A Force for Good: How TrueBlue is "Accelerating" Connecting People with Work (US 2021)

TrueBlue (NYSE:TBI) is likely not a recognized household name, but through our company brands, PeopleReady, PeopleManagement, and PeopleScout, we are a force for good by connecting thousands of people to work opportunities each and every day. In 2019, TrueBlue put 724,000 people to work and helped 139,000 companies find talent around the world. The way the world works has changed dramatically and across the globe the key challenge is finding the right talent to do the job. Our story is how TrueBlue is radically transforming the staffing and recruitment outsourcing industry through technology innovation and broadening our service offerings to reach more markets and connect more people with work they love. First, though, TrueBlue needed to transform itself into a capable technology company fueled by innovation and unburdened by legacy "IT" thinking, outdated development and operations practices, and the no-longer-best-practices enshrined throughout its IT culture. In 2018, TrueBlue was a global workforce solutions enterprise with $2.5B in annual revenue. However, technology innovation was missing and "IT" was relegated to a back office organization to be cost-optimized. IT transformations are already critical to every industry and the companies that serve them and TrueBlue was left facing a bleak future if it could not effect a change. Learn how TrueBlue knew its future success depended on radically transforming its business towards technology to serve the future of digital workforce management. TrueBlue adopted learnings from the pioneers in the DOES community to empower its leaders and employees and to define, guide, implement and measure its own IT organization transformation from slow and irrelevant to a lean, empowered, and innovative engine for industry leading disruption and growth.

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Jeff Dirks

Chief Information & Technology Officer, TrueBlue


Carter McHugh

Vice President, Technology, PeopleScout, a TrueBlue Company



Hi, I'm Jeff jerks. I am the chief information and technology officer for TrueBlue.


Hi, and I'm Carter McHugh. I'm the VP of technology for people scout a true blue company. Very excited to be here today with you, Jeff, and, uh, addressing the, uh, DevOps enterprise summit for 2021. Uh, this is a very exciting time for me. Uh, I've been in enterprise, uh, dev ops summit attendees since, uh, 2016. So this is my fifth year and my first, uh, presenting. So, uh, very excited to be here. And can't wait to talk a little bit about, uh, the training transitions that true blue has made, uh, over the past few years as we've embraced a lot of dev ops and lean concepts.


All right, that's great. Well, let's first introduce a true blue and a, we are a, a 2 billion revenue company that spans the staffing continuum in north America. We put, uh, nearly, uh, 400,000 people of work, uh, per year. Uh, we do about 30,000 payrolls a week, and, uh, we're a force for good making it easier and simplified for people to connect with work, whether it's a day labor, uh, recruiting process outsourcing, uh, or a staffing, uh, pick pack and ship operations for a key clients across the United States. In terms of our technology stack, uh, we have, uh, three primary products that span our three business lines. Job stack is our iOS and Android, uh, native mobile applications for, uh, associates who are looking for day labor and clients who are looking for laborers to do work. Uh, and the focus of job stack is to simplify how we match the need for work with folks who want to get work done. Uh, our staff track, uh, application for, uh, people management helps to operationalize and management, uh, workers, uh, across the a hundred various different job sites in terms of a staffing plant pick pack and ship operations and our aesthetics application, uh, automates the recruiting process outsourcing services that we provide for our clients, uh, here in the United States and abroad.


Thanks, Jeff, that's great, uh, introduction to true blue and, uh, TrueBlue is really a great company, a force for good because we connect people with work. And if we go back in time a little bit, uh, to 20th, uh, 18, which is the first year Jeff, that you started, uh, in your role as, uh, as CIO and CTO for true blue. And at the time there were a lot of challenges we faced. Uh, talk to us a little bit about some of the challenges that you into when you entered the organization.


Yeah. From a challenges standpoint, in terms of technology supporting the business, it was a, uh, very much a, uh, an old school. It service management, it, uh, ITIL focus, very siloed, uh, very, um, uh, disconnected with thinking about what our respective businesses needed or were going to need in terms of anticipation. And I really call this the flywheel of decay that our, uh, revenue growth was beginning to slow. Uh, we had margin erosion, uh, which of course drives, uh, it will cost cutting pressures, uh, which leads to more people having to get more work done across more systems. Uh, and that really put us on our heels versus, uh, you know, leaning in and thinking about, uh, where the business was going. We were caught in this, uh, this flywheel of the K, uh, which does that really stagnation, uh, as the business was trying to accelerate and anticipate how we could simplify, uh, how people connect with work, uh, you know, creating more client value, generating more growth and value, um, as a result for our clients. But we were bunkered as a technology organization. We were focused on cost cutting, uh, focused on, uh, controls, uh, oversight. Uh, we weren't nimble, uh, we had a significant amount of investment, uh, out of our total it resources about 70% was spent on back office KTOO. And, uh, we were understaffed the trying to do too many things with the aging systems, and we were very much disconnected from what the business needed out of technology to be competitive in the north American staffing market.


