer satisfaction.
Collaboration across the whole team has been a key to the success. Business sponsors and Product Managers are integral members of the team, engaged from the very beginning of the projects and interacting with the rest of the team throughout the project - ensuring that what is built meets the needs of the market.
Product quality is measurably higher, both in terms of marketplace success and more routine measures of software quality, including defect density and product maintainability. Defects reported in production have dropped substantially, and changes are easier to implement due to the internal quality of the code.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference for the Farm Systems team is that responding to changing business priorities is no longer a stressful change-management exercise, but rather a simple re-planning activity at the beginning of the next iteration.