S3 #09 The benefits of bringing agile to digital transformation

S3 #09 The benefits of bringing agile to digital transformation

S3 #09 The benefits of bringing agile to digital transformation

Carol May

Carol May

Carol has a long career history steeped in success of delivering transformational change to globally recognized brands within Financial Services. Since joining Altimetrik in 2020, she has: 1. Established a Professional Services Practice for Agile Transformation, growing the team compliment ten-fold with an expectation of doubling again in size over 2022. 2. Led a multi-year, global Agile Transformation initiative for Fortune 100 Bank, comprising 9,000 Technology Team members, in addition to Business stakeholders, across 8 Lines of Business. Carol is appreciated as the trusted thought leader, driving change on the ground, exceeded targets in all categories.

We’ve heard agile used in context of software development, enabling teams to quickly review and respond to any unpredictable circumstances and shifting goal posts. But why not take this project management-specific methodology, used especially for software development, and apply it to digital transformation? In this episode, Carol May discusses the benefits to the enterprise of short transformation phases, and the reassessment and adaptation of plans to realize strategic and operational success.

digital transformation, agile digital transformation, agile transformation, rapid change, iterative organizational change, change management, enterprise cultural management, enterprise change management, uncertainty, risk management, digital risk management
Episode number:
Date Published:
May 31, 2022

[00:00:00] KRISTINA: Digital transformation stopped being a luxury years ago. Now it's simply a necessity. Your business needs to be able to connect with more customer networks and the cloud to optimize business operations, and it needs to do so in an agile.

[00:00:17] INTRO: Welcome to "The Power of Digital Policy", a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar.

[00:00:35] KRISTINA: Buzzwords, such as the agile workplace, sprints, and a minimum viable product or MVP are brought to us courtesy of large consulting firms. But buzzwords aside, there's something to be said about the incremental improvement approach that I agile introduces. It can, as we will hear today, shift an organization's culture, and help you succeed in digital transformation.

Speaking with me today is Carol May. She has a long career history steeped in the success of delivering transformational change to globally recognized financial services. Carol is appreciated as a thought leader, driving change on the ground while exceeding targets in all categories. I asked Carol to help us understand how to employ agile and transformation to ensure our organization's success. Here's our conversation.

So, should we be thinking about the differences around digital transformation and agile transformation? Is it just a matter of speed, or what are the differences? How should we think about that?

[00:01:40] CAROL: Digital transformation, agile transformation. I put them into two separate buckets, but they're very interlinked. So digital transformation, for example, organizations are now looking at how they deliver digital solutions to their customers. So digital banking solutions to customers, for example, being able to do much more on your mobile device then you were able to do even on the internet or at a branch, whereas agile transformation is looking at how do we deliver those solutions or digital solutions to our customers, in a quicker timeframe with greater value. So how can we respond to market dynamics? And as we know, during the last couple of years with COVID, there's been a massive shift and a need for organizations to deliver quicker and to deliver more innovative solutions to their clients. So, the agile transformation is really addressing the way that an organization will work and behave culturally in order to deliver the second bucket of digital solutions to their customers and add value to their customers.

[00:02:48] KRISTINA: Is it transformation or transformation in the sense of, it sounds like what we're doing is we're transforming into a new type of work or an entirely new way of sort of being. So it's not so much that we take on a transformation, and then we're done. We transform something new, but I'm assuming that also means we continue transforming in the future.

[00:03:16] CAROL: Yes, absolutely. I think that's the key thing for organizations to recognize that transformation is a journey. It has a starting point because organizations are at a certain point in their evolution, in their journey. But when they start a transformation, it's not like a project plan where you have a definite start and a definite end. This is a journey that will keep evolving. As organizations start to change and introduce new ways of work, they will discover what works for them. What doesn't work for them, inspect, adapt, and move on. And, of course, the market is continually changing. Customer needs are continually changing and they're changing in a much more rapid timeframe than ever before. And therefore, organizations must be able to really inspect what they're doing, make the adaptations pivot where necessary and do it in a much quicker timeframe than they've ever done before. So transformation is an ongoing journey, but having said that, there are some basic changes that most organizations need to put in place as the foundation or the springboard for that journey. In the transformations that I've been involved in, there's typically quite a heavy-duty spike at the beginning of that journey, where a lot of change takes place as is at multiple levels and down at your team level, your mid manager level, your leadership level, across business and technology. So widespread change brings about new ways of work and new ways of behaving, cultural adjustments, and then continually evolving, optimizing until that that change is less in terms of potentially the ways of work, but organizations have honed their skill in being able to adapt to market changes rapidly.

