On 5 May, the RI Consulting community organized the first RI-tup of the year, where two major players from the banking and pharmaceutical sectors were represented. The extraordinary roundtable discussion covered, among other topics, the reasons and challenges of the shift to agility, management buy-in, objectives and biggest lessons learned. The panel discussion was attended by Tibor Kövesi, Member of the Management Board of Roche Pharma Hungary; Head of Strategy and Organisational Development, and Dávid Bödők, Head of Agile CoE at Hungarian Bankholding.
Why agile? Does it not only work in the IT sector? - starts Luca Veress, agile consultant at RI Consulting, the roundtable discussion.
Tibor: It is indeed often said, but less and less heard, that agile only works in the IT sector, yet here we are the representatives of two completely different sectors. David represents the banking sector and I represent the pharmaceutical sector. Although agile has grown out of a software development methodology, it has many elements that are welcome in any collaboration. For example, the cross-functional structure of teams around goals and the importance of team’s autonomy. And, beyond that, why did we choose agile? Perhaps three things: the changing external environment, the rapid increase in the speed of innovation and the birth of startups.
Who saw the point of agile? How difficult was the buy-in?
Dávid: There was no question from the very beginning that the new digital solution that the Foundation is responsible for, built on the merger of Hungarian Bankholding (MKB Bank, Budapest Bank, Takarékbank), requires an agile methodology. And the Foundation was created to develop an agile organisation at the level of a 200-300 person organisation, whose methodology could later be applied to the entire Bankholding, an organisation of more than 10,000 people.
Tibor: We started thinking globally in 2016. The beauty of the story was, that we started to develop a new approach with an agile methodology, involving many colleagues, which teams and countries could start to apply at their own pace and according to their needs. So, when we started the transformation in Hungary in 2019, we involved several colleagues from different areas and different levels in the joint development of the new working methodology and organisational structure.
In addition, management commitment was gradually built up, and senior managers knew exactly that the transformation could only be successful if they themselves lived the process and moved to an agile methodology.
What bumps have you had?
Tibor: In the design of agile processes, there are points where in theory it is clear how we can move forward, but in reality either the team cannot let go of the old system, or one of the leaders reverts to the old routine and we spend more time making certain decisions, when that time should be decreasing. For us, the lesson from this was that in a large organisation with well-established tools, there are some crutches that need to be left for a while. For example, full empowerment doesn't always work the first time, so you have to find the middle point, the balance, with enough flexibility, and this can be a different situation for each issue and for each team.
Dávid: It's very rare that a new organisation grows that fast, because even a startup or an international company has organic growth, but we built a 150-person organisation in six months, and we've been agile from the very beginning. That was the biggest challenge for us: to apply agility, build the organisation from scratch, bring in new technologies and develop a new product structure all at the same time.
Many people question the usefulness of the playbook (the plan for the transformation to be undertaken, that the big consultancies give to the client). Has the playbook helped you or is it just greenwashing of the big consultancies?
Tibor: We started with a playbook and then the processes evolved organically over time. I think the playbook is a good starting point to help you understand what agility might look like in practice and it is a good crutch for the first period. However, in practice it will vary a little bit from team to team, what the exact processes are, and even the higher level organisational structure may change. This is fine, as circumstances will change in the meantime.
Dávid: We started the implementation without a playbook, and as the organisation evolves, we are writing and developing our playbook in parallel, tailored to our own needs.
Do you measure agility, and if so, how?
Dávid: Although the banking sector is a strong area from a regulatory point of view, agility is not covered by this regulation. We do not yet measure it with specific quantifiable tool, although we are working on its development. In the meantime, we are focusing on the mindset and on the feeling. It is important that each team feels its own progress and that of the organisation as a whole. Of course, this also means that this dimension is difficult to incorporate into the performance assesment system at the moment, but the Foundation is so early in this journey that we have more processes in the pipeline.
Tibor: We had a major review event at the beginning of the year, where the colleagues were free to join, and we assessed together how far we had come. We were mainly looking for signs and examples of both improvement and potential areas for improvement.
Quite a lot has changed since the beginning: teams have changed, and in the meantime we have eliminated a lot of decision steps that slowed down the work. In some areas, doors have been opened for staff that they didn't have before: for example, several colleagues who had been working mainly in the background have been given the opportunity to engage with the players in the healthcare ecosystem, our partners, which has of course reinforced the client focus and in many cases has brought extra motivation. Among other things, such changes are the indicators of the success of the transformation.
When you hire someone, how do you check that she/he fits into the team?
Dávid: For us, the first step is the professional line - whether you are up to the position we want to hire you for. At this interview, there is always a colleague who is already familiar with agile and the first interview includes more general questions related to agile, focusing on the candidate's mindset and thinking. At the next level, there is a cultural fit interview with the product owner or agile coach of the team, where they ask targeted questions that point to the key values of agile, such as collaboration and customer centricity. If the candidates fit we hire her/him.
What is the most pressing issue for you now, what will you focus on in the near future?
Tibor: Our goal now is primarily organic development, to dare to change the line-up and the operating method in accordance with the agile spirit, even if the circumstances change.
Dávid:Establish the structure of the organisation. We've brought in a lot of new talent from the three organisations, which also means that our structure and roles need to be constantly evolving, developed and written down to be transparent and accessible to everyone, so that's the most important task now.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Tibor: Don't get too hung up on the most rigidly specific methodologies, but don't give up too easily either, because you need to move colleagues out of their comfort zone. Also, on a personal note, always have some kind of energy source to recharge your batteries, as there will be bumps in the road. These two things I think are key at the beginning of agility.
Dávid:Patience, maintaining momentum and communication. Some things simply take time and it is important for us to recognise that cultural change does not happen one day to another.