And so what did that mean? Uh, we were in the danger zone with respect to being disintermediated by technology innovation in, uh, what has otherwise been a, uh, a fairly old school industry, uh, with, uh, laggard technology adoption. It was beginning to transform and be completely optimized through technology innovation.


Thanks, Jeff, that's a great introduction to a lot of the challenges that we had when you entered into the business. And, uh, I entered into the business and that's, uh, not long after you did. Uh, and, uh, that was kind of at the end of, uh, of 2019. And, uh, you had a big vision for where we wanted to start and how we would go about, uh, transforming our technology organizations to really better serve the business. And we started with these things with a lot of great concepts that right, that existed in modern, uh, technology organizations and modern software delivery cycles. Uh, you know, we had a vision for two pizza teams. Uh, we had a vision for adopting public cloud and getting out of our data center, brittle and data and, uh, data center infrastructure. Uh, we wanted to shift security left, right? We talked about, we were very control focused, and we really wanted to get into modern DevSecOps.


Uh, we wanted our two pizza teams that one, what they build and stop utilizing so many, a shared services capabilities, uh, that were not serving the business well. And we wanted to adopt continuous delivery. We wanted it to deliver more value more quickly to the business. And when we started this, there was a great excitement, uh, around this from, uh, from a lot of the teams to, to do this and reorganize around these concepts. And so we got to work right away. We, we reorganized the two pizza teams. Uh, we migrated a lot of our infrastructure, uh, away from our proprietary, uh, data centers and into a public cloud. We bought tools to help shift security left and integrate that into the software delivery life cycle. We bought more tools to help us run what we build. Uh, we bought even more tools to help us continuously integrate and deliver our software, but the questions really came pretty quickly after that from the teams, despite all of our investments, we really wondered, are we better? And what are we really better at? Uh, do we better understand the business's needs? Are we more efficiently delivering greater value to our business partners? Do our business partners really understand and value technology and what it can do for their, uh, problems and what solutions that can offer.


We summed it up and really had to ask ourselves, what do we know about ourselves? Are we capable of delivering more of what matters for our business? So as we enter 2020, we had a lot of opinions, but not many facts. Most of these opinions, uh, were from a lot of leading technology companies, the Facebooks, the Amazons, the Googles, they all have great engineering practices and great technology and great opinions about how to implement those, uh, practices, but we needed more purpose and guidance beyond that's what they do. So we should do it as well.


And very fortunately, we were gifted the book of accelerate by Dr. Forsgren and jazz humble. It was really gifted us, the data-driven insights into how high-performance organizations of all kinds perform. And so we set out that winter as a leadership team, we all dove in and made sure that we read accelerate cover to cover and really understood what it was saying. And when we returned in February of that year, we had a leadership meeting, all armed with facts, and we understood what performance levers we could measure against lead time. Our deployment frequencies, our meantime, to restore our services and change, fail percentages when we make changes. So this was great. This was gave us a great start on what we needed to measure and how we could set some organizational goals around these areas. And we made some decisions really quickly. And one of the first ones was that every team would baseline their current metrics and they would measure these things quarterly.


It was important that we set this for every team. We didn't let any teams opt out. We didn't let teams say I have too much legacy systems to take this on. We didn't let teams say, well, I'm just a corporate, a shared services team. So this doesn't apply to me. This only applies to a business applications. We knew it was important for all the teams to adopt these things so that we could get improved performance as a high performance organization across every part of our business. In a second important decision that we made was that we were not going to set any universal improvement targets such as everyone must increase by 20% or a hundred percent or a thousand, uh, move from, uh, four releases to, uh, release every day. Instead, we let teams make their own commitments, uh, around around these measures. And we learned some things.


We learned that some teams were very Greenfield. Uh, they didn't have a lot of legacy burden. They might've been a new application or a new platform that was being developed. And so they said some very aggressive goals, uh, sometimes even around deploying every day or every user story that was, uh, coded and reviewed and test it. And some teams were really, uh, more burdened with running our legacy systems. And there was a lot of complexity involved in those and a lot of business demands, uh, to keep those tools operational and stabilized. And so they had a little bit more modest improvement goals, a little bit less room to work right away, but nonetheless, they were had goals and they set out to improve and try and reach those goals.


And the last thing that we determined is that visibility was required. Uh, teams were required to come and publish their metrics each quarter, and then they had to share their learnings about those metrics, uh, quarter over quarter. And this really helped us encourage a culture of transparency and learning at true blue. So before, as Jeff opened, it was very siloed and no teams talk to each other business units, didn't talk to each other very well. This helped encourage a culture of transparency and learning across the organization. And by doing these three steps in this way, uh, it invited healthy competition, but it avoided the, uh, ability voided avoided having, uh, unfortunate, uh, shaming of other teams, uh, if they felt that they were falling behind or not, uh, not meeting the same level of targets for other people. And so this was really important because again, we wanted to have that culture of transparency, but also make and allow people to have room to fail and improve and learn.


