A Tale of Two Transformations: Bringing Lean and Agile Software Development to Life, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

A Tale of Two Transformations

Bringing Lean and Agile Software Development to Life, 1st Edition

By Michael K. Levine

Productivity Press

323 pages | 36 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2011-12-05
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There are many books that seek to explain Lean and Agile software that offer theory, techniques, and examples. Michael Levine’s first book, A Tale of Two Systems, is one of the best, synthesizing Lean manufacturing and product development with agile software concepts in an engaging business novel. However, there has been precious little practical guidance for those seeking to change existing organizations to become Lean and Agile, until now. Mr. Levine has followed the successful approach of A Tale of Two Systems, telling two simultaneous intertwined and contrasting stories, to bring organizational transformation to life. 

Mary O’Connell and James "Wes" Wesleyan, recently engaged to be married, share a commitment to Lean and Agile Software. They have recently become leaders in two very different companies – one, stuck in a slow-moving, unresponsive, process-driven quagmire of a software culture; the other, struggling through the chaos of a sales-driven, process-less swirl. Together with their wise mentor, Neville Roberts, they identify two approaches to making needed changes: Drive People (a top-down approach focused on processes and tools), and People Driven (an enablement approach focused on people and organizations). Mary and Wes evaluate their situations and choose approaches that best fit for them, and the transformations commence. 

A Tale of Two Transformations differs from many information technology books by grappling with all the complexities of our organizations: the people, the politics, the financials, the processes – in short, the culture from which our Lean and Agile journeys must begin. The change model presented in the flow of the stories is generally applicable, and can help anyone thinking about how to improve their organization. 


The story-telling approach, with a summary of the lessons and insights at the end of each chapter, is an engaging way to learn…. My hat is off to Mr. Levine for writing a book that both entertains and teaches. Not an easy task, but masterfully done in this case.

—John G. Schmidt, Vice President for Enterprise Initiatives, Informatica & author of Lean Integration

Finally! A book about Lean and Agile software development for the executives who want to make the transition - from someone who has been there … deals with a broad array of leadership problems, from discovering chief engineers, to dealing with demanding sales managers to pulling back from outsourcing.

— Mary Poppendieck, Author of Lean Software Development, Implementing Lean Software Development, and Leading Lean Software Development

Table of Contents


Wes’s Challenge at MCCA: February

Narrator: Wes

MCCA’s Past (in Microfilm) versus Its Future (in Information Management)

MCCA’s Transformation Goal: Fix Operations and Build New Technology Products

Wes’s New Role: New Product Development, Including Technology

Wes’s New Organization and People


Mary’s Challenge at FinServia: February

Narrator: Mary

FinServia’s Troubles: Glacial, Unresponsive Product Development

FinServia’s Transformation Goal: Faster and Cheaper

Setting Initial Approaches for Both Companies: February

Narrator: Wes

Building a Lean and Agile Change Model

Comparing the Two Opportunities, and Selecting an Approach

Wes and Mary Make Their Initial Plans



Getting to Know the MCCA Team and Culture: March

Narrator: Wes

Meeting My Development Team

Transforming Operations, Including the Relationship with Sales

Wes Visits San Diego National Insurance

Preparing to Meet SDNI

Listening for Customer Value

Understanding the Customer’s Needs


Reorienting FinServia’s Relationship with GRI: March

Narrator: Mary

GRI’s Death Grip on Finservia’s Technology

Meeting with GRI: Being Clear about What FinServia Needs

GRI Goals and the Win–Win


Solving the Chief Engineer Puzzle at MCCA: March

Narrator: Wes

Finding a Project Manager to Handle Part of the Chief Engineer Role

Finding a Product Manager to Handle Part of the Chief Engineer Role

Exploring Alternative Development Models: Powerful Individual Chief Engineers versus Development Teams of Peers



Six Weeks to Change the FinServia Organization: April

Narrator: Mary

Early Week One: Planning the FinServia Development Organization

Option 1: A Functional Organization

Option 2: A Divisional Organization

Option 3: A Matrix Organization

Option 4: Chief Engineers with Shared Support

Later in Week One: Planning the Transition with GRI

Week Four: Selecting the People

Week Six: Announcement Day


Six Weeks to Start the MCCA Transformation: May

Narrator: Wes

Week One: Preparing for the Management Scrum

Week Two: Assembling and Training the Team

The Team Assembles: Overview Training

MCCA Value Defined by Owners, Customers

Lean Product Development Introduced

Agile Software Development: An Implementation of Lean Product Development

Agile Introduced

Scrum Explained

Next Steps

Week Four: Creating the Management Backlog and the Release Plan

Week Six: Lean Team Scrum Meeting



Making Delivery Commitments at FinServiea: May

Narrator: Mary

The Classic Struggle: Setting Dates and Costs

The Date/Cost Commitment Struggle at FinServia

Configuring Agile Releases: Distributing to and Managing Multiple Backlogs


MCCA Engages with Its Sales Force and Customers at DocWorld: Late July

Narrator: Wes

Wes’s Six-Month Retrospective

User Conference Preparation: The Product Roadmap and Customer Engagement Planning

