New Case Study: Northwestern Mutual Delivers 18 Months Ahead of Schedule with SAFe

New Case Study: Northwestern Mutual Delivers 18 Months Ahead of Schedule with SAFe

Case Studies

“We had been challenged a number of times in changing our underlying CRM platform. After implementing SAFe, our overall effort actually came in $12M less than originally estimated and 18 months sooner than predicted.”

Bryan Kadlec, Director, Client Digital Experience


How do you change a deeply ingrained Waterfall culture? For a 160-year old life insurance company, it wasn’t easy, but it was ultimately worth it.

Our latest case study from Northwestern Mutual (NWM) tells the story. In 2012, a company-wide push for continuous learning and improvement led the organization to consider Agile in earnest. At the time, it took more than 300 days and many iterations to deliver value to customers. Efforts to improve had been stymied by an entrenched waterfall culture.

For a company that helps clients manage risk, ironically, the business realized that it had to take some risk to move forward. Business unit leaders found the platform they needed in SAFe, and became the first large company in Wisconsin to deploy the Framework.

Prior to the first Program Increment (PI) planning event, transformation leaders trained as SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) and additionally tapped SAFe Fellow Jennifer Fawcett to facilitate. At that first event, they launched four Agile Release Trains (ARTs).

At NWM, training was key, and in fact served as the first Sprint for some. By the second PI event, again with Jennifer facilitating, Release Train Engineers had a sense of ownership. As for changing the longtime waterfall culture, coaching proved essential, especially at the beginning.

Since deploying SAFe, Northwestern Mutual has seen a number of benefits that contribute toward the bottom line:

  • Collection Feature Cycle Time improved 30-50%
  • IT delivers requested capabilities 80-90 percent of the time
  • The overall effort on a project came in $12 million less than originally estimated and 18 months sooner than predicted

Now in year three of their implementation, and with 12 PIs behind them, the company has 14 ARTs in progress across a wide range of product areas. Northwestern Mutual also provides leadership for SAFe in Wisconsin, starting a Scaling Agile Meetup group that has drawn as many as 300 attendees.

Check out the full case study here.

Many thanks to Jill Schindler, IT Manager, Client Digital Experience, SPC; Bryan Kadlec, IT Director, Client Digital Experience, SPC; and Sarah Scott, Agile Lean Organization Coach, SPC4, for sharing their SAFe story.

Stay SAFe,
—Dean

Author Info

Dean Leffingwell

Recognized as the one of the world’s foremost authorities on Lean-Agile best practices, Dean Leffingwell is an author, entrepreneur, and software development methodologist.

Leave a Reply