Where Target Started
Target was facing some common technology challenges that organizations who have been around for a long time are experiencing.
First, we were lacking a dynamic engineering culture. We outsourced 70% of our engineering needs, which resulted in losing intellectual property and a lack of repeatable solutions.
Secondly, Target’s IT organization was incredibly complex and difficult to work in. Engineers working in silos were not incentivized to build working software or create value, but rather to optimize their specific skill set. Engineering was 3 steps removed from any customer.
And lastly, was our system complexity. Target had previously been so focused on projects vs. products that our complexity and technical debt was massive. There were 800+ different IT projects going on at any given time, with most people assigned to multiple projects.
The start of the Transformation
There have been 4 essential stages of the journey that have emerged so far.
1. Grassroots Communities
At the beginning, we started with a few internal people and created a small set of grassroots groups to show success. These groups were driven by a belief that there was a better way to deliver value to Target. These groups helped promote their new mindsets within the organization, became a part of our external local community, attended meet-ups, host internal conferences and talks, and attended external conferences. We reached out to other companies to learn from their transformations.
2. Unleashed our change agents and enabled them to demonstrate success
In order to solve our silo problem, we started Flashbuilds – bringing people together with the right skill sets from different parts of the organization around one table for a day or two to solve the problem. We found early success and wanted to spread the fun. The problem with the Flashbuilds was they could only solve small problems in a couple of days, so we expanded the idea.
We stretched out the day or two Flashbuilds into a 30-day Challenge to tackle larger issues. In the new model, we saw even more success and enabled engineers to learn from each other and cross-train while tackling the problem. When the challenge was over, they’d go back to their old team and old way of working. We knew we needed a bigger change to make the success in order to fuel learning and adoption.
3. Tops Down Support
In 2015, our new CIO came in with a directive in a language that we can all relate to: advance adoption of Product, Lean, Agile, and DevOps mindsets, continue modernization of tools & methodologies, increase speed & agility, and pay down tech debt. The organization was transformed into a product based organization with dedicated teams. The culture started to change with a focus on engineering, value delivery, and continuous learning.
4. Scaling to the organization
After getting support from leadership, the question at hand was how do these Grassroots groups now support an entire organization? How do you scale transforming an engineering culture while promoting principles and mindsets including Product, Lean, Agile, and DevOps? There wasn't just one way, but multiple different venues that were used. A few of the most popular ones are highlighted below.
We effectively trained hundreds of engineers, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and leaders on the new mindsets almost entirely with internal coaches. Before teams enter the Dojo, their experience was that it would take 3-6 months to provision hardware and software for the purposes of development, integration, and testing. After leaving the Dojo, it would take a few hours. Today, a team can spin up an enviornment in 300 seconds.
With the move from a project to a product organization, we embraced persistent teams that would come into the Dojo and return to their home environment together were they could continue to learn and grow. As a result, they were able to demonstrate successes in driving customer-centric value to their partner teams.
We’ve now completed 200+ challenges and continue to grow and evolve, including adding two new Dojo spaces, one in Bangalore and one in Downtown Minneapolis. Our CIO calls the Dojo "our best space in technology" in Forbes magazine.
Getting thousands of people to adopt a new mindsets does not happen overnight. To move quickly, we invested in external training and consulting early on, but once we were rolling, only minor amounts of supplemental consulting and training expenses were required. Training was offered early in the transformation along with online self paced trainings. In addition, we skilled up an internal team of Agile/Product and Technical Coaches to support the organization.
Both internal and external conferences played a role in the transformation. The Grassroots groups were organizing internal conferences from early on. They would bring in external experts to speak and promote the mindset and share successes. Over time, we started to incorporate more and more internal team members, who shared and demonstrated their own learnings, accomplishments, and offerings. This promoted the learning culture that Target is focused on building.
Communities of Practice
As the organization continued to grow, team members who had similar interests in a topic started to form a community of practice, which proved to be a great way for team members to learn from one another without the need for formal training or a full conference to do so.
Although having trainings, conferences, the Dojo and much more are great, how do teams get help if they need something while they are working on their product? To address this, Target established Open Labs at all Dojo locations, which is where teams or individuals can stop in, talk to a coach, and get help with any Product, Agile, or Technolocay issues, as well as answer questions, or get focused coaching.
Quarterly Product Planning
Quarterly Product Planning (QPP) is a designated week each quarter where products proactively work through cross-product dependencies for the upcoming quarter. Within QPP week, Target hosts a Demo Day, which is where all products are welcome to share the work they delivered in the previous quarter and share their Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) & directional plans for the upcoming quarter. A Dependency Alignment Forum will provide product teams with executive support to work through dependency conflicts that arise that have not be resolved by the products themselves.
The transformation is never done. There is always something to learn, something to do better, or a new technology that can help us drive value to our customers. Being a few years into our transformation, we have learned a lot, but will never turn down the opportunity to share our what we have learned and to learn from others.