[00:05:09] KRISTINA: What things push an organization to change? That's one of the fundamental questions that I have for you. Often, I hear people who are maybe a day in and day out involved in digital operations. Perhaps they're in marketing, and they've seen an opportunity or say a vision, but they always tell me things like I can't convince my boss. So how do you convince an organization to change? What type of an event must happen? What's been your experience in this space?

[00:05:38] CAROL: Typically, the advent is external, which boils down to the customer. Yeah. Oh, it is an organization enabling that customer with value. So are they providing value to their customers? And the customer speaks for themselves if they're not, they move away. And that tends to be the external trigger for internal change within an organization. But what we've seen over the last two years with the COVID pandemic is, again, it's an external force that any organization cannot control but they have to adapt to it. And the successful organizations are those that have spotted that early and pivoted the way that they work to enable a virtual workforce. So that's a massive change, but out to harness that massive workforce to be able to rapidly respond to customer need because that has changed significantly during the COVID period. So, if we look at financial services, for example, what I'm seeing in the banking industry is a massive push for digital solutions and a move away from branch banking and customers that have a need for innovation. They want something the customers are looking for, what is new and exciting in the space, and that's pushing the banks to really look more innovatively at their product suites and how they become first to market. So, then these external forces are pushing change into the organizations, and then it pretty much becomes a competitive race. So, who's going to get to market first, and who's going to capture that market share. And that is one of the biggest drivers or catalysts for change right now.

[00:07:28] KRISTINA: Who's leading the agile transformation inside of an organization as an organization recognizes, we do need to change, we're starting to either hear changes from the consumer, or we see revenue drop. There's some event. Who then should be the person inside a financial services organization to take over at the helm and lead that transformational effort?

[00:07:51] CAROL: The most successful transformations that I've seen of those where there that has been recognized at the leadership level. There's a commitment at leadership for change and a commitment to drive it through the organization. But yeah, bringing along all levels of the organization around that change. So not mandating a change but using it as a catalyst for collaboration across the organization for change. It's where do the worlds of the bottom-up and the top-down meet. So, although you might have a leadership sponsorship, you really have to have that embracing for that change at all levels within the organization. And so leadership not only has mandate the change, but they have to live that change. And the successful organizations where the leadership are leading by example and becoming more flexible, more adaptive and creating that passion for change through their teams, rather than just mandating that we have to change.

[00:09:00] KRISTINA: When you say more flexible and more adaptive, I don't necessarily think of financial services in those terms.

[00:09:07] CAROL: Yeah. So every industry has its constraints. As we know, financial services are highly regulated. And there are some things that the organizations just must accept that they have to work with it versus change. So those financial services organizations that are the most rapid to come to market are those look at agility, not just from a technical perspective, not just technology teams, but how do you bring together a collaboration of your technology teams, your business teams, your product teams, and then your teams that really are on the fringe of the business, in terms of legal, risk, compliance. How do you bring all of those together in true collaboration so that as you build new products, you are fully appreciative and understanding of what it's going to take to launch that product into a given market, bearing in mind the regulatory constraints and that's where the most success has been is in true business agility versus where the product will come up with a new idea, pass it on to technology, to build out that product. And then perhaps legal or regulatory implications are not known until later in the life cycle, which tends then to slow things down. So really, when I say lead by example, it's at the leadership level across the organization being more responsive and adaptive to customer needs and working collaboratively at all levels to embrace innovation, more flexibility, and practical and effective ways of working in order to be able to deliver more quickly and with higher levels of quality and understanding the value that's expected by the customer and being able to deliver to that, or even exceeded.

