Information technology (IT) services provider, Birlasoft, has come up with a novel way to tackle the delivery and productivity issue amidst remote work during the COVID lockdown. Focussing on being lean and nimble, the Company has incorporated a governance model across the organisation, where teams are shrunk into microcosms, or smaller agile teams, with clear ownership and accountability of deliverables, balanced with feasible and achievable workloads.
So how did Birlasoft ensure agility and nimbleness?
Usually, the teams deployed by the organisation to service clients are large, with 100, 150 or even 200 members. In a remote working setup, however, collaboration and communication amongst members of such large teams took up more than the usual time it would otherwise require in the normal office environment. With the exchange of information becoming more time consuming, project delivery got impacted.
To tackle this issue, Birlasoft came up with a governance model, where critical elements were selected to form a smaller team of around 5, 10 or 15 members. These leaner teams were then given a mandate to operate and function as an independent leg in a project, with micro deliverables and faster rates of delivery.
To ensure that responsibility and accountability were maintained even while facilitating constant communication with each other, standard protocols applicable in remote work environments were put in place along with overlays, such as the need for daily calls with all stakeholders.
Arun Rao, CPO, Birlasoft, says, “It is important for us to ensure that clients and teams are on the same page. This is a new way of life and has its own potential for leakages. It was essential to find a novel method of working which was efficient, acceptable and useful for all stakeholders during these times to generate the right kind of output.”
Creating ‘agile pods’
For each ‘pod’, a set of people with compatible skills is brought together to form a smaller team. The size of the group depends on the project load — a bigger project requires a larger pod.
“Some of our victories during the pandemic were because we were able to deliver beyond client expectations.”
For instance, for each team to have a complete set of essential skill sets, there has to be a scrum master, a domain expert, a technology architect, a person in charge of testing applications and a person to document it all, among others.
Agile pods work because since the teams are smaller, the members are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which allows them to develop a rhythm and cohesiveness.
“This has made a huge difference in terms of our delivery and winning client confidence. In fact, some of our victories during the pandemic were because we were able to deliver beyond client expectations,” reveals Shreeranganath Kulkarni aka SK, chief delivery officer (CDO), Birlasoft.
Delivery has speeded up for Birlasoft with the addition of these agile pods. Teams are now working on smaller work packages, with work becoming easier to track. Moreover, delivery for these packages has been possible in 8, 16 or 24 hours, which means just one, two or three days.
To further ensure, that there are no delays due lack of communication or clarity, dedicated time slots have been put in place, for clarification of doubts by each team.
Clients are more engaged than before
Apart from the team members, this new way of working also ensures clients are much more involved throughout the process. Earlier, a team in India would finish working on a project for the day and hand it over to another team, let us say, in the US. Prior to the handover, the client would review the work done till then and suggest modifications. Moreover, if there was any response needed from the India team, the client had to wait one whole day to get the clarifications. During the handover, the overlap time between the two teams and the client would earlier be a maximum of one and half hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.
However, instead of waiting till the end of the day to point out pain points in the project delivery and request clarifications, clients are now engaged with the teams twice a day in the morning and evening. This ensures that modifications and clarifications are made before the handover and there is no one-day lag in receiving clarifications from any team, either in the US or India. In addition, the overlap time has increased to two and a half hours in the morning and three hours in the evening.
“It was important for us to ensure that clients and teams are on the same page. This is a new way of life and has its own potential for leakages. Therefore, it was essential to find a novel method of working, which was efficient, acceptable and useful for all stakeholders during these times to generate the right kind of output.”
Birlasoft, along with a Noida-based NGO called Under The Tree (UTT), extended a helping hand to all underpriviledged kids and their families. They distributed food items and hygiene kits to 1000+ daily wage earners and families in and around sector 135. The campaign was initiated on March 23, 2020 and those in need were provided, dry ration, hygiene kits, milk and other essentials. A total of 1600 people and 450 children were given support through this initiative.
As part of its engagement initiatives, Birlasoft is also reaching out to employees and their families during this time to engage them productively. Kids across ages at home are engaging in reading activities, as well as yoga and Zumba sessions. An open platform called Creative Masters was created for the adults to share poetry, paintings and online blogs. Virtual Antakshari is another initiative, where employees participate by sharing videos of themselves.
To ensure health and wellbeing of the staff, webinars with health practitioners, industry experts and life coaches through WebX sessions, in addition to regular e-mailers on mental and physical wellbeing have been an effective initiative. Consultation with doctors, counselling sessions and fitness challenges, all organised online, are some of the facilities offered by the Company for its employees.