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Solution Focused Work Evolution: Agile Transformation with an Agile Process

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Invitech is one of Hungary’s leading telecommunications and ICT solutions provider with over 600 employees and with a customer base of over 6000 businesses. The internal IT of Invitech has kicked off and speeded up its Agile Transformation during the Quarantine. What did they do differently, what is possible to achieve in just 3 months and how was this possible- this is what we were talking about with György Pászty, IT Director, Zsuzsana Papp, Project Manager of the iCRM project at the beginning of the process and with Elvira Kalmár, (Go Beyond Project) who supported the Transformation.

What makes the Agile Transformation of Invitech different?

Zsuzsi Papp: This is a Transformation, that was started in a small circle on the IT Directorate- supported by the Head of Internal IT, György Pászty by appointing an Expedition Team, one that has already been experimenting with some agile practices and who works on the continuous improvement of the CRM system of Invitech. The Management attitude could be described as a +0 to it: they were not against it, but not supported us with backing up the initiative either, but we did get the opportunity to experiment and innovate. And with that we got the most we needed, as I believe agility is innovation. We got the opportunity to plant the seeds of agility and though we are still on the road, the Expeditor Team went through such a development that we can say the seeds we planted are already growing and flourishing visibly.

Elvira Kalmár: On our first meeting it became very clear, that all three of us are believing in the bottom up initiated agile transformations and the impacts of it: if it works it will spread- only to where it is needed and only to the extent it is required by the business needs.

György Pászty: When we embarked on this process we did not know exactly how, but we wanted a Transformation that focuses on the people and helps bringing out their potential. The team was delivering functions before this Transformation also, but we all felt there must be a better way to do this- we just had no idea how that would look like exactly.

Why have you decided to work with Elvira and not with one of the bigger consultancy companies?

Zsuzsi Papp: Together with György we both believe in learning by doing. We see that trainings are useful, but to take the team to the Agile Journey we were looking for a support, who can join us in the early steps, and help us develop our own Agile ways and supports us to get on this Journey fast. Besides the usual criteria of procurement (flexibility, professional background, references, wide range of expertise and experiences) it was very important for us to have someone who does not want to implement something at us that worked well somewhere else. Because in an Agile Transformation there is no one recipe that fits all: what worked somewhere else might be the road to failure at us. We were looking for the supporter, who shares our believes that successful agile transformations can start small.

György Pászty: As we wanted to focus on our colleagues and their way of thinking and acting, we were looking for someone who prefers to and knows how to work with the people and not just the methodology- and in Elvira we have found this combination.

What were the business needs, expectations, when you started?

Zsuzsi Papp: The iCRM was a project bleeding from many wounds: delivery and releases where ad-hoc and slow due to the ever-changing business needs, for the Business it was not transparent, what is the team working on. The Project Backlog was ever growing and our time to react was way slower than expected. We did not have the capacity to adapt to the changing Business requirements fast. There was a lack of trust from the Business towards the team when we started the Transformation.

You had a key role in this process Zsuzsi: what were your experiences, difficulties?

Zsuzsi Papp: I was more than happy to take a lead role in our Agile Transformation, that brought way more things to us then we could imagine at the beginning of the Process. As a person (including my personal and professional growth), as a team and as an organisation the development is overreaching every our expectation.

That also means we had to face lot more challenges also during this time. For me the biggest challenge was to support the mindset change on the personal and team level. I was the Project Manager at the Expeditor Team, and even though from the beginning of the project we have used agile elements and practices- like product backlog, daily stand-ups, Kanban board to visualise progress- but we were not agile, like any other teams, organisations, where you introduce them and then they relax, that it is done. The change in our way of thinking did not happen yet- we were not thinking agile.

To change the mindset of the team, I had to be able to change mine first radically and switch from a classical project manager function to be able to step back, support the team and it’s self-organising, create a working environment that empowers them and motivates them indirectly to take responsibility as a team for their work, to reach the goals we set together with the Business.

Sometimes it meant clenching my teeth and letting the team to make a mistake so they can learn from it. To support the team, I have been supporting them in their individual and team reflections on retrospectives and using reinforcement. The team and its performance have very soon overreached what I could get out of them earlier with my command and control leadership style.