And this was great, but of course it invited even more questions. Uh, people teams came to us and said, well, what constitutes a deployment? Uh, does every team need to measure the same, right? Like how can one team count every user story as a deployment that another team count, uh, just change records in the change system as the deployment people have questions about, does this reward protocol, could people gain the system and release untested and UN, uh, ready software into production that requirement, and then take credit for fixing it as a deployment really rapidly, uh, people had questions about, do we have to follow the change management process anymore? Can we just do a deploy whenever we want? And some people even had statements and said things like, well, our customers and our partners are very happy with our current cadence today. And, and shouldn't we not measure for deployment frequency?


Uh, shouldn't we be measuring for business value impact. What if I just release once, but it has such a business impact that that's a huge success for our partners and customers. And we had to admit that these were all great questions and they are difficult. Truth was, we didn't know the answer to these questions. And though we were armed with facts and then we had the data from accelerate on what high-performance organizations did. We really treated this more as a competence, right? It wasn't a map to how teams had to do something. It was a compass and allowed us to measure to try different things. And then to course correct. So we really encourage teams to think bit, if you want to deploy every day or every hour, that's a big goal. And you should think big towards that goal, but work small, just make small daily increments towards those goals, no matter what your platform is, legacy or Greenfield, uh, we ask teams to optimize for forward momentum. Even the smallest steps that a legacy team could take, uh, towards moving forward, uh, and increasing their deployment frequency or reducing their meantime to restore was important.


And so what are the teams discover as we started to go through this over the course of 2021, we really discovered that the increase of the deployment frequency started the lower, our change fail rate. Again, small batches of work by decreasing the amount of work that went into each deployment, reduce the number of things that could go wrong. And if something did go wrong, it allowed teams to respond more quickly because they were much more aware of the small thing that changed and be able to fix that or roll it back. And so the combination of those two things started to lower our meantime to repair and restore. We had less severity one incidents. We had less major customer impacting incidents because of these things. And when we did have an incident, again, it was faster and easier than ever to recover or fix because we had focused on increasing our deployment frequencies.


And because we had had smaller batches and lower change fail rates. And so finally all of this together reduce the amount of time the teams had to spend focusing on those things. And so that started to free them up, to work more closely with the business to deliver more business value. And so the sum of all of these things really started to shorten our lean times. And so when we looked back at the four levers that we wanted to pull, definement accelerate, uh, we realized that by really focusing heavy and setting and encouraging teams to increase their deploy frequency really compounded on itself and allowed us to move those other levers much with much greater, uh, ability and much quicker.


And when we summed it all up, when we looked back at 2021, and as we are, when we look back at 2020, and as we look forward and, and, and how we've operated through 2021 across all of our business, we found that our total changes deployed were increased by four times in 2020. And then that allowed us to set a goal for increasing 10 times on that four time improvement for 2021. So you can really see the flywheel starting to reverse as we start to accelerate the gains in 2021 that we had over 2020. We also measured the time we spent in our keep the lights on operations KTL low. And we had a 13% decrease in that in 2020. And we set goals and are well on the way to a 30% decrease on top of that in 2021.


And we also measured our IC shared spin ratio to our line of business spend. So how much time are we spending in legacy platforms and shared services and data center operations compared to business applications and frontline business innovations and delivering more value for our business partners. And so we saw that we were able to shift the, it spend, uh, by 10% towards the line of business and out of, uh, costly, shared service centers in 2020. And we set another goal of an increase of an additional 6% on top of that in 2021. And then finally we've said, let's measure our employee satisfaction. Let's make sure that these improvements we make are manifesting themselves in greater satisfaction from our technology employees. And we're not, we're not increasing their, uh, overwork or burnout as we, uh, uh, increase these changes through our system. And so this was also a net positive.


We saw an increase of seven NPS points on our net promoter scores for our technology employees. And we've set another goal for it, another increase of 4% on top of that. And so you really see that we've been able to switch from a flywheel of decay that we were in just a few years ago into a flywheel of innovation and growth. And so now we've got the ability to have sustained delivery and empower teams, and that translates into greater revenue growth expanded margins, which allows us to invest more of those, uh, the money we make back into true strategic investments, which again, excite teams make them feel more empowered and they invest more and continue with stain delivery for the business.


So this is really enabled true blue to move from project to product centric organization. So we're able to sunset a lot of our griddle infrastructure and technology products. And with these, these new capabilities we had, we were able to reinvest a lot of these savings into new product management functions that allow us to focus more on the technology stacks, job stack, and a Phoenix and staff management that we talked about at the beginning that are delivering innovation and value for our business partners. And so we've really been able to rapidly innovate for our business through these technology and all because of the ability of what accelerate has shown us and how we really adopted a, a lean compass driven measure, try repeat process.


