Driving clean energy innovation with new ways of working
Wind turbines designed, manufactured and installed by Vestas generate 132GW every year, enough clean energy to power nearly 40 million homes. This makes the company one of the leaders in sustainable energy solutions. Sophisticated software developed by the company’s R&D division controls the operation of the turbines, but there was huge potential to make the development process faster and more predictable. This would enable Vestas to deliver with even greater confidence on multi-million-pound contracts agreed with customers around the world.
Drawing on our extensive expertise in organisational agility, we enabled Vestas to roll out agile ways of working across two divisions and kick start a wider agile transformation across the business. Our support included leading training in Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for teams across the R&D division and supporting developers in applying agile techniques to a contract-critical project.
New agile ways of working have increased productivity significantly and enabled teams to meet time and budget targets more reliably. This is creating the right conditions to support a wider agile transformation and enhance Vestas’ ability to bring innovative wind turbines to market faster.
- Deployed expertise in organisational agility to transform R&D for a leading wind turbine builder
- Trained 100+ software developers in agile techniques and supported practical application on a contract-critical project
- Engaged Vestas engineering teams in iterative development and paved the way for wider agile transformation
- Reduced time to value by 25 per cent and significantly increased employee satisfaction
Powering the world
Wind power – and its capacity to provide clean energy for the world – is becoming an increasingly important component of the global energy mix. Worldwide, wind turbines now generate some 650 gigawatts a year. Vestas, which designs, manufactures and installs wind turbines, has installed around a fifth of this capacity.
Sophisticated software enables the safe and efficient operation of these giant wind turbines. Vestas has a large R&D division that develops new software, enabling the business to deliver ultra-modern turbines that meet the specifications of its £multi-million contracts.
Embedding new ways of working
The R&D division had already started to apply agile principles to its development work – yet this often felt uncomfortable for its internal customers across the wider business, such as teams designing and manufacturing the turbines themselves. Design and manufacture was organised along very traditional lines, reflecting the business’s strong industrial engineering heritage.
The tension between the two approaches – on one side the flexibility and iterative methods that are hallmarks of agile development; on the other, the fixed schedules and predetermined routines that characterise traditional development – was creating unhappy outcomes.
Engineering teams were resistant to new ways of working in the R&D division, and delays and budget overruns were not uncommon as a result. This was slowing down Vestas’ ability to innovate and deliver on contracts. It was also having a knock-on impact on morale within R&D. A more complete agile transformation, beginning in R&D and driving a wave of change across the wider organisation, promised to address many of these challenges.
Improving organisational agility
Our experts in organisational agility worked closely with Vestas to kick-start the transformation. We have extensive experience in this field. We have proven, through research with over 500 global business leaders, that it essential to build sustainable agility to stay ahead of the pack. We’ve also worked with over 100 organisations – including global biopharmaceutical organisation AstraZeneca, The Danish Agricultural Agency and Ørsted, Denmark’s largest energy producer – to make the case for embracing agility and supported them to make it happen.
Our organisation-level experience is complemented by specific experience. We’ve trained hundreds of teams in SAFe, the world’s leading framework for scaling Agile across the enterprise, and have extensive hands-on experience of leading agile planning. Throughout this engagement, we shared our skills and expertise to enable Vestas developers to quickly become proficient and confident in agile ways of working.
Speeding up time to value
We identified one R&D project perfectly suited to launch the transformation: the development of new software to prevent rotating turbines from casting deep shadows across homes and also to stop them posing a danger to bats in flight. This type of software is increasingly required by different countries before turbines can be installed.
In its existing form, this project was not expected to deliver any value until the full sequence of development activity was complete. We saw the potential to deliver value much sooner by designing for simplicity and developing a minimum viable product (MVP). This would consist of a simple sensor to shut down the turbine when sunlight was too intense and a simple rain sensor to allow the turbine to operate in rainy conditions when bats are unlikely to fly.
Building up to evolve
Future iterations would deliver more sophisticated software to enable optimum operation. In the meantime, this initial solution would enable Vestas to, for the first time, predictably release the software and compile it with environmental control regulations, within a six-month timeframe.
To prepare for the changes ahead, we ran training in Agile methodology (SAFe) for the entire R&D division. This went beyond enabling members to become certified Agile practitioners. With a huge bank of experience behind us, we were able to bring the new ways of working to life and show team members how agility provided an effective framework for the rapid and reliable development of innovative software solutions.
Launching the transformation
We launched the new ways of working with a two-day planning session for the whole group. This type of event – called ‘programme increment planning’ in agile parlance – brings together all teams involved in development and effectively compresses weeks of individual team-to-team interaction into two days. The teams involved applied their new agile knowledge to plan a series of fortnight-long work ‘sprints’ for the weeks ahead.
Through experience, we know that successful transformation requires committed leadership. So we scheduled presentations from business leaders at the start of the session. This was a chance to explain why the development process needed to change and how it would deliver value for the business.
As the teams embarked on their planned sprints, we worked alongside them to help with applying new skills and getting up to speed. The aim was to enable them to practise independently as quickly as possible. As the developers climbed the learning curve, the schedule of sprints, supplemented by a weekly session for all teams led by PA, quickly began to run more and more smoothly. The transformation was underway.
Rapid benefits from moving to agility
Three months in, agile working is starting to deliver many of the advantages Vestas was looking to achieve. The output from the R&D division is now far more predictable. Projects are being delivered on time and on budget, generating far greater levels of customer satisfaction. Tangible business outcomes like these are helping overcome scepticism around agile methods outside the R&D division and preparing the ground for a wider agile transformation. Internal customers are becoming more comfortable with the iterative process and like the way they have regular involvement in shaping product development.
These changes are good news for Vestas’ developers too. They now have a process they can own and continually improve to deliver better-than-ever solutions for customers. The agile framework provides a degree of freedom within a proven framework that controls and focuses development activity. In fact, the process has reduced time to value by 25 per cent. As a result, employee satisfaction measures, taken through internal surveys show a clear lift – employees enjoy the more dynamic, collaborative and fast-paced environment.
Esben Haldrup Eriksen is delighted at the results. “PA agreed clear success criteria with us at the outset. These were measures around improving productivity, increasingly employee satisfaction and enhancing the quality of solutions. They’ve enabled us to hit every one of these targets.”
Being able to develop innovative software, reliably and at pace, enables Vestas to confidently deliver on its contracts to supply countries around the world with advanced wind turbines and clean energy. As climate change pressures mount, being able to accelerate technology innovation in this way could become critical to achieving climate change targets and securing the planet’s future.