UPDATED 14:42 EDT / JANUARY 29 2021


IBM Garage’s agile techniques are remaking the company’s services unit

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated deployment of cloud-based projects worldwide and the IBM Corp. Garage is reaping the benefits.

The co-creation and agile development unit within IBM’s Global Business Services organization saw client engagements soar from 300 last January to 1,500 this month even as its workforce pivoted to virtual offices. The unit’s grounding in cloud and virtual collaboration tools help to make the switch with no lost work days and a 40% increase project completion speed, according to Debbie Vavangas, global lead for IBM Garage.

Launched in 2014 as a means to onboard customers to the IBM cloud, Garage has caught fire within the historically buttoned-down company, expanding to 16 locations while the diversifying beyond cloud applications to broader business innovation consulting.

The Garage methodology stresses trendy concepts like design thinking, continuous delivery and integration, DevOps development techniques, problem-solving “war rooms” and the conversational code development technique called ChatOps.

IBM’s Vavangas: Garage is “a framework that brings innovation into the heart of your enterprise.” Photo: IBM

“It’s a framework that brings innovation into the heart of your enterprise,” Vavangas said. “We combine lean startup, continuous improvement, agile development, design thinking and IBM’s suite of capabilities to enable digital transformation faster.”

But practitioners say the approach is more than just following trends. “We measure and quantify everything,” Vavangas said. “I can tell you the cost per sprint for every project.”

A survey by the Forrester Consulting arm of Forrester Research Inc. that IBM Commissioned last year reported that the Garage methodology doubles the number of projects customers release to production and slashes two-thirds of the average time to delivery, with an average return on investment of over 100%.

Culture change

The methodology’s goal is to “fundamentally change the way our clients work and how they can use innovation to drive transformation,” she said. It also blurs the line between the client’s organization and IBM’s. “There is no ‘our view’ and ‘your view,’” Vavangas said in a video interview. “There’s just the view. This is what’s happening.”

The pandemic has accelerated both IBM Garage’s business and its visibility within the parent company as businesses have had to swiftly pivot to e-commerce, remote sales and digital collaboration. “Clients need to invest better and know what they’re getting,” Vavangas said.

Last week Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit in the U.K. reported that a website overhaul conducted in concert with Garage had yielded a 59% increase in online sales inquiries in the U.K. this year despite a 30% decline in car sales. The company said it broke its daily sales inquiry record three times in the month of June alone.

IBM Garage designers conducted nearly 1,500 hours of user research in helping Frito-Lay Inc. overhaul its e-commerce and logistics systems to enable small businesses that couldn’t previously do business with the supplier directly to place orders and even get customized recommendations. The project has gained the snack giant more than 30,000 active customers. Another co-developed initiative, Sales Hub, streamlines delivery routes and provides drivers and managers with a mobile app to improve visibility into driver performance.

Now IBM is in the process of training its entire GBS workforce in the methodology. Some 30,000 IBMers and clients have completed the 17 hours of online education on the agile methodology and all or part of the 45 additional hours of learning modules. “There’s a commitment that Garage will be the primary way people work with IBM,” Vavangas said.

IBM Chief Financial Officer James Kavanaugh said as much during IBM’s recent fourth-quarter earnings call. “Our consulting signings grew 8%, driven by advisory work for application modernization and enabled by our unique and experiential Garage methodology,” he said. “That allows us to co-create with our clients earlier in the sales process.”

Photo: Flickr CC

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