People that have seen the benefits of working in agile environments do not think twice anymore about using practices and methods that come from those experiences. But many people have not been there, not seen that way of working, and are not able to grasp the opportunities they are missing.
I want to bring two stories from two banks, from the same country under the same regulatory requirements, and with the same access to the same pool of talent around them. The only difference is on choices the leadership made and the urgency they put (or not) on these choices.
Leadership put urgency on agility. “We need to be agile on how we deliver and operate”.
When they were asked “Why? We are doing great, we are number 1” the answer was: “Because we can’t continue to be number 1 if we keep working the same way. We can’t lead with tight margins if we do not improve operation or if we do not speed up delivery”.
Leaders lead by bringing urgency to their areas. They learned how to set clear goals for the year and then for the quarter. They learned how to use Kanban boards, how to prioritize the work and then reduce it to bring focus. They started running regular meetings to understand blockers, to align with partners within the organization, to collaborate with third party vendors and to challenge every expense by asking “is this aligned with our Objectives & Key Results?” (OKRs).
Some leaders went ahead of others. Some took a bit of time to start and then to change current routines, and so on. Some did not see the need for regular meetings, or for Kanban boards, or even for more collaboration with some partners. The organization did not only embrace changes in the process but also in operations, product management, along with technical practices, DevOps, and all the way to Continuous Delivery (many deliveries per day in an area).
Leadership talked about agile. They wanted their teams to be agile and often teams and agile coaches were asked why there is not a lot being done. A lot of focus was put on following the framework designed internally and a lot of focus was put on measuring where the people spent their time.
There was a lot of discipline toward making sure time sheets were completed and not so much on measuring the value created in a week. Regulatory audits were followed using traditional practices and “agile projects” had their hands tied from a lot of “musts” that were not challenged, only accepted. Agile practitioners tried to bring better practices.
Several meetings after, leaders agreed to take some steps on getting trained and put in practice some leadership agile practices. Due to some urgent delivery efforts, the start was pushed until a later date. Then Covid hit and everything was cancelled.
Agile was mostly embraced around process and some product management. Technical practices and DevOps were also brought in but Continuous delivery was still a target to reach.
Every agile practice that had started, went up a couple of notches. The areas that were still dragging their feet adopted prioritization, visualization and regular meetings very quickly.
During a town hall, a marketing senior VP said “All those things that agile coaches told us, we started using them and we saw a lot of value. I am proud of the team”.
New teams were onboarded with agile practices from the start, government changes related to Covid support were delivered very quickly without working over-time and pulling all-nighters.
While there were some reactive days, in general, they stayed pro-active and strategic. Partners and third-party vendors were included and collaborated on achieving the goals. The prioritization and collaboration crossed areas and LOB’s. It was about winning as one organization, not about doing your job well within your area.
Leadership kept looking at good lessons from big tech companies and constantly focused on prioritizing value based on capacity of their teams/areas. Agility was not something that required convincing. Frameworks were out of the window but the adequate practices for each context were adopted and supported on all levels. OKRs were reviewed and adjusted to reflect the new reality.
Productivity initially was down due to employees lacking remote access. Infrastructure was not ready for that remote workload, and so were other systems that supported visualization and management of the work. War rooms were created, people worked overtime and the word that matches better the way leadership and teams operated was “reactive”.
Very little collaboration across different areas. New requests from government related to Covid support were achieved in timely fashion. Escalation of issues to Leadership brought some delays since a lot of decisions had to be approved by senior people.
Agile practices were an option and convincing was required to show the benefits of agile practices by teams. Agile practitioners talked with leadership and a new framework was approved to be put in place. This new framework aimed to bring more product driven focus and pulls a lot from one of the major scaled frameworks in the market. It started in one area and the other areas were told to wait for lessons learned to implement it.
Meanwhile, many employees got frustrated to not see leadership stepping up with agile mindset and practices and they quit. Not all the roles were replaced so teams were left with more work in hand.
Cost saving kept being measured and value delivered was about achieving the goals that leaders set. Working hard was normal and there was no time for improvements.
A lot of training was put in place and people were expected to practice the agile concepts after the training. Funding model allows only some teams to have Scrum Masters and Agile coaches.
Following frameworks will not bring a change in your organization. Frameworks are a starting point to help you with thinking and organizing the teams. But following them by the book will not give you the strategic advantage and the speed to respond to change.
All organizations are facing their customers using technology. If you are not technically able to make software or service deployments quick, you will be late on responding to needs of customers or government regulatory requirements.
While large organizations might not fail quickly, lack of Agile practices will get them trending toward losing marketplace, losing talent and making it harder to achieve the results they want to achieve. Where would you like to work?
I am Ardita Karaj and these are my agile-thoughts
2021 © Toronto, CANADA by Ardita Karaj
Ardi is a passionate Agile coach, trainer, change agent and consultant in the Toronto area.
Her passion for building awesome products has been combined with process improvement for organizations that are adopting Agile frameworks. She is driven to creating sustainable change and has developed techniques that focus on building teams that have a culture of continuous improvement.
She likes to try new cooking recipes, home decoration and sewing things she wants to customize when she can’t find them on the stores 🙂 She is a city girl –she loves cities! Camping is a 3-star hotel 🙂