What's the point of working agile?
What is Agile, and how does it work at ING Belgium?
Jennifer: Agile is first and foremost a mindset that focuses on collaboration, improvement and learning cycles, on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change. That translates in different ways within ING. We strive to respond faster to the customer’s needs and to continuously improve our services and products. We work in a fast-changing digital climate: customers don’t have time to wait six months to see something. They demand a lot more nowadays, and they need it more rapidly. Perhaps they’ll change their mind mid-way through, or want a slightly different focus. That’s why we work in 2 week iterations: during this 2 week period the teams work together on an MVP – minimum viable product – that they will be able to demo to the stakeholders concerned for immediate feedback. During this iteration, the teams (or as we call them, squads) regularly sit together to discuss project status, next steps, and possible improvements to their way of working. Rather than waiting for next month’s meeting to get more information, we now have an ongoing discussion.
In general, Agile working means you no longer work in a waterfall system. Leaders have a different role than before: they provide a clear vision of where we want to go, then leave it to the squads to decide for themselves how to get there. Whether these squads are part of a tribe or a CLT, or even for those working in branches, having the right mindset is the first step into making Agile successful.
[Editor’s note: Too much terminology you’ve never heard before? Watch this video to find out more.]
How do you keep things efficient with all these people learning the ropes? And how do you keep track of where you are in the process?
Jennifer: It’s really the people who are getting things done: they want to improve, they want to be able to deliver. My role as a coach is more about motivating them and spotting the things we can improve to become even more efficient. I tell them: it’s okay that you’re struggling, but what are you struggling with and why? How can we get through that together, as a team? Because change doesn’t come easy – to anyone. I mean, it’s a big step.
Agile is all about empowering teams. It’s letting the team decide what the next priorities are, how to get things done, and how they will work. So you have some teams that use post-its to track their progress, and some that use electronic boards. But in any case, every day, they get together and discuss how things are moving along. Where are we at, what comes next? People are talking to each other constantly: what have they done yesterday, what are they going to do today, what’s blocking them? It’s a very lively work environment.
How do your coworkers experience Agile working?
Jennifer: Like with any big change, I think people were a bit lost at first, but they quickly got the hang of it. Again, it’s all about having the right mindset; the hardest part is letting go of the old way, the way you’ve been working before. We started out with teams that didn’t really know what was going on. There were a lot of doubts and questions! But now I see them becoming increasingly predictable on what they are going to deliver, and becoming more efficient. I see them developing themselves, taking ownership of a project, and leading to the end. We are no longer just ‘doing’ Agile; we are becoming Agile.
Why should someone looking for a job choose a company that uses Agile?
Jennifer: The world is moving so fast; every company needs to adapt rapidly to customers’ ever-changing needs. The old-fashioned way, where we just develop for a year and then wait? That won’t work anymore. Customers need a lot more now, which is why Agile is definitely the way to go. On a more personal level, Agile also empowers people to try different things, to work on passionate projects, to work with different teams, to try out new things and see if it works. Leaving room for failure is also an important part of Agile: it allows you to try, fail, and learn from your mistakes to do things even better next time. There are so many ways to move around. Honestly, I wish Agile existed when I started out at ING!
Jennifer grew up in Vancouver, Canada and later moved to Belgium to continue her education. Her multicultural background – Jennifer has a Canadian father and a Belgian mother – is mirrored in her own family: her husband has Tunisian roots, and they are raising their daughter to be bilingual in French and English. Jennifer enjoys reading, doing sports – “it has to either be totally Zen or very extreme” – and travelling the world. She always sees the bright side of things and is passionate about people and makes it a purpose to understand why and how they behave, evolve and express themselves in different situations; she craves to discover what is really inside all of us. She is currently following an authentic leadership training intended to teach her and others to become the right type of leader in these fast-changing times.