Global business Agility report: Raiffeisen Bank Czech Republic 06 January 2022

Lenka Pincot, Head of Agile Transformation, Raiffeisen Bank Czech Republic, talks about how her squads are removing bottlenecks on their own and achieving greater speed.  

As financial institutions recognize the need to respond faster to changing customer habits, they have turned to Agile. An Agile way of working equips employees and teams with the methods and processes to fail fast, learn, and bring solutions to the market quicker. For this report and series of interviews, we collaborated with ADAPTOVATE, a leading global transformation consultancy. We spoke with transformation leaders from institutions all over the world. We asked them to describe their successes and challenges in adopting Agile.

What does the term "Agility" mean at your institution? Does it correspond to a specific function and responsibility or is it a cross-cutting philosophy that structures the transformation of your organization? If the latter, who is ultimately responsible?

We look at Agility as a long-term transformational journey that is guided by our principles of adaptive organization. We formed these principles about a year ago to find a common language that would describe what kind of company we want to be in the future and how would we like to be described by our employees. 

Agility as such is not perceived as a single method, tool, or isolated target for a couple of departments. Rather, we actively engage employees across the bank and provide them with multiple tools to achieve shared objectives.

The ultimate responsibility is in the hands of our Board of Directors. The Agile transformation itself is executed by an Agile transformation team led by the Head of Agile transformation.

In your quest for greater Agility, which areas are most likely to be transformed? Which areas, on the other hand, do not require immediate transformation, either because they are already "Agile" or because they do not need to be?

At first, we focus on our product delivery teams where we see the biggest need for cross-functional cooperation, end-to-end responsibility, and autonomy. At the same time, we are looking at experts’ teams to ensure that their knowledge is available at the right moment of the product development process. We also develop new competencies that are needed to build a customer-centric and innovative culture.

The success of Agile transformation lies greatly in our ability to shift the culture from the traditionally risk averse approach to the fast learning, data-driven decision-making and willingness to experiment. In such a journey, there is not really a part of the bank that should be left aside. However, we recognize that we need to tailor the change approach according to the nature of the jobs performed by different departments.

Among your Agile transformation projects, which ones have been (or still are) the most difficult to lead, but for which you feel that a major step has finally been taken? What was the difficulty and what has finally enabled success on these projects?

To form high-performing cross-functional teams, the focus is to create effective integration of business and IT professions. We see faster progress in areas that were already exposed to digitalization and need for innovation. In such areas, professions are already blended, and people had enough time to find their common language. 

The bigger challenge occurs in the areas where we still need to introduce new technologies and shift the mindset towards customer centricity and innovation. Then the transformation does not only involve the adoption of Agile principles, but involves open discussion with teams about their purpose, learning CX methods, and developing a deeper understanding of business potential of technologies.

We overcome the obstacles by providing a consistent, psychologically-safe environment. Change is hard for everyone because it brings uncertainty. We invest in trainings of Agile methods, run COPs (Communities of Practice), Demo Days, and other events to be completely transparent about the ongoing transformation. Because in the end, people need to trust the change and be open to new ideas of how to do things differently.

How would you describe the benefits of increased Agility? Have you been able to measure them? Can you share some figures on how you are able to capture benefits?

We observe and benefit from the increased transparency that translates into better clarity on what needs to be done. We challenge our teams to further develop their ability to address customer needs. We also witness progress in empowerment of our employees to drive the changes by themselves. 

Overall, we use several measurements on multiple levels to obtain a comprehensive view on the impact of the changes. These include tracking Agile teams’ commitments (sprint goals, quarterly Key Results), time to market, feedback from teams on how they managed to embed the adaptive principles in their functioning, and an overall organization-wide holistic model that combines several aspects such as readiness for change or scoring of the use of Agile engineering practices. 

Can you provide examples of obstacles that could not be overcome in your Agile projects (regulation, technology, social constraints, other)?

We will probably always face difficulties to source our team in a way that gives them full autonomy. We operate in an integrated and regulated environment and at the same time we need to deal with legacy systems and architecture. We progress step by step in close coordination with digitalization of the bank. There will always be obstacles on the way, but we don’t see any showstoppers. 

In terms of Agility, could you provide one or two examples of successful collaborations between departments in your institution, or between your institution and external service providers?

I would like to provide an example of a cross-department collaboration that we witnessed in different areas of the company. It is quite typical that when you prepare a list of all competencies and skills that are needed to build a truly independent end-to-end team, you easily exceed 15-20 employees that would be needed to bring every competency to the table. On top of that, specialized competencies are scarce, and you never have enough to place them in each Agile team.

One possible solution is to find a way of smooth cooperation between the teams. However, that’s a point where we were surprised. When we bring different experts together and empower them to change the process, they start training each other to develop T-shaped profiles guided by the steps being executed by different roles. They removed the bottlenecks that were created by previous preferences and specializations entirely by themselves.

What organization and incentives have you put in place internally to ensure the success of Agility-related projects? Which of these were the most successful?

The most successful incentive we saw in practice were the non-financial ones. We simply gave our employees opportunities to actively participate in the change and contribute to the direction of the transformation. We run multiple communities, working groups, Agile onboarding workshops, team conduct retrospectives, and let them set their own objectives with OKR methods. 

We created multiple platforms to empower our people and give them safe space to voice their opinion on expected obstacles for the transformation, the objectives they would like to achieve, and what would be their preferred way of approaching particular steps. This strategy gives the impression that our transformation moves slowly, because we don’t do big-bang overhauls of the whole organization, but we strongly believe that such an approach will deliver sustainable change with long-term benefits.

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