Agile in Action – Embedding the SAFe® Framework at the Department of Human Services

Embedding an agile way of working, such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®), within an organisation is no easy feat. It generally involves completely reshaping how a business operates, evolving team members’ roles and responsibilities, developing social contracts and setting non-negotiables for behaviours? – and all these elements require the buy in and involvement of all parts of the organisation.

More commonly, organisations incorporate various elements of working agile – but don’t subscribe to the full framework – implementing, for example, agile (or Kanban) boards, iterative development, sprints or prioritisation processes. These elements have their place and can contribute to effective, purposeful work being undertaken within a team, but they can also lead to scattergun approaches to priorities, missed opportunities, and inefficiencies if everyone isn’t working to the same priorities.

It is easy to assume that a Government department as large as the Department of Human Services is simply too big and complex to employ agile work practices. However, the team within the Business Transformation Branch took the agile challenge – and succeeded! Responsible for transforming how the Department provides digital services to customers starting with students, this branch is leading the way in how public purpose work is innovated for greater efficiency and customer satisfaction.

IPAA Queensland took some time to meet the team and see how they implemented SAFe into their business.

Susan Morrison, National Manager for the Business Transformation Branch, stated the reason for going agile as simply “It’s about a business led, people focussed transformation that is enabled by technology. It is really about transforming how the department delivers welfare services in Australia.

Some members of the senior leadership team attended two days’ of SAFe® training to find out more about this approach to agile.

I had never used it [SAFe®] before, or led an agile project, and it was like ‘Yes! Let’s give this a go!’ as we saw the benefits in the approach. There is a lot of transparency and rigour around what we do. It isn’t agile as in ‘go fast and throw things over the fence’. It’s more about how you bring your stakeholders together, how you engage business owners across the department, and how we collectively prioritise what’s of most value to the department.

Through this process, you communicate to the broader business and understand what is really important. We’ve become a delivery vehicle to ensure that we can make the changes that are going to deliver value to our end users – whether that be our staff or our customers.

When we came together, we said that it was really important for us to create the right culture for success. We are bringing together so many different areas of the department – technology, business, service delivery, policy, finance, legals – so building the right culture was so important.”

Daniel Ramos, Acting National Manager for the Technology Delivery and Solutions Branch, works alongside Susan Morrison to implement and embed the SAFe® framework:

Not only is it a big environment, it’s a government department – which brings with it its own intricacies, peculiarities and challenges. The opportunity is to trigger and force culture change, technological transformation and user experience and engagement all at once…The outcomes can be significant…If you pull it off!

Implementing the SAFe® way of working has allowed the team to support and improve the digital experience for students and staff. Through creating efficiencies in how team members source data within the Department of Human Services existing frameworks, supporting the community (such as students) to submit more streamlined online claims, and supporting the team members processing the submitted claims in the back end. These are a sample of the improvements that have been achieved in using agile to transform how the Department of Human Services provides more customer centric services.

One outcome of the branch’s agile work lies in the student online claim process. This process historically comprised over 100 questions and required every claimant to input information that might already be known by the department. Through prioritising the improvement of this process throughout the department, the team compressed this claim form to just over 30 questions for some claimants, drastically reducing claimant time and staff processing.

With further improvements and transformations on the horizon, the branch is continuing to provide impressive customer experiences to their client community.