205 year old organisation meets the future head-on

Coming up this week in Melbourne is the Innovating IT Service conference. The final interview in this series is with Cameron Gough, General Manager of Australia Post’s Digital Delivery Centre. Cameron will be appearing on the discussion panel and delivering one of the opening keynotes on Wednesday. He’s been with AusPost since 2012 and brings extensive experience with agile and lean methodologies to an organisation under pressure to find new ways of providing value.

 

1. As the General Manager of the Digital Delivery Centre for Australia Post, can you describe what your typical day looks like and the kinds of projects you’re involved in?

Someone recently told me that they saw my role simply as food, water and alignment.  I was at first a little offended but when I thought it through, it kind of made sense.  Most of my time is about ensuring our teams in the DDC are set up to be successful.  This means ensuring funding is in place, a healthy backlog of work exists, we have the right staff and our operating model is working smoothly.  I guess this is the food and water part.  We are heavily focused on enabling our teams to become more and more autonomous over time.  But this can be dangerous if multiple teams are misaligned in their overall purpose. So the alignment bit is about driving our strategic direction in digital and sharing this with teams to ensure we are all aligned and working to a common purpose.

On the question of projects – we’re steadily moving away from the traditional project model where we have a start, middle and an end and deliver a defined piece of scope.  The market and our customers are simply moving too fast for this model – especially in digital. Over the past couple of years we’ve been shifting to a model where we identify opportunities and allocate delivery capacity (and funding) to chase those opportunities.  The teams work in an iterative manner, deploying as often as they can, learning through customer feedback and research and adjusting course based on this.  I haven’t checked our recent mix but late last year around 75% of our work was done using some form of this model.

The work we do is surprisingly varied and quite exciting.  Around 50% of our desktop and mobile traffic relates to parcel tracking so we are always looking to improve that experience. An example is our recent roll out of MyPost Deliveries – a free service that provides more convenient parcel delivery options through parcel lockers and Post Office pickup.  This is just the start with many planned enhancements coming in the next few months.  Beyond that, we are continuing to invest in our digital mailbox, travel related products, a cool postcards mobile app, our developer centre, a parcel lodgement capability for merchants, new consumer and business portals and much more.

2. Australia Post’s traditional business model has been significantly disrupted by technology and the online economy. What are some of the unexpected opportunities that have come from that, and how are you changing the way people manage mail and interact with other Australia Post services?

Digital disruption has had a profound impact on our core letters business which has been in decline since 2008.  However digital has also been a key driver of growth in other parts of our business – especially our parcels business which has grown well off the back of a booming online economy.

I think one of the profound shifts we will start to see is a move to delivering to people rather than addresses.  This means building services and capability to deliver to the place and time that is most convenient to customers.  Smartphones and other technology leaps have started to open up many opportunities in this area.

It is hard to predict all the ways that digital will help our future business and customers and in many ways we don’t want to lock ourselves into a few narrow bets.  We are therefore taking a platform path where we expose capability through APIs and then free teams up to reimagine the experiences we can offer.  This is extending now to third parties and customers who can explore our available APIs through our Developer Centre (developers.auspost.com.au).

We’re also exploring some interesting opportunities where digital can enhance the physical experience.  For example, a more integrated in-store experience through use of iBeacons and using smartphones to streamline access to Parcel Lockers.

3. You are known as an advocate for the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). How does that differ from the Agile methods some of us may already be familiar with?

To me, Agile methods work well at a team level.  They provide a great way for a business to iteratively evolve a solution and arrive at an outcome that is a better match to customer needs than more traditional methods.  I think the mistake many of us made was to then believe we could simply scale the team model to work at a broader organisational level. The better path was to get back to the underlying principles of Lean and Agile – principles of flow, small batch sizes, iterative evolution of solutions, delivery cadence, multi-functional teams, etc – and then see how these could be applied at an organisational level. SAFe does a really good job of describing a cohesive model that aims to do just that. Using an industry framework has provided us with a common model, language and consistent base to work off.

