Intuit forces IT, engineers into room until they get it right

Experimentation groups could be no larger than two pizzas could feed

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. -- Prior to instituting a change management program, the IT group at financial and tax preparation software company Intuit took eight weeks to complete a business developer's service ticket.

As in many businesses, at Intuit IT and business rarely if ever mixed. IT did what it thought it needed to in order to fulfill requests and advance technology, and business users did what they could to avoid IT.

But, after a radical change management program was instituted by Intuit's new CIO, the eight-week project fulfillments dropped to one day.

Intuit CIO Sasan Goodarzi spoke at the SNW Fall 2012 conference here today and said that when he came into Intuit 15 months ago, he asked the IT team how they thought they were delivering for its customers: the software engineers, sales and customer care personnel, and ultimately the external customers.

"They showed me dashboards that were yellow and green and said things are going sort of OK. Here's what's not going well," Goodarzi said.

Then Goodarzi asked the same of the business side.

"What I heard from them was, 'We do everything we can to get around working with you. You do nothing but slow us down,'" he said.

Inuit used both internal and external cloud services to fulfill user requests, along with a set of service-level agreements, or SLAs.

We own the hosting platform in the cloud, whether public or private, on which the applications get built, along with the monitoring and the running of it," Goodarzi said. "We also own the business platform, from the Web capability to the CRM (customer relationship management) solutions for our sales employees to the back-end office tools."

Goodarzi told his IT team there would no longer be any IT projects and even changed his group's name to Global Enterprise Solutions (GES).

"The change has been driven from the fact that we had to really understand what it mean to go mobile ... social ... global," Goodarzi said.

The holder of an MBA from Northwestern University, Goodarzi had special insight into the business operations at Intuit. He had previously led several major businesses in the company. He had also been CEO of clean energy company Nexant.

Intuit's GES group got an education in mindset from Goodarzi. Every worker was required to understand Intuit's business strategy and what the business outcome would be for any project. Somewhat more radical was Goodarzi's requirement that IT and business get into the same proverbial boat, and take equal responsibility for the outcome of any project.

Goodarzi was serious about the boat thing. He forced server, storage and network administrators, software engineers, service delivery workers -- among others -- to get in a room and experiment with ways to streamline projects. The goal? Get projects completed in one day.

Goodarzi also established "the pizza rule."

"We believe firmly that you need to put small teams together that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas. With small teams -- the right end-to-end members -- we found they can move quickly and experiment quickly," he said.

A meeting would start out with an engineer or other user stating what they needed. The IT team would then explain how they'd go about providing it and users would provide feedback about whether it met their needs. What both sides discovered was there had been a lot of wasted effort in the past.

"We looked at all the places where the process broke down," Goodarzi said.

For example, about one-sixth of the 120,000 help desk calls that came into IT every year involved password lockouts. So users asked for the ability to unlock their accounts. The IT team spent a couple months developing a slick mobile app that allowed users to reset their own passwords. Problem is, it sounded great but no one used it.

"What was happening is a lot of time was being lost because we didn't understand what the business needed," Goodarzi said. "We discovered people reply to text. So we created another app that we're rolling out in the next month or so. If you get locked out, we'll send you text, and if you want to get unlocked, you send a reply."

As the teams worked together, they came up with hypotheses on how the process could work more efficiently and they experimented, working over and over again to shave off the amount of time it took to complete a service request.

Bit by bit, the days it took to complete a request dropped off until it got to one day for any small to medium-sized request. For example, one such group worked on the process of allocating storage, network, compute nodes along with access rights for a database setup. The team hoped to experiment fast, fail fast and then move forward fast to a solution.

Intuit has taken the all in one boat-theory to its external business and tax customers as well, opening up their platform for users to customize for their own purposes.

For example, Intuit spent years developing 150 business reports, such as Intuit's QuickBooks accounting software, sales reports and profits and loss reports. Once business customers were allowed to customize their reports, Intuit quickly learned what had actually been needed.

"What we found was that the top 25 reports used by our clients had actually been created by our customers," Goodarzi said.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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