Operating in fundamentally different ways: ACC’s Agile Transformation 

ACC has been committed to a transformation programme for several years.  

But long project delivery times, poor ROI, too much parallel handling, and low staff morale suggested they needed to take a different approach.  

They needed to adopt a model where their services could continually evolve to meet the needs of New Zealanders. They needed to lead with customer centricity and adaptability. They needed to become an agile organisation – instead of an agile technology department attached to a traditional organisation.  

Peter Fletcher, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at ACC, reached out to Erika Barden, Agile Transformation Lead at FR@NK Innovation & Transformation, for help. 

Taking an agile approach 

FR@NK took an exploratory approach to the transformation. We started with a series of workshops with the ACC’s executive team and key leaders, then established four pilot teams who would learn and iterate at a team level before the approach was rolled out to the rest of the organisation. 

“We were always conscious that this was a big and hard shift,” says Peter. “Unlike a lot of projects where you can set out a detailed plan, this needed to be more organic, constantly growing and changing. It’s almost more of a movement than a transformation in the traditional sense.” 

Once these teams were operating successfully, FR@NK assessed the various scaled agile models available, with the ACC executive team choosing SAFe® (Scaled Agile Framework®) as their framework of choice.  

Using this framework as their guide, ACC worked to establish new roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, governance, metrics, and language. FR@NK supported Peter and his team in establishing and executing a broad training plan for the initial pilot teams and worked closely with these pioneers to coach and support them. 

Supported by FR@NK, ACC recruited seconded staff into new roles such as Scrum Master, Product Owner, Product Manager, and Release Train Engineer. Additionally, FR@NK worked to establish a coaching practice at ACC. 

FR@NK believes in a client-led change process – one where we act as an enabler and coach. Our goal was to help ACC develop the capacity to drive and implement ongoing change and performance improvement themselves. We actively designed scaled agile delivery at ACC in a practical, engaging and iterative way, using continuous learning and feedback to optimise the experience of agile transformation for ACC.  

“FR@NK have done a great job of walking it through with people; getting them to understand the significance of the things that are really important,” says Peter. “The key was building a group of people who stakeholders across the business absolutely trusted to go to with their personal difficulties and ask their questions in a way that didn’t make them feel stupid.” 

An organisation transforming 

Since starting to roll out an agile model across ACC, the cycle time for new initiatives has been reduced from an average of 18 months to slightly less than three months, thanks in part to the implementation of SAFe®.  

Security, privacy, and risk are all proving easier to manage as well, as they can implement improvements and changes in smaller chunks.  

Additionally, staff engagement is higher, with employee net promoter scores improving by up to 70 points (on a -100 to +100 scale) in one team. “The engagement of people is enormously enhanced because this model by its nature is very inclusive,” shares Peter. “The people who are passionate about achieving certain outcomes now have the ability to influence those outcomes.” 

From the outset, Peter looked to embed several core values as part of the transformation – values like people before process and customer at the centre

“There’s always a risk with any big roll-out that change will happen only on the surface – with people adopting some ceremonies or language, but not fundamentally changing the way they operate,” says Peter. 

“By working with FR@NK, we gained the ability to get some of the core principles right. It gave us the ability to understand which things are important for successfully working this way and why they’re so important. The other things was the huge energy that people took from working with those guys; they were able to take that energy and confidence back into the way they look at the world and do their jobs.” 

Putting their new approach to the test 

This shift to a continuous delivery model has enabled ACC to not only implement large tech platforms, but also to evolve those platforms rapidly, changing things that aren’t working for customers and consistently improving the customer experience. 

2020 proved to be a great test of ACC’s new way of working, as they had to flex and pivot quickly when New Zealand went into lockdown.  

“All that effort could rapidly be reassigned to remote working,” says Peter. “Adoption of these practices directly led to our ability to quickly react and respond to major changes in our conditions.” 

Those changes included delaying the collection of levies for three months due to pressures resulting from lockdown – a change which was supported by the agility that the new model provided ACC. “We’re seeing real benefits to customers out of this direction.”