[00:11:01] KRISTINA: Spoken from experience, Carol, you have the formula down. Do you find that most organizations have a formula maker inside of their enterprise, or do they need a consultant to come in? We've outgrown the days of the big five consultancies coming in and delivering the 227-page PowerPoints. You know that certainly doesn't speak to agile in my mind. So how should financial services go about their agile transformation? Should they be looking to have somebody from the enterprise try to lead that? And if so, what type of skillsets should they be looking for? Or should they look to a consultant? What's the ideal formula? If there is one?

[00:11:44] CAROL: I think the ideal formula is a blend. So, I agree with you in terms of the days of the big five consulting coming in and slapping down a massive tome of documents is passed. And we need now to look at more pragmatic ways, pragmatic, and nimble, flexible ways of making change. However, no one knows the organization better than the organization itself. Having a leader that can drive that change is essential having mid management that can adapt to that change and drive it down through the organization is essential. But what I see consistently is that they need some help. They know their organization, and they can be the driver of that change internally, but they don't necessarily know some of the best practices, or they haven't done it before. Therefore, they don't know the landmines that are ahead of them. So having a partner, rather than a consultant, having a partner that holds a one's hand through this transformation, through the journey that has been there, has done it, knows where the landmines are, and can skirt the organization around those landmines is where it becomes truly effective. So, I don't think it's one thing or the other. It has to be a partnership.

[00:13:04] KRISTINA: And in that partnership, I'm assuming there's a lot of change management, especially in financial services where you might have people that have been with the organization for many years, they're loyal employees, they've been around the block. Some of them maybe for a very long period, but the world is changing. How do you advise organizations to start helping their employees transition into that change and embrace it?

[00:13:27] CAROL: Yeah, that's a really key question, and to be honest with you, it's an area that quite significantly overlooked in my opinion, that with transformation, a lot of organizations have focused on how to change the processes. And what new tools need to be brought into the organization to support those processes but have somewhat overlooked the people element of the equation. And without the people, the process and the tools are not going to yield results. In the transformations that I've worked on over the years, I've always focused on how we help the people to come along, and if we look at the lean-agile mindset, it's, it's really a combination of people's beliefs, their assumptions and also their attitudes. And quite frankly, people sometimes underestimate how their beliefs actually translate into actions and how they behave. So, if we look at embracing the concepts of the agile manifesto and use that as a foundation for adopting and applying agile principles and practices, we really need to look at the individual and their mindset. And so, I've used a diagnostic tool in a lot of my transformations, which is called the organic scorecard. And essentially, it enables us to get insights into the building blocks of how people in teams organize themselves and how they behave, and we couple that with agile mindfulness coaching, which enables us to really understand where the individual is at that moment in time, how they engage with their team and really help them through the change curve. Looking at how to guide and support them, amiss the organizational change how to support them by underpinning the agile values and principles to help build them, build their awareness and awareness is really the key. So once one knows oneself, one can really understand how one then engages with others. And how one can manage stress constructively because, with any change, there's a degree of stress. And really than how to, as an individual, blend and engage with your team to move that team into a self-organizing team. Because if everyone has an individual awareness and a correlation within the team of a team awareness, that team becomes very powerful. How they then can embrace the diversity of their team, how they can be flexible in their roles flexible in what they do every day. But how very importantly, they can collaborate and build trusting relationships, which makes them a stronger cohesive unit that can then work through the change, but not just work through the change, but come out the other side of that change into high performing. So, if you had to ask me, is there one key to success, which they never are one key, there's no silver bullet. But high on the priority list for me is always addressing the individual, the people component of a transformation, and putting energy there. And the most successful way of doing that that I have found is to start with the leadership team and conduct a small pilot of going through cultural change with the leaders. And it tends to have multiple upsides. One is that the leaders themselves become more aware of themselves as leaders and how they are seen by their teams, and how they engage with their teams. Their second upside is they get a much better understanding of what it takes culturally to manage change through their organization. And the third big upside is that every single time I've done this, the leadership have seen significant value for themselves as individuals and themselves as a leadership team. And that then becomes a catalyst for rolling it out within the organization down to the next levels and down to the team levels. And that is how you bring about the true collaboration from leadership down is through the people.