And so I'm going to kind of sum it up here a little bit, uh, and talk a little bit about the journey that we were on and what you might be feeling, uh, here as you're attending this conference. I know in the first conferences that I attended, uh, everyone else felt like they were already at the top of the mountain top, and here I want us back just starting down the road on this journey. And I felt well, sometimes it felt like, well, why even bother all of these people? They're so far ahead, uh, all of these transformations, uh, they just seemed very intimidating. The leaders in these spaces were very vocal and opinionated about things. Uh, a lot of the laggards were kind of quiet and invisible keeping kind of their head down, trying to learn as much as they could. And so what I really learned and took away from that is that it's very important to start, start your journey wherever you are, and don't be intimidated by some companies being much further ahead, uh, because there are value in starting your journey wherever you are, and taking that next step again, optimizing for forward momentum to recap a little bit, some of the things that we really learned, uh, around setting goals, right?


We learned that the methods, tools, and commitments, uh, they have to be set by the teams, right in a top down organizational mandate from Jeff or B as a, as a vice president and a CTO, uh, can also be really difficult. And for teams to adopt and met with disillusionment and difficulty, but by bottoming this up by setting the vision and the goals of what we wanted to improve, we literally let the teams select their own methods tools and set their own commitments. And that really increased their empowerment and their buy-in towards this. We were also really carefully and how we measure this, uh, again, Goodhart's law kind of says, if you set some targets, don't be surprised if those, uh, those targets that you set out to measure, uh, quickly kind of become gained, right? People start to improve against those target, uh, to the detriment of other goals that you may have.


And so that's why we really were very thoughtful and not setting a specific targets of you have to improve by 10 or 20%, but really letting those teams set their own goals, no matter how modest or how aggressive and share those learnings back to back with us, and then sharing those learnings were really important because we demand the transparency of the teams. They had to report on their metrics. They had to tell us what they learned, but we were very allowing for the room to fail, right. So when they came in and they had these learnings and we said, well, that's great. We're glad that we've learned these things. What can we do to get better, right. And what can we share with other teams about our best practices? And so that really generated a lot to the culture that we transformed from the siloing and the bunkering and the, uh, being really scared to innovate for the business or do something different culture that allowed people to experiment. It feels safe and experimenting and deliver the results. So now I'm going to turn it back off a little bit. I'm just going to talk a little bit about, uh, executive buy-in, uh, with our, with our leadership at the, at the executive level, and also what we're looking for next for TrueBlue as we go forward.


Great Carter. Thanks. So in terms of gaining executive buy-in, we've learned a lot over my last three years here at TrueBlue, and I think the summit up, uh, to bill buy-in with, uh, our CEO, with our CFO and with our brand presidents really requires starting with the end in mind and talking with them about how they're thinking about not just where the enterprise is, or where their businesses are at, but their vision for where they expect the trajectory of their businesses to take them over the next three to five years. Uh, and then working backwards from the quantification of what that bulls-eye is, uh, you know, growing higher margin revenues, increase in market, share technology, driven, innovation, simplifying, uh, how we recruit or how people connect with work and working backwards towards, you know, how do we, uh, put the engineer, the technology to build those solutions so that business benefit can be realized, uh, and then the quantification of benefit can be made tangible in terms of revenue, margin, you know, market share, uh, et cetera, uh, and then being relentless on going back to the metrics that describe that trajectory over time, in terms of the business value realization, uh, which is something we've worked very hard on here, uh, within a true-blue technology with our senior business leadership, uh, in terms of what's next for TrueBlue.


We continue to have a big vision for how we expect people to connect with work, uh, for the, uh, you know, into the 2020s. And we think driven innovation will be a big part of simplifying how folks that want to work can be connected with people who need to have work done. Uh, we think there's a big opportunity in terms of the emergence of the gig economy, uh, and, um, uh, overall we'll be focused on working backwards from business opportunity and business problems, uh, to figure out how to best leverage technology to deliver that benefit, uh, making the transition from a project focus, which is classic it to product focus, uh, and that product work never ends. It's a continuous feedback loop in terms of sense and respond and, and how we evolve over time based on the needs of the, the market, and then making it easy to invest in innovation and discovery and, uh, uh, whether it's, uh, things like robotic process automation or data science and machine learning, or conversational AIS, or, uh, blockchain, uh, making it easy from a capital efficiency, um, perspective to, uh, uh, think about innovations and how we can continue to add value in the market.


And lastly, uh, Carter and I are, uh, very honored to have the opportunity to present here today. And we love to connect and looking forward to, uh, uh, meeting everybody virtually. Thanks. Thanks so much, Jeff. You bet.