Connie and Wes Agree on Sales Guidance

Partnering with Customers and Prospects: Demos and Backlogs


Sprint 1 Demo at FinServia—Dealing with Disappointment: July

Narrator: Mary

Mary’s Six-Month Retrospective

Tools Can Help, Tools Can Hurt

Results of Sprint 1 Disappointing: The Sprint Demo

Discord during the Sprint

Ready or Not, Sprint and Demo

Reviewing the Plan for Sprint 1

(Lack of) Accomplishments of Sprint 1

Code Demo for Sprint 1

Sprint 1 Retrospective

Margaret Plans and Facilitates the Retrospective


Jack’s Gambit at MCCA

Narrator: Wes

Phillip Spills the Beans

Getting Advice from Connie

Jack’s Proposal

Mary and Wes Consider Lynn’s Options

Lynn Hollander Makes Her Choice


Sustaining Lean and Agile: December

Narrator: Wes

Comparing the MCCA and FinServia Experiences

Sustaining a Lean and Agile Software Culture

Building Towering Technical Competence

Building and Sustaining Cultural Values

Strategic Planning and Study

Customer-Focused, Hands-On Leaders

Lightweight Processes



Transforming to Become Lean and Agile

Summary of the People Driven Approach

Summary of the Drive People Approach

Vision and Leadership

Set a Simple and Compelling Vision

Build a Supporting Coalition

Make a Plan, Specific to Your Reality

Use Integrating Events

Accelerate Delivery

Find Outside Wisdom

Encourage Engagement and Debate, within Limits

Understand Your Boundaries

It’s (Almost) Always about the Money


Give Existing Leaders a Chance

Let Obstructionists Continue Their Careers Elsewhere

Stir Up the Pot by Adding Some New Blood

Get Them to Do It Themselves

Build Chief Engineers, but Adapt to the Situation at Hand

Teach to Lead, and Lead by Teaching

Spreading Knowledge—Institutionalize Knowledge and Learning

"You Go to War with the Army You Have"2 or Build Your Capability before You Build Your Software


Customer Focus

Demolish the Barriers: We Are All "The Business"

Small Intact Teams


Process Can Drive Lean/Agile Change, but It’s Not Enough by Itself

Start Slow and Simple

PDCA Yourself!

Methods—Don’t Overprescribe

But Do Insist on Some Basic Practices


Tools Can Help, but Be Careful!

Vendor Partnerships

Final Words



About the Author

Michael K. Levine has led a 26-year career primarily focused on how to profit through the application of information technology. He was educated in international relations and economics at Carleton College and Princeton University and began his career in international trade negotiation in Washington, D.C. He moved on to commercial lending and financial product management at First Bank System in Minneapolis. In each of his early jobs, he saw the promise of applying information technology to solve business problems; eventually, he moved his career more formally in that direction by joining Norwest Corporation as strategic technology planner and large-scale software project manager.

Michael continued his immersion in technology leadership when he became chief technology officer of Moore Data/Vista Information Solutions, a leading provider of information technology solutions to the real estate field. For the last 6 years, Michael has been at Wells FargoHome Mortgage, leading Operations and Technology Groups. One of the constant elements in Michael’s work has been the innovative, business-driven application of information technology. The accomplishments of his teams range from the first system to calculate duties on unfair trade, to cross-business line customer information systems in two large banks, to an early Internet-based real estate search engine, to an image-based, straight-through/exception-based loan processing system.

His continuing search for better ways to build complex business software drew him to the operations and product development approaches coming out of Toyota (Lean) and the Agile software development movement. Michael and his teams have used many of the Lean and Agile approaches over the last several years. This practical application experience, in addition to his extensive, successful career at the junction of business operations and software technology, gives Michael a unique, practical perspective on how business leaders can improve their results through better technology leadership.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Quality Control
COMPUTERS / Information Technology