[00:18:10] KRISTINA: Does it vary from organization to organization? I'm wondering if there are organizations or entities that have more of a bottom-up culture rather than a top-down one. And is it possible to drive that change and agile transformation from the bottom up? Or do we need to have some component of leadership involved?

[00:18:32] CAROL: Every organization is different. And as I said, every organization knows its own organization and knows best how to maneuver through that organization. So bottom-up works to, particularly when we're looking at organizations where they try something new as a proof of concept or a pilot, and it becomes successful, and then it starts to roll out. But in order to really make an organizational change, it needs a degree of leadership and whether that comes from the bottom up and is recognized by the leadership. And then is adopted as an organizational practice, that's great. Or whether it comes from the top down, but at some point, the top and the bottom have to meet. And that's the sweet spot. And if we can get that top and bottom to meet, not just in terms of process and tools, but through people and people embracing the fact that they have an awareness of where they are, where they want to be and how best to get there by themselves, within a team, within a leadership structure. That's when the true magic happens.

[00:19:36] KRISTINA: And what should we do about the individuals that don't see themselves within the team or within the structure or transforming, because there's always that one or two individuals that just don't want to change. They're not interested. It doesn't work for them, and they're digging in their heels, and they just are not along for this ride. How do you deal with those? Because that's always a challenge, I think.

[00:19:56] CAROL: Yeah, it is. And perhaps they can give you a little case study. I love it. All right. So, this goes to quite a few years back. So, I was pulled into a very large insurance company, and, they had an area that had been delivering incremental change into production over the last seven years, but they hadn't delivered any new product feature or innovation. And the organization felt that they were getting left behind, competitors were overtaking them, and they really needed this team to step up and start delivering new product features. So, I was brought in to manage that transformation that wasn't just an agile transformation. It was a product transformation too. Now what I found was we had a team that, for over seven years, had grown increasingly toxic and very resistant to change. And after a few months, I realized I was out of my depth and that I couldn't help these people transform on any level, people processes, or tools by myself. And at that point is where I engaged with the organic scorecard process and agile mindfulness, and with a partner, we worked over a period of eight months, and each individual went through their own coaching. And then as a team of eight. And it took us, as I say, about eight months to get through the whole process. I was one of the first to go through the process myself just to make sure that, okay, this is something that can work and, and B will be accepted. People will sign up for it, and we'll go by themselves without having to be pushed to go in. So it took time and I was very nervous about it. Now the. I had, uh, if you look at the end result, it was a night and day difference from the day we took over; people started to collaborate. They started to share their knowledge, which was a big thing before people were not sharing their knowledge, which is why innovation was not happening. He who had the knowledge had the power and they were not going to share it. So, this broke down those barriers. And over time, this team started to coalesce into a well-organized team of teams. And in 12 months, we delivered eight months to go through this process. But over all 12 months, we delivered two new product features to the market. And they continued then on to greater successes, but that was the unlocking point that was really around the people. So since then, I've been a major protagonist, if you will, on addressing the people now, as you say, they’ll always be the one or two outliers that are resistant to change for whatever reason. And it may be a good reason. So it's not always a bad thing. So, uh, what I would say too is in an organization that's going through change, there are going to be those people that are your early adopters. They're excited by it. They, they want to go through it. There's going to be the mass that needs the handholding of the partnership. They've got to see the value for themselves, and then they will adopt, and then there's going to be those that are; this is not for me. And that's okay. So, if it's not for you, then what is for you? And if it's not there. Then let's help you with whatever else it might be. Or if it's you are making your own decision, that something else external may be better for you. So, I always look at it that if somebody is very resistant to change, you cannot force that; you have to have the conversation around. Is this something that is going to work for you and really after the coaching or whatever. Coming out the other side, after the agile mindfulness coaching, I see two key things. I see people that say, wow, I never knew this about myself, but now I know it. And they're very excited and they are moving forward with the change. And then I see the others that are, wow. I didn't know this about myself, but I now know what I want. And this isn't. And if you get that, if you get those two results, you can deal with it. Right. But if you don't address the mindfulness of the people, you're not necessarily going to, A, identify those that don't want to go with the change. So, if we do not identify those that are not adaptive to change, we're at risk of passive-aggressive behavior. And that's very dangerous within an organization. So, if we can work, understand where people are at. And those that want to go ahead with the change. They want to embrace it. They will move forward by themselves. Those that are a little bit hesitant might need some help, and there's that help. And they move forward with the change. Those that really don't want to change then they don't move forward with that change, and there's an alternative plan, but at least by going through the process of addressing the mindfulness of where people are at and how to help them move forward, we've identified who will move forward and who potentially won't.

