'Agile' mindset allows team to run

Continuous testing adds speed, responsiveness to program

When Deana Taylor interviewed in 2020 to become the senior program manager on a sensor program at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, the former Army captain was made well aware the customer had a tight – very tight – schedule to meet an operational need in the field.

Her response: “Sign me up.”

Her confidence came, in part, from the program’s use of Agile – an engineering approach that allows for different parts of a product to be developed and tested in parallel, rather than in a set sequence.

That program, called the Tactical Airborne Sensor, or TAS, is a two-in-one aircraft sensor that combines tactical and wide-area search capabilities. It’s now among the business’ foremost achievements in Agile – and further evidence of its shift from traditional, decades-long development cycles to fast, modern methods.

“There is a leap of faith,” Taylor said. “I have to lead from the front. I have to be fearless, optimistic, and motivating – even when I may be worried – I have to allow the team to run. We have to share our work, show our status and be OK with failing fast – together.”

“Agile is a nimble mindset that can result in fast-turn results, but only through enforcing clear and effective communications,” Taylor said. “that transcend across our now deployed workforce.” Here are three ways Taylor’s team has embraced Agile.

Be intentional to be Agile

Taylor is quick to give credit to Jennifer Benson, an ACT colleague, and others who proposed the TAS program, in large part because they secured a statement of work that was designed to support an Agile approach from the get-go.

“It’s mere paragraphs vs. legacy contracts that would be pages upon pages of detailed requirements and deliverables,” Taylor said. “There’s not a lot of detail in it, allowing us to work with the customer as we progress.”

She also stressed the importance of delivering on the promise to the customer that “we will communicate early and often.”

The Agile mantra still has to be reinforced throughout standard work, via weekly scrums, weekly executive action team meetings, weekly bill of material meetings and a host of other 15-minute get-togethers. But Taylor said the right foundation was crucial.

“Being Agile takes the right people and the right construct,” she said.

Be fearless

Taylor’s ties to Raytheon Technologies pre-date her employment at the company.

Working as an Army Signal Officer during Operation Iraqi Freedom, she said that her “best night’s sleep was under the watchful eye of a Patriot missile battery.” She was providing the communications link for the Patriots – made by Raytheon Missiles & Defense – during the operation’s initial invasion.

What’s also carried through from her military career is a certain fearlessness, driven by her passion for serving the country, along with a boots-on-the-ground mentality that helps drive engagement and ownership at every level.

Tim Clark, RI&S’ director for Advanced Electro-Optics, said Taylor is “spearheading our push into Agile program management for hardware-heavy research and development programs with significant impacts on how we approach the engineering-supply chain relationship and processes.”

“TAS is highly schedule-driven and Deana’s embrace of the ‘fail fast’ mentality and Agile processes have proven invaluable to meeting our commitments to this customer,” Clark said.

Be trusting and transparent

A push to fail fast, by its nature, involves failure. And that can be a stumbling block in getting everyone on board with an Agile approach.

Taylor said it’s important to stress the assumption that everyone on the team is working with the best of intentions. Retrospectives are essential to the Agile framework. If there’s a failure, then Taylor encourages her team to figure out what can be learned from the situation and move on.

The key is to work through those steps quickly, with a focus on being nimble enough to adjust and change. Taylor often tells her team, “Let’s do this!”

“It fosters an environment where people are going to speak up and share their work,” she said. “I can’t have a team member holding back because they think I’m going to think poorly of them. I always remind them that I know they have the best of intentions.”