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Cutter’s Agile Experts Have Helped these Organizations Succeed

Here's a peek into some of the Success Stories Cutter clients have enjoyed. Find out how Cutter can help you, too.

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Transform the Approach to Innovation and Development and Delivery Processes

It may be true that "a picture lasts forever," but the technology used to capture, reproduce, and share an image is ever changing. Today’s web-based photo sharing requires immense scalability, and fulfillment at such scale necessitates effective and efficient global operations. A medium size, online photo sharing company called on Cutter to transform its development and delivery process as well as its approach to innovation to enable the company to meet all these needs and remain competitive.

Cutter consultants simultaneously introduced a micro- and a macro-process. The micro-process emphasized productivity at the team level through delivery of value to the business every two weeks. Supplementing it, the macro-process focused on decomposing the project portfolio into project chunks in a manner that enabled individual project teams to carry out their sprints with minimal dependencies on other project teams. The company maintained strong separation of concerns between the two levels, enabling the macro-process to drive the micro-process in a manner that facilitated early corrections to the micro-process and helped to mitigate risk. Under Cutter's direction, the {Portfolio (Macro) -> Project Chunks (Micro)} decomposition was carried out three to four times a year to ensure that no significant gaps opened up between the portfolio level and the on-going reality established by the agile project teams.

In perhaps the most important phase of the transformation, Cutter helped the company leapfrog to the next generation of photo-sharing products, hallmarked by the automatic discovery of connections among photos, enabling the auto-creation of sophisticatedly designed photo products. To attain this level of functionality in under a year, Cutter worked with the company’s executive management to form a unified team that operated for all intents and purposes as an independent start-up. Once the team had tested its strategic hypotheses, validated a suite of minimum viable products (MVPs), and successfully implemented several MVPs, it was brought back into the mother company to serve as the role model and change agent for the way mainstream teams conceived, validated, developed, and introduced products to market.

With Cutter's expert help implementing strategic agile and Lean Startup techniques, this company achieved a higher level of innovation, better software quality, shorter cycle time, and swifter responsiveness to its market. Consequently, its customer base grew to tens of millions of users, and the company now stores/shares billions of photos.

A Hardware-Centric Organization Learns to Realize the Value of its Software

A leading organization in the Enterprise Asset Intelligence market had two goals: the first was to realize greater value from its software by shifting the mindset that the organization was hardware-centric; the second goal was to decrease time-to-market by increasing the efficiency of its product development teams. Cutter Consortium designed a program comprising three stand-alone engagements to help the organization achieve its goals and to foster widespread adoption of Agile practices.

The first engagement, began with an executive overview on Agile product development delivered to the organization’s leaders resulting with buy-in from the executive team. During the second engagement, Cutter’s expert conducted a short readiness assessment designed to (1) understand the state of agile practices currently in place, and (2) get a feel for whether the rest of the organization was ready to adopt agile practices. Based upon the data from the assessment, Cutter developed and executed the third engagement: an Agile transition plan for the organization. Cutter’s expert began working with teams in three different locations — North America, India, and Taiwan — training nearly 1000 staff and partners, including both software and hardware engineers, in what it means to be Agile and how to do Scrum well. They learned technical practices that are now helping them improve quality, and they learned scaling patterns they can now use to build their complex systems. In addition, Cutter delivered specialized agile training sessions to business managers, product managers, and program-level managers, and coached project and program teams to prepare them for adopting agile at the program level.

As a result of the significant effort put into getting all software teams (and many hardware teams) through the workshops, most are now practicing agile. Those not yet practicing agile understand what it is and what will be expected of them going forward. At the program level, Agile is now understood and is being rolled out. The organization is achieving its goal of weaving Agile practices into its fabric to increase efficiency and realize the value of its software. 

Transformation from Traditional to Digital Publishing

The software arm of a leading publishing company requested Cutter’s help to transition from traditional to digital publishing. An essential element was a fast and flexible response to constantly changing market needs. To satisfy this requirement, Cutter recommended focusing on transforming the company’s System of Engagement, and letting the company’s System of Record adjust to the rapidly changing needs of the System of Engagement through rigorously defined APIs. By implementing this process, the company was able to both preempt and respond to constant change in its market without taking the risk of possibly destabilizing its back-end systems.