[00:25:23] KRISTINA: I like how you summarize that because it makes me feel like whatever the outcome is, we can be in a situation where everybody feels good about it. And so it's not necessarily a very me against you environment. It's not very much, it doesn't have to be combative. It doesn't have to be negative. It's just a matter of figuring out who fits in where and what's best for the individual and helping them get from point a to point B in a way that works for them and works for the organization.

[00:25:53] CAROL: Yep. Absolutely. So another little case study is I was working with an organization that in their project management office, they were responsible for the transformation itself, for driving that within the organization. And they had a lot of good people that had high energy and were very focused on change. With that came the fact that there were no doers. Right. So, they had a lot of people with good ideas. They had people that could consult with their clients within the organization and could share what needed to be done. But there was a lack of implementation. And that was something that had been picked up by leadership. Okay. We've got a lot of good ideas, but we're not getting them through the pipe and implemented. So by going through and addressing the process, we understood. Okay. The process seems to sound okay. We have all of the tools that we need. So what is, where is the blocker? And the blocker came by understanding the mindset of the people and what drives them to understand. Okay. So, we have all the innovative ideas, but now we need to supplement this team with people that can take the idea and actually implement in pragmatic terms. And we shared that back with the leadership. Once they were aware, they, oh, well, we see that for ourselves. Now you've told us that we can see it for ourselves. And so they put the money behind now, bringing in a couple of more people, and supplemented the team with the right skill sets and the right mindsets. And that blocker then starts to clear, and they have the ideas and they have the implementation. So sometimes, just addressing processes and tools will get you so far, but it may not yield. As I said, all of the results that you're looking for, you definitely need to address the people component.

[00:27:48] KRISTINA: So, I've learned quite a bit from you today. The one thing that I'm still curious about, Carol, is there a potential timeframe for transformation, especially when we say agile; it makes me think like, oh, that'll be fast. But from the use cases you've shared today, it sounds like it's going to take as long as it takes. And there's no magic sort of timeframe in which an organization can transform. Is that true?

[00:28:13] CAROL: As we said, transformation is a journey. So by trying to put a timeframe on it, is dangerous in a way because it can set up false expectations that we are, you know, we're going to be a totally transformed organization within a year, within six months, within three months, whatever. So, what I tend to advocate to organizations is to understand that it is a journey, but where, what are the goals that you want to achieve? And where are your key pain points and blend the goals the organization is trying to meet with where the key pain points are and address those as the first priority, and to work with the collaboration of the leadership and the teams to actually build out a roadmap for how we address that. What's in that Venn diagram of goals and pain points. And once we start to show the results in those areas it gives confidence that change is happening. Pain points are being addressed, and delivery is happening according to the goals that need to be met. And thereafter, transformation continues, but it's a value-add. And because they will continually be an external catalyst for changing the organization, it will be continually transformed.

[00:29:36] KRISTINA: So, a new way of thinking, a new way of working. As you said, a very long journey, but hopefully a successful one, certainly with all the tips and tricks you've given us today, which should be much easier for the listener. Appreciate, Carol, to hang out today, discuss agile transformation, and share the depth and experience you've been through because I consider you now the go-to person on agile transformation. You've seen a lot of this. You've been through the trenches, and you have the scars to prove it.

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