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A $200+ billion-dollar impact story: Transforming a transformative product

“Wave is McKinsey’s software platform to execute large-scale transformations and drive change in organizations. It focuses on delivering impact through collaboration, transparency, ownership and capability building.” Michel Morenville, Partner at McKinsey & Company.

Large-scale business transformation requires extensive planning, transparent goal-setting, and real-time progress reporting. Since 2011, Wave’s program management platform has empowered companies to navigate the creation and implementation of complex high-impact initiatives. In fact, a report from Forrester states that McKinsey & Company’s “transformation management suite, Wave, is considered the benchmark in the industry.” 

Since its inception, the impact of projects under Wave’s management has exceeded $200bn. That’s an impressive number, but it’s just the beginning. The next step in Wave’s evolution would require the collective effort of a dedicated team with the vision to uplevel an already successful product. 

This is the tale of how the enterprise transformation product was itself transformed — powered by the collaborative effort of leading digital talent from Wave and Nearform.

Seizing the opportunity to take Wave to the next level

2015 was a turning point for Wave, with the first generation of the platform needing to mature to meet increasing user and business demands. There were big performance and scalability challenges to overcome to achieve this. These included how to scale to thousands of users, deploy faster, and offer enhanced configuration options for each client while maintaining continuity of service for hundreds of global clients on the platform every day.

The Wave team knew a broad rebuild was required. It would begin with a blank sheet for the product, a blank sheet for the technology, and a blank sheet for the team and ways of working. The team identified three key success factors for the rebuild:

First, engineering excellence. A talented team of architects, product managers and designers utilised leading-edge engineering to design a product that would perform, scale and, in the end, deliver results that exceeded the previous system’s capabilities. 

Second, remote collaboration. It may initially seem counterintuitive, but Nearform’s long-held remote working model was crucial to the success of the project. Not only did it mean the best people were deployed to the right tasks, with talent trumping location, but it ensured the pace of work was maintained at all times — even throughout the COVID pandemic. 

And third, cultural integration. Recognising that tight collaboration would be pivotal to moving quickly while maintaining key services, together with our Wave partners, we fostered a “one team” working style that ensured knowledge sharing, capability building and build trust quickly. The Wave team’s deep industry experience, user insights and ambition were met with Nearform’s product engineering expertise, design-led problem solving and creativity.

Driving impact at the speed of innovation

The result of the rebuild partnership between the Wave and Nearform teams resulted in a faster, more intuitive and more collaborative product. Key outcomes included improvements such as:

  • Velocity of updates: A new release of Wave could be deployed every week. This was a huge upgrade on the previous quarterly deployments. Regular security patches and migrations could be deployed to hundreds of individual client tenants, ensuring Wave provides the most robust protection for its users.

  • Highly configurable “data and calculation engine”: The platform was enhanced to support many different client use cases, giving Wave greater personalisation capabilities and enabling it to evolve over time. This was achieved through tight collaboration between product managers and software engineers, creating a process where everyone owns the design of the platform. 

  • Robustness and maintainability: The second generation of the platform is in its eighth year and is still going. This is due to two key factors. First, the quality and experience of the engineers working on Wave means that things are done right the first time and have the durability to last. Second, test automation was prioritised from the outset, which means changes to the platform can be made with confidence.

Wave now has the flexibility and scalability to incorporate feedback, now and in the future, enabling it to adapt to inevitable shifts in the technology landscape. But our tale doesn’t end there.

Looking ahead: Surfing the Waves of change

Wave’s story continues to evolve, with the partnership finding new and innovative ways of elevating user-facing products and enhancing internal processes. 

An example of this is the work we’ve done together to leverage the transformational power of Generative AI (GenAI). In early 2023, Nearform invested in a small team to begin research with the McKinsey Wave team on how GenAI can have a successful impact on the Wave product. 

Having an accomplished team with diverse tech skills enabled the creation of product innovations such as Digital Assistants. These AI-powered assistants have access to a broad knowledge base that enhances the Wave user’s experience with demonstrably faster onboarding, so they can realise impact a lot earlier in their journey.

In the coming months and years, enterprise transformations will continue, and thus additional features will undoubtedly be designed. These will expand Wave’s capabilities and further empower users to derive even more impressive impact from their initiatives. As transformative business needs evolve, the innovative approaches used to build Wave will enable it to continue to not just adapt but even stay one step ahead.

Insight, imagination and expertly engineered solutions to accelerate and sustain progress.