Need for Speed: Cubic’s Journey with Tasktop Viz™ and Flow Metrics
“I feel the need — the need for speed” — Peter “Maverick” Mitchell
Just like the sky-soaring heroes of Top Gun, Cubic has only one speed — fast. It’s why the company has racked up so many industry firsts across transportation, defense and beyond. The first electronic stadium scoreboard in the U.S. The first geodetic SECOR satellite surveying system to offer coast-to-coast measurement of the country. The first magnetic strip on automated fare cards. And first to invent the “Top Gun” Air Combat Training System back in the early ‘70s.
Much of Cubic’s success stems from its ability to harness technology to rapidly adapt to the evolving needs of people and society. This agility was illustrated most recently when Cubic was able to swiftly pivot operations in response to the global pandemic, creating facemasks for public transport and reengineering its inflatable GATR satellite systems for mass production of ventilators in Alabama.
At the forefront of Cubic’s Agile transformation to help the company innovate even faster is VP and CTO, Jim Colson, a former IBM fellow and a leading authority in scaling software delivery. Jim has been instrumental in helping the company to double down on software innovation as a product mindset across complex value streams that straddle both software and hardware.
Jim recently co-hosted a webinar with our CEO and founder, Dr. Mik Kersten (author of bestselling Product to Product ) to expand on Cubic’s use of the Flow Framework®, SAFe® and other industry standards, as well as the use of flow diagnostics identified by Tasktop Viz™, to accelerate the pace and velocity of delivery.
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Moving from Project to Product
As Jim explains, Cubic is all-aboard the project to product movement. “We’ve widely distributed Project to Product across engineering. The vision painted in the book, and the corresponding substantiation through Tasktop Viz, are right on the money in terms of things that help with the transformation.”
Accelerating with a Software/Hardware Hybrid
Cubic’s ability to accelerate is all the more impressive given the sheer volume of systems in play and the complexity that brings. On one hand, there are software-related components, from IoT to SaaS to cloud-native and a large legacy code base, on the other, there is the hardware side of things, all of which must move forward at once. The company has been using SAFe and Tasktop Viz to align the software delivery organization and blend in hardware development to improve business agility.
A core tenet of Project to Product book is improving the flow of business value across the IT organization. And as Jim acknowledges, you can’t improve what you can’t see. Flow Metrics, as set out in the Flow Framework, are helping Cubic to see into their product value streams with a language that everyone can understand.
“Visibility at all levels is important but it’s a challenge when companies like Cubic have a broad range of skills and backgrounds,” says Jim. “The Flow Metrics provide a unifying view that transcends any particular skill — you don’t need to be a computer scientist to understand features, defects, debt, risk. This high-level business view makes it more approachable into how the business is working and what’s really happening.”
Cubic’s Success Stories with Tasktop Viz
Providing Visibility across Engineering and Operations
After plugging in the data from the operations team’s tool ( ServiceNow), Cubic saw a steep increase in defect work. These incidents and problems related to API load and evolution for scaling. While the Dev and Ops teams are integrated, Tasktop Viz exposed deeper disconnects and areas where they could instantly improve. “The data backed our team’s intuition that that’s where the issues were,” Jim notes. “We were able to make adjustments within 24 hours of integrating Tasktop Viz.”
Surfacing WIP on Mobile App
“‘Go faster!’ isn’t a magical solution, there’s always something more fundamental getting in the way,” explains Mik. “The key thing is to make things visible, go after the bottlenecks.” This is exactly what Cubic did; Tasktop Viz showed that Flow Load was higher than predicted based on Flow Velocity and Flow Time (107 vs. 13.2), estimated at two months’ worth of work to complete. According to Jim, “The Flow Metrics exposed that our backlog was growing and that we were too busy working on something else. We now have a great visualization of the dynamics of how to manage the balance between backlog and other work.”
The Impact of Shelter at Home on Productivity
Jim acknowledges, “Like everyone, we had to pivot during the pandemic to work from home. We’re very much an in-office business. There was a pause, and complexity from an IT standpoint — it’s not just bringing a computer home.” Using Tasktop Viz, the company could see that wait time increased significantly in April and Flow Efficiency was down. But the team responded well after the transitional period and Jim could see that began to decrease from the end of April onward, as the team took initiative to groom their backlog to assist in the flow of business value going forward.
Tech Debt: A Business Priority
“You can’t let tech debt become an avalanche,” emphasizes Jim. “It’s a secret killer to feature velocity. We have good visibility into tech debt, but we’re driving more. I’ve spoken to Mik about being more refined from a best practice perspective in terms of recording and surfacing it in Tasktop Viz so we can start to see the different types of tech debt that might exist.”
Connecting the Value Stream
Like most enterprises, Cubic’s myriad teams use a vast array of tools across its software delivery value streams, with team sizes that vary from 10 people to 60–70. The company is able to use Tasktop to easily connect the teams to flow the work. Jim: “There’s not a lot of work in terms of integration. A lot of the connectors are built, the domain experts help with mapping — it’s refreshingly lightweight in terms of connectivity and getting it running.”
Business Insights with Tasktop Viz and Flow Metrics
“If you’re interested in Flow Metrics, you have demonstrated a leg up on the competition in terms of what you want actually to understand about your business,” expounds Jim. Cubic has been able to use Tasktop Viz to look under the rocks of the software delivery organization to learn how people are actually using tools across projects and gain an understanding where they could be more prescriptive guidance around that use.
Jim notes how Tasktop can support customers in their respective journeys, saying the “Tasktop team has been great to work with. They have tremendous domain knowledge, insights and experience. I hope we can continue to do great things together.”
Mik is equally buoyed by the partnership. “We’ve seen things move more quickly at Cubic than anywhere else. Their approach has been exemplary.”
You can learn more about Cubic’s exemplary approach and business agility journey with Flow Metrics by watching the webinar on-demand.