Jade Software Wed, Jul 7, '21 13 min read

Agile Transformation Advice (for Directors)

The advice on this podcast is from Liz Maguire. Liz has worked in the financial services sector for her whole career from Westpac, Lloyds, TSB, ANZ and Amex in the 90s. She is now Chief Digital Officer at Waka Kotahi. For the full interview listen to Episode 11 of our podcast Beta & Beyond.    

How has agile changed the financial services industry, how it works, and what it can achieve?

Well, firstly the concept of Agile is not a new concept, right? Like I think it's been around for over 20 years. But it just took a while for non-native tech companies to get used to the idea. And then it took even longer for it to go outside of technology and digital into the broader organisation. So not a new thing, but very much flavour of the month. And the thing that's underlying it really, is the fact that you get better results from your projects when you use an agile framework, then if you use say the traditional waterfall approach that most companies were used to. And most people know this, of course, but the difference between agile and waterfall is really agile is an iterative approach where you get to see what the team's working on at regular checkpoints as it's been delivered. And it's opposed to waterfall where there's a whole lot of documentation and design upfront. And then people go away and develop it and test it, and then maybe a year down the track, the users actually get to see what the thing was that the team were working on.

And so obviously the number one reason why you'd want to use agile is so that you can make sure that what you are delivering is really what your users need. And much easier to do that as you're going through an iterative process then wait till the very end. So agile has become a really hot topic in the market at the moment because lots of organisations are taking edge outside of the digital and technology areas and making their head offices, usually, agile. And which means reorganising around smaller teams, putting all the people you need within the team that you need to get the particular work done. Looking at the real basics of how work gets delivered within your organisation. And lots of big companies and small companies are changing their organisational structures at the moment to be more agile.

…there’s organizations that do agile, which I would say with a little a, and there's organizations that do agile with a big A, in really understanding what is right for you, and doing it properly… just because you say you're agile doesn't mean you're doing it properly, and you're getting the benefits from it.


Can you summarise the key areas that boards need to grasp and grapple with to help them govern an agile organisation?

Before I start the probably the other thing to point out is, unlike most roles in an organisation, there usually isn't someone on the board who's had really hands on experience with this. So if you think about other organisational changes that happen, there's usually someone on the board who's been a CEO when that's happened before in another organisation or, you know, they've run a particular part of the business and so there's expertise already implemented in the board.

Because Chief Digital Officers are relatively new roles, agile is a relatively new thing that you tend to get a lot less knowledge at that board level than what you might have gotten in the past with organisational change. And so that's really my first point around what's the most important thing when you're governing an agile organisation is that you should know the basics. And if you haven't had experience, in any kind of agile ways of working, then you should get some training. And it's not, I'm not talking about being an agile expert, but at least know the basics and the fundamental part of the philosophy and what that therefore means about how you're going to interact with the organisation. So that would be my first one.

The second one is understand how agile your organisation actually is. And so we've talked about this big A, which means that you're really full on doing agile in a very disciplined way. And then there's little A, which might just be you have some ways of working that lend themselves to more agile behaviours than what you did before. And you might have big Agile in some parts of your organisation (typically, it's in the project delivery, digital technology areas), or you might have it across all your organisation. You need to know as a Director, you need to know exactly where it is and what it's being used for. I think that's a good conversation to have.

The third one is, and obviously one of the roles of directors is to manage risk in the organisation, on behalf of the shareholders. And so there's a really important conversation, I think around ‘how does risk management work with an agile methodology?’ And the hint here is, if the answer is ‘ah, it's not any different’ than that's the wrong answer. And you need to dig into this in more detail. I think there still seems to be a little bit of an underlying view, that agile means less discipline in an organisation. And actually, in my experience, it means more discipline, and so how does that how does that project discipline - and the any risk management that you put around that - how do they work together? That's a really important question for a board to be asking the management team.

Similar to that, the project management disciplines, so how do key deliverables and the key metrics..how do they get tracked? How do they get reported on? What's different about the reporting that you had in that old non-agile way to how you have it now? How does your capital investments - how do they get managed with an agile delivery, like understanding that sort of stuff, I think is important too. And there's a couple of reasons for that: One, because you genuinely you actually need to know how your big agile investments are delivering, obviously. And then secondly, so that you can understand how you and the board interacts with management, and make sure that you're not asking for things that they just don't have yet because of an agile framework. So for example…if you think about a digital roadmap, it's really hard for people running agile digital teams to be actually definitively able to say, 'yes, this is the thing we're going to be working on in 12 months time,' and 'yes, these are the benefits that are definitely going to come out of it' and so if the board is asking for that kind of surety, then it's really difficult to do. And so sometimes the board is going to have to change its expectations.

And then the last thing in my five things, is really just checking in with your leaders. And making sure that they're prepared to think about how they will support a rollout of an agile methodology across their organisation. And so one of the things that I've learned over, you know, many years of being a leader and of agile teams is how you work as an executive has to change, it unquestionably has to change because otherwise you become a bottleneck for your agile team. So, you know, being much more accessible is really, really important as one small example. And so making sure that as a Director, that your management team are thinking about what an agile rollout means for them and how they're going to walk the talk around it is, is an important discussion to have too.

This is just the beginning of a treasure trove of advice from Liz for directors of Agile organisations. To listen to the full interview with Liz Maguire, including her basics of agile and how to support managers, listen to Episode 11 of our podcast Beta & Beyond.

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