UCAS – Transferring from waterfall to an agile approach

An Agile Transformation: the exceptional results

How UCAS delivered the same product, to the same customer group, more successfully by adopting Agile ways of working.

UCAS is an independent charity providing information, advice, and admissions services to inspire and facilitate educational progression.

UCAS realized that the need to change was fundamental to its business model. Bethanie Williams (Head of Service Development) shares how UCAS delivered a product using traditional Waterfall methods, and then redeveloped this same product using an Agile approach.

Watch the webinar to hear the remarkable results UCAS experienced from its change.


Emergn Case Study - UCAS Webinar


We received some more questions during and after the webinar. Have a look below to see the responses:

Thanks for the talk! You mentioned that you have Scrum teams, but that the teams own their delivery process – have any teams ended up using different methodologies, and if so, has that been beneficial or challenging?

No. None of the teams have used different methodologies, however, they might employ different tools in sprints ie. Kanban or Scrum. That said, those teams working on COTS products do have different processes and ways of working to in-house development teams. This approach works for us, with certain things needing to be standardized across the whole development lifecycle ie. release process.

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

I don’t think there is anything I would necessarily do differently. I might suggest that I would have accelerated some areas. For example, defining a strategic architecture when trying to be agile and get features out of the door can be quite conflicting, so I would have preferred the architecture to be ramped up sooner and broken ahead at a pace just ahead of the Agile Scrum teams.

With dropping all the governance and trying to be truly clean of all reporting, for us, the pendulum swung too far, we’ve picked back up some governance reporting now and there will always be the danger that the pendulum swings back the other way, again to ‘full on’ governance – controlling that can get tough treading the steady path, not too much, but just the right amount is difficult and challenges us. Fortunately we have an exec that remembers the pain of the mass reporting.

Finally, we didn’t necessarily set out with a set of measures but we did have a roadmap which we’ve been delivering against – KPIs being defined upfront may have given us a better direction on occasions to ensure expectations were being met.

When you developed your new product through Agile – was there any data migrated from your old product, or was a completely new product built? If data was migrated – how was it handled with Agile?

Yes, we did migrate legacy data into our new products and we did this an iterative way, effectively, field by field. As we built out the new field in the new product, we populated it with the migrated data.

How far reaching into the organization has Agile ways of working been integrated?

As I mentioned earlier, we kicked off the Emergn education program which covered circa 140 odd people across the whole of UCAS from lots of different teams. We’ve subsequently set up our induction program which we regularly see individuals signing up for. We have to date had 6 cohorts go through this which is circa 60 people in total and we will continue to roll that out for new starters, etc. When we recruit new people, Agile tends to feature in the role profile in terms of the culture ethos. Through our BORA team we help individual members of staff learn more about the changes to our culture and ways of working, especially if they are about to be impacted on as a result of a specific product development.

Whilst UCAS did have an initial desire to turn the whole organization agile, some areas have been less suited to this culture shift for example, Procurement, the very nature of their work tends to lend itself to be better suited to a waterfall methodology, however, that said, there is joint respect towards both ways of working. We tend to find now that where teams who traditionally employ waterfall, e.g procurements, they also engage with Agile tools to support their working practices. i.e. early feedback methods, stand-ups and Kanban boards.

If you have more questions about Emergn’s work at UCAS, please feel free to email us.

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