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What to do when you are leading a turnaround in your company

Remote
Reorganization
Deadlines
Delegate

15 January, 2019

Bimlesh describes a personal experience with a large-scale turnaround.

Problem

Years ago, I was part of the Engineering Leadership team of a Healthcare Company with HQ in Raleigh and remote R&D centre in Bangalore. I was responsible for a product which had 7 versions of software supporting 1800 healthcare systems. The organization had embarked on a very ambitious new version release with having large ownership given to the India Leadership team. The program office was based in Raleigh and engineering teams split between US and India. The Program was planned as a large Single Software Release at the end of the year. However due to the complexities of the requirements, regulatory changes and first time leadership team dealing with executing such large program with 2 timezones, the release was delayed by 10 months and not ready to ship. This was a crisis in the company as it directly impacted P&L of the company due to the delays. This pressure resulted in the teams working very long hours, blame games, lack of ownership of code, very strong territorial control and centralised decision making. This was further fuelled with Attrition of team members leaving the organization The team size was 140+ people with Developers 80 India, 20 US, QA 30-40, Product Managers - 8-10, Infra - 5, Release Engg- 4, Project Managers - 4, Program Manager - 2 This was when CLOUD was very new. All infrastructure was OnPrem with Windows and Informix Servers within the network.

Actions taken

Current India Engg leadership of the new version release was moved out and I volunteered to step in to steer the extremely rocky weather. Based on my past credentials of strong execution, ability to take the team forward and the way we managed 7 version for 1800 customers, I was given the chief responsibility of engineering across the 2 centres. I requested out 2 weeks time to come up with a revised timeline and plans to achieve the same. These 2 weeks would completely define how the next few months would go and would also decide the future of the India Centre and the survival of the product as well. We conducted several deep dive sessions and Open AMA sessions with the team. We created several such forums to have the team share their displeasures and also seek ideas on how to salvage keeping CUSTOMER SUCCESS in mind. During these sessions, I played a strong observer role by observing the key influencers in the team (Both by title, tech and people skills) We understood the fundamental flaw in the way the teams were organised and how communication breakdown caused several issues between all teams. At the end of 2 weeks we came up with the following:

  • Created 12 teams of max 9 people in each team
  • Each team was a cross functional team of Product Manager , Dev, QA, Infra & Rel Engg
  • Created a SWAT Team to meet regulatory deadline within 10 weeks
  • Full Version Release in 6 months was a COMMITMENT
  • Each Team OWNED FEATURES in the product to full closure
  • Every day team Standup, post OWNERS/Team Leads Standup, EOD - Global Leadership Standup
  • Every 2 days Build to QA post Dev Go-NoGo
  • Every 2 days QA Build Go-NoGo to Automated Regression & Performance Tests
  • Creation of DELIVERY DASHBOARD with FULL TRANSPARENCY - EVERY DEVELOPER also had access to see their work impact the BIG PICTURE
  • Each location had been given full decision making responsibility as long as it dint impact other teams
  • India Leadership explicitly mentioned the Decision making powers needed to execute including Rewards & Recognition, Additional budget for team spends,New Source Code Management Guidelines, New QA, Infra and Release Engineering Guidelines In the first 9 weeks we were able to submit the product for regulatory approvals, and in week 10 we received the regulatory approval. Full Product Version Release happened exactly in 6 months timeline, with all the team in very high spirits, no attrition!

Lessons learned

  • Teams in the trenches always know "what's going well and not" - LISTEN to them
  • Localize and empower teams
  • Allow teams to take ownership
  • Create metrics that matter and enable the data to be seen by the team (Transparency & Impact)
  • Always communicate strongly and reiterate the goal and commitment
  • WHEN YOU ARE LEADING A TURN AROUND WITH HIGH STAKES - BE VERY CLEAR TO ASK the POWERS you need to enable a SUCCESSFUL TURN AROUND
  • Don't wait forever for building consensus. Take decisions and keep moving forward
  • Turnarounds are messy, but if you rally your troops and stay with them in the trenches it can be very enriching!

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