Most large organisations are complex and achieving organisational agility spans well beyond delivery teams. There is often a desire for some level of structure and process around any new way of working before it is accepted.  Simply saying you are going to “scale agile” won’t get far as it doesn’t satisfy this need and can be a high risk approach. The structure and discipline that SAFe outlines is a powerful way to communicate a different way of working that covers how work is organised, funded and governed. It actually provides direct line of sight from portfolio planning through to the features teams are working on that will be delivered to customers. Having said that, we couldn’t say we follow SAFe to the letter. For us it is more a reference model that we have used to guide us but we are really carving our own path.

4. Gartner calls for enterprises to embrace a Bimodal approach to IT services. This combination of slow and fast development, (also called 2-speed IT), can be a challenge for large organisations. How is Australia Post managing it?

I haven’t delved into this deeply but am familiar with the idea.  I guess the starting point is to work out whether your organisation is pursuing 2 speed IT as a strategy, or whether it is a stage you go through as you change to a more nimble IT organisation.  I’m keen on the latter approach.  It is easier to speed up things in Digital relative to other parts of the IT organisation. We have invested in “cloudifying” our digital applications, automating integration and deployment capability, and building a highly adaptive and flexible delivery model.  This is paying significant dividends now in terms of delivery speed, flexibility and customer outcomes.  Moving beyond digital, our recent enterprise investments in new data centres, networks, cloud, automation and orchestration capabilities, are now supporting significant improvements in other areas as well.  We have also been working successfully to a model called “Differentiated Delivery” that provides a way to bring digital and backend teams together to deliver software in an iterative manner with all the benefits that provides.

5. Andrew Walduck, your CIO, has talked a lot about digital disruption and how this is fundamentally changing Australia Post’s business and the relationship it has with its customers.  How does the Digital Delivery Centre fit into this picture and the longer-term vision for the organisation?

Digital disruption is continuing to drive rapid changes in customer behaviour and Australia Post’s challenge is to evolve our 205 year old organisation to meet the needs of today whilst ensuring it drives sustainable growth in new products and services.  Improving the way the organisation creates and executes new ideas, whether that is from our front-line customer facing staff or our staff based in headquarters, is an important area of focus.

This results in improvements in how we serve and enable our customers and communities. One area is through our customer connect platform which is a suite of API’s and a support community that enables our customers and third parties to explore and innovate around new products, services and customer experiences. Our digital teams have been at the heart of these changes and continue to work hard to bring these and many other solutions to life.

6. If you could say one thing to prepare IT managers and CIOs for the changing paradigm, what would that be?

Disruption is happening at an ever increasing pace and it is no longer enough for organisations to respond by simply reorganising around the next set of profitable products and services.  Successful organisations will be those where innovation and adaptation are an inherent part of their culture and way of working.  IT needs to be part of this.  So if there was one thing I’d leave with IT managers and CIOs, it would be this: “build a culture and environment where the creative capacity of your staff and organisation can be set free”.

 

Cameron, thanks so much for taking the time!


When documentation is against the religion

Last week’s KM Australia congress in Sydney had a different vibe to last year. (Here’s the storify.) There were quite a few different faces from 2012, a few of the same ones, the weather was better. The room configuration was different, and maybe that’s all it was, but a small part of me thinks it was because one of the presenters was a chief technology officer. At last! A knowledge management case study from an IT executive.

James King started by explaining the nature of his organisation and the DevOps environment that his team works within. Of course, the Agile Manifesto says developers value “working software over comprehensive documentation”, and that’s where James got the first objection to his plan for better documentation to avoid rework. His response was that the Agile Manifesto is a piece of documentation in itself, so clearly, some documentation has value.

And so, the story continued with the introduction of Agile tools, like storyboarding, to the product support and knowledge management process. Instead of documentation being engineered along with releases, it was produced on demand through the normal support transactions. Without mentioning the words Knowledge Centred Support, James was in fact describing a simplified implementation of KCS, which I confirmed with him afterwards.

Just this morning, I saw a tweet that reminded me of James’ presentation.

You see, the great thing about KCS is that it accepts knowledge has an imperfect nature. It has built-in mechanisms for improving knowledge on the fly. Indeed, why spend hours over-engineering documentation for software that frequently changes and may never be read in full?


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