For the System of Engagement, Cutter broke away from the old-fashioned “Alignment vs. Autonomy” dichotomy by clearly stipulating two kinds of responsibilities. Executive management was held responsible for overall business goals, top-level product strategy, and overall team goals, while individual teams were held responsible for creatively working to achieve these goals through innovative problem solving. Using Scrum, individual teams experimented in two-week sprints, allowing for innovation without the risk of spending months or years on projects that weren’t panning out. This affordable experimentation led to levels of innovation which had not been experienced prior to the transformation.

This success illustrates the effectiveness of Cutter’s approach to digital transformation. The next phase in this client’s transition will be to thoughtfully apply digital transformation to the company’s System of Record. We expect the teams to adopt the principles described above in a cadence appropriate for the changes being driven by the System of Engagement teams. Cutter’s assistance with both phases of transformation will enable this company to be well positioned to compete in the current and future market of digital publishing.

Technical Debt Assessment and Valuation

Cutter Consortium was called into a software organization by its venture capital firm to conduct a Technical Debt Assessment and Valuation. The code to be evaluated had been acquired two years prior. Until the organization built the capability to develop the code in its US headquarters, the development had continued through an outsourcing company in another country. The assessment came just as the company was about to release ~200K lines of Java code.

The Technical Debt Assessment successfully addressed three levels of concerns:

  1. Strategically, it reassured the VC firm and the organization's CEO that the code base was worth continuing to invest in.
  2. Tactically, it gave the CTO the tools and visibility needed to manage the code base on a day by day basis.
  3. Operationally, it enabled the development team to focus on improving quality in a "biggest bang for the buck" manner.

Moreover, the engagement gave the CEO the metrics required for effectively governing the software process and (re)aligning it with marketing and sales activities. As the CEO was not technical, the ability to get an aggregate dollar figure for "paying back" debt and plug it into the organization's financial models was of great value to him and to the company.

In the course of conducting the Technical Debt Assessment, Cutter consultants identified various deficits in the organization's software process. In particular, requirements management and program management were flagged as lacking in rigor. The Cutter consultants suggested various methodical improvements that would make a difference in future releases.

Transition a large engineering department to Agile

Because its products (over 20) are all released at the same time as a suite, this international leader in workforce management software chose a group-wide strategy for transitioning its engineering department of 600 people (developers, QA staff, product managers, architects, etc.) to an agile organization, rather than an incremental one. Key focal points for the client were to improve product quality and team performance, as the complexity of their product line had increased dramatically over the past few years. After an extensive qualitative and quantitative assessment of the organization, we recommended an "agile lite" approach consisting of a blending of Agile Product Management & Software Engineering Excellence and Industrial Extreme Programming. The transition began with extensive training (An Agile Overview, Agile Product Management & Software Engineering Excellence, Agile for Product Management, IXP components for technical staff), assistance in chartering some 40 individual project teams, and several months of on-site coaching. Other recommendations implemented by the client addressed issues related to large integrated systems: frequent total integration, cross-team coordination, organizational changes, performance measurement changes, and multi-level release planning. Transition assistance was provided at all levels of the organization, from developers and QA staff to managers, directors, and the VP. The transition to agile and first product release following the transition were considered very successful by the VP of engineering.

Transition to Agile development methods for software and hardware

The initial engagement with this international scientific instrument manufacturer was to transition their software development groups to agile methods. As the software transition showed significant success, Cutter helped implement agile practices in the hardware project teams as well. After several agile projects had been completed by this client, Cutter metrics consultants conducted a before and after analysis that showed overall (pre-agile versus agile projects): defects reduced by 83%, schedule reduced by 24%, costs reduced by 61%, and staffing reduced by 39%). For several software teams Cutter provided training, project chartering facilitation, and extensive on-site coaching for several months. Our experience has been that hands-on coaching is critical to a rapid and effective agile transition. Cutter also provided extensive project chartering facilitation, facilitation training, and agile project coaching for a half-dozen large hardware projects for this client. We assisted in adapting agile practices to their hardware environment and developing a phase-gate governance system that incorporate agile methods.

Transition to Agile

The publication services for this global publisher, both print and web-based, cover medical, legal, education, and business. Cutter's senior team worked with key client managers to raise the awareness of agile methods within the organization, including an all-day session with worldwide managers in New York City, and a speaking engagement at the client's worldwide technical conference. We helped the client plan their agile transition, worked with them on implementing effective collaboration practices, and developing an agile assessment tool. We provided training, chartering, and coaching services to several teams in the US and one in England.

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