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Enhanced Agile delivery capability | 4x increase in clients

TrakCel: delivery pipeline optimisation

TrakCel’s ambitious global growth plans for its Cell Orchestration Platform required a strengthening of its delivery capability. In a short, focused engagement, our consultant coached TrakCel’s teams in Scrum and DevOps and harnessed the powers of the Dark Side through a LEGO® Star Wars™ Game to optimise the delivery pipeline.

COMPANY BACKGROUND

Founded in 2012 and based in the UK and the USA, TrakCel supplies a suite of integrated technologies to orchestrate the cell and gene therapy supply chain ensuring safe, scalable and affordable products.

TrakCel’s Cell Orchestration Platform (COP) enables the comprehensive management and tracking of the many stages of cell and gene therapy programmes, allowing programme-critical information to be collated, tracked and documented. TrakCel’s customers benefit from massive reductions in the time and costs involved in developing life-changing therapies.

The challenge

As with many tech startups, TrakCel had grown its IT capability and its product piecemeal, responding to market demand as it established its customer base.

With a highly valued product and looking towards the next stage in the company’s growth, TrakCel planned to overhaul its platform in order to provide strong foundations on which to grow to the next stage in the company and the product’s development, allowing greater responsiveness and delighting customers with innovative features. While this work was underway, it was vital to keep meeting customers’ needs through the product without disruption.

The TrakCel IT teams were not Agile and did not work in sprints. Their delivery capability needed strengthening, requiring an improvement in their collaborative ways of working. That’s why TrakCel engaged us to coach its teams and to de-risk its product delivery.

Our approach

We assigned a highly experienced, senior Agile coach who was embedded with the three delivery teams and given free rein by TrakCel to establish a Scrum approach. Having set up the Scrum roles, team structures and ceremonies, our coach then supported five sprints to work towards the point where the teams could become self-sufficient in Scrum planning, delivery and ways of working.

To this end, he developed the teams’ skills in working with user stories and in relative estimation of story size. He trained them in how to track velocity accurately and to adopt our recommended use of burn-up charts. The value of this approach was proven when the platform enhancements were ultimately delivered exactly in line with the chart’s forecast, providing the teams and senior stakeholders with predictability in the delivery of the upgrade.

The team members who had taken on the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner were given coaching to hone the smooth working of the Scrum approach. The Scrum Masters learned new techniques to help them optimise the work of the teams. The Product Owners acquired the skills they required in order to support the teams’ understanding of user stories and to justify the delegation to them of authority to make day-to-day product decisions. Through our facilitation training they also gained the skills to run more effective meetings.

The Scrum board and product portfolio were visualised, giving the three teams – two working on the platform upgrades, one maintaining the current features – ready access to the information they needed in order to make decisions together. The company founders also had clear visibility of the product roadmap and delivery progress, allowing them to manage customer expectations and see the impact of introducing new work into the backlog.

Our coach recommended key DevOps practices – Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment – supported by automated testing on the new stack. Some of the team members had a good basic understanding of the DevOps approach and so they were formed into a team and provided with a DevOps workshop by one of our expert DevOps Associates, with our embedded Agile coach supporting them thereafter.

Key to strengthening the teams’ delivery capability was to give them the skills to monitor and optimise flow along the delivery pipeline. Our coach took a unique approach to this: emulating the build and delivery of the platform upgrades through a LEGO® Star Wars™ Game!

In this game, four sprints were emulated from planning through to deployment, creating in LEGO® City bricks a range of products that met the objective of enslaving the galaxy. Roles were assigned, including a Product Manager (the Emperor), a Product Owner team (Sith Lords), three Delivery teams (of Stormtroopers) and a Deployment team (of Battle Droids).

In order to highlight key issues, in the first sprint:

  • the Product Owners were briefed to be uncommunicative and unwilling to accept stories as ‘Done’
  • each team was located in a different room to emulate silo working
  • the Deployment team was limited to two people who were the only ones allowed in the Galaxy room, unless by prior agreement – and when they let anyone in, they were briefed to be awkward

Through each sprint retrospective, the teams identified what was working well and what needed to be improved in the following sprint.

In this fun and engaging way, after four sprints the teams gained a vivid sense of the importance of close collaboration, well defined and prioritised user stories, and the Definition of Done. They saw what kinds of behaviours and ways of working could introduce bottlenecks in delivery, and the importance of establishing a clear path to production with strong collaboration between development and operations. The team gained all this in one afternoon – along with a droid production facility, a troop transporter and a (not-quite) fully operational Death Star.

The outcomes

In what was a relatively short engagement, our expert coach supported TrakCel in transitioning to Agile ways of working and guided the teams in optimising all parts of the delivery pipeline.

Having strengthened TrakCel’s delivery capability, new incremental improvements to the system were released successfully to production even during the five sprints while our coach was assigned. Meanwhile, the groundwork was laid for the successful planning, management and delivery of the updated platform – to timescales that exactly matched the forecast, thanks to robust estimation, velocity tracking and uncertainty management.

The Cell Orchestration Platform is part of projects with NHS Trusts in the UK and has been sold to other organisations internationally that are doing pioneering work in cell and gene therapy, helping them to streamline their workflows, prepare for regulatory audits, and save vast amounts of time and money.

Since the engagement, TrakCel has seen a fourfold increase in clients. Budgeted revenue for 2018 is due to increase 280% and the company is ahead of that budget at the end of H1 2018.

As James Rudolf, Chief Operating Officer at TrakCel puts it:
 
 

Thanks to IndigoBlue’s work with our teams, our customers enjoyed a seamless transition to the even better user experience our enhanced platform now offers. Looking to the future, the scale of our ambition for the COP is now matched by our capacity to implement it.”

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