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Global business Agility report: Slovenska Sporitelna 13 January 2022

Branislav Jarabek, Head of Organizational Change at Slovenska Sporitelna, discusses how it took a little bit of elbow grease to line up all the components of their Agile strategy. But once the elements clicked, the results have been remarkable. 

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?

Agile at SLSP means a complete mindset and leadership change structured around ever changing client needs. As a mindset shift, it cuts across the organization and touches the sole core of our operations. As our target philosophy is to create personalized solutions for tomorrow’s client needs, we had to move away from our product-focused way of problem solving to a client based (customer-centric) way. This has a lasting impact on the way we work with our people and how people work with us. We also consider this as a part of “Agility”. Driving our local change not as top-down or bottom-up but from the middle management outward is allowing us to manage the change from the top of the organization as well as monitor its impact in detail on the bottom level. 

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?

With our clients at the very heart of our need to change, we look to primarily transform the processes, products, touchpoints, and people who are in direct contact with clients or partcipate in any digital interaction with them. This approach is allowing us (as the largest incumbent bank in the market strongly dependent on its brick-and-mortar business model in the past) to create synergies between old fashioned branch-based products and services with newly created end-to-end customer journey ownership focused on digital solutions. 

Our approaches can be summed up simply by the phrase "Agile where solutions for the clients are created and organized around customer journeys." And for the parts of our organization where the main value added to the client is run-the-bank process stability and efficiency, we believe in letting these departments work in their established way of working. Nevertheless, we still promote automation in these work areas and put great importance on their synergy with the Agile part of the bank.

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?

As with any project, the more complex the problem is, the longer it takes to come up with the correct solution. A transformation is truly a road full of unknown threats with unknown solutions of how to avoid them. Therefore, we are running all of our transformation activities not as “projects”, but we execute them step-by-step with a “test and learn” (and of course also “correct”) attitude, gradually learning each cornerstone of the new way-of-working and building our own (unique) “ability to change” – to be able to keep changing constantly in the future. 

Looking back at our Agile journey, it took us a little bit of time to learn how to manage (or better “treat”) Agile leaders, their teams, and enable the previously mentioned synergies. As people stand at the very center of any team success, so is the case with Agile teams. Therefore, it can be argued that it takes a little bit of elbow grease to find the correct matches between the different product owners, scrum masters, and cross-border team members to get the machine rolling. But once you put these missing pieces together and they fit, the results are truly spectacular.

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 are looking at Agility as part of our overall transformation, which is based on customer-centricity and digital solutions for our clients. One of the main measurable outcomes were the number of our clients actively using daily banking products (accounts, cards, etc) and the customer rating of our banking app together with strong uplift of the clients using it. It was especially our app and the Agile teams behind it that have created a product that is able to satisfy even the most demaning members of our client base as well as being attractive enough (especially for young clients) to bring in additional customers. This has been the "snowball effect" that we have been working towards.

Also looking at our ability to manage overall demand for change, Agile teams are mastering the power of balancing their demand with existing resources in the company. Product owners natively work with their knowledge of available resources when creating Epics or they are discuss it in the very early stages of the solution discovery phase. In contrast to classical projects, where the bank is trying to meet all the (usually huge) demands of a project with its resources, Agility helped us avoid resourcing conflicts but still delivered the expected value for clients.

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

One of the main constraints to our Agile development has been the reliability of our product development on external "waterfall" suppliers who have been unwilling to adjust to our Agile way of working. Also, regulation is creating obstacles for self-organized teams, where not all of the end-to-end journeys can be maintained from one team, because the regulatory framework disallows such cooperation. 

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?

One recent star example of cross team cooperation has been between our retail and corporate digital banking teams, who are now able to create E2E solutions together that make life easier for both our general customer base as well as our business clients.

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?

Our perception, demonstrated through experience and time, is that the most creative and goal-driven people are naturally attracted to working in Agile teams and are continuously building their skillsets to be part of them. These are exactly the type of people that you want at the forefront of your organization. We were positively surprised by the number of employees with this mentality that we were able to find within our organization. After showcasing the real impact of new ways of working (customer-centricity and Agility) on client perception and satisfaction in the pilot areas, there really weren‘t any other incentives needed for people to understand these new principles are ensuring success in the future.

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