The scepticism of the Organisation was a great challenge for me to overcome too. In the beginning they did not believe in the direction of this change or that it can really fulfil the performance promises we made to them. We had to prove that this is not just some trendy thing to go Agile. By the improving transparency of our work, by adapting to the changing business needs, and by delivering regularly on time we could earn the trust and respect of the Business units and develop their commitment and satisfaction in just a few months. They look at the IT not as a reactive service delivery unit but as a proactive Supporting Partner of the Business.

So, what has become better in the company due to this Transformation?

Zsuzsi Papp: Let’s use the feedback of the business unit representatives. This is how Veronika Ódor and Csaba Ilosvay listed the improvements they have noticed after the three months:

1. Faster reaction time: for the new requests during the quarantine we had because of COVID19 we did not have to wait months- we got the solutions very quickly without turning the agreed releases upside down.

2. User friendly paste of improvements: the users get every month a new feature or function, and the change is only as big as they can get used to it in a month before a new function comes.

3. Reliability: because of the length of the sprints and exact delivery dates we plan better and because of this delay almost never occurs.

4. Motivating: we have a continuous feeling of things improving, so the participants from the business side are more motivated to work on the specifications, as they are sure it is a time well invested, and they know when it will turn into reality.

5. Transparency: the business requirements are collected and prioritised together, so we are all aware what is it that we are wanting from the IT, and it is transparent to everyone why did we prioritised them in a way to ensure business improvement and continuity and not to fulfil individual needs.

6. Organised: the Project Manager and the business analysts are coordinating everything from the request all the way to supporting users in using the new functions.

7. Leading by example: Keeping the deadlines and releasing the agreed functions built the trust of the business units and their involvements into the process.

8. Confidence: A solid delivery confident IT is a better partner then the one always being behind schedule. The overall mood and feeling of progress have been supported by the visible pride of the IT staff and the satisfaction of the business.

9. Humour: There is humour again- we missed it so much.

Zsuzsi Papp: There is one more great benefit besides all of these: we have managed to develop a motivated and experienced team, who can support agility to spread in the company. As Elvira many times told us, now without the support of the consultant the Expedition Team Members can support others in their journey of agility.

György Pászty: I agree. What makes me the happiest besides the business and performance benefits is the change I have noticed in the way of thinking of my colleagues: I have noticed a great change of the Project Manager, but also in the IT business analyst, the head developer and in the developing team members. They have discovered the potential in this new way of working and became eager to further develop it by themselves- so self-organising of our team has started.

What makes this transformation different?

Elvira Kalmár: We have used the tools and technics of the Solution Focused Organisation Development and Design to catalyse the Evolution of the company. With this approach the consultant’s presence and interventions with the company are minimalised while the impact and the handling over the necessary approaches, skills and tools are maximised. This way the organisation learns on-the-job and develops its own competencies (without training) while being in the transformation and is prepared to further spread the knowledge without the support of the consultant.

With this approach we start the work differently: there is no time and effort invested into diagnosis and to figure out the problems but instead we do start the process with defining and describing the end result, the preferred future in a very detailed way. In our case this was about:

- the CRM team to accept and fully embrace agility,

- continue the CRM system development in an agile and self-managing way, so that by August there is no more need for a Project Manager,

- there is a visible and acknowledged successful delivery by the Business and

- even a raising interest by other IT teams and the Business towards the agile way of working.

The other distinguishing sign of this approach is that we build on what works well already from the preferred future: in our case this was the self-motivation and belief of the Project Manager in agility, her credentials as a solid project manager, the already used sprint planning and business prioritisation methods. We did not plan upfront how we are going to bridge the gap, but instead we tried to identify the first most important steps that can take us closer to the Preferred Future. We did not plan the whole process and series of interventions, but we also followed the monthly sprint lengths and defined at the end of each sprint where would be the most impactful to support the team and its own evolution building on the paste of the evolution of the team.

In the evolutionary approach there is a huge emphasis on the Team’s and the Organisation’s self-reflecting and learning capability and to create the necessary environment for these reflective events- Retrospectives. On the Retrospectives we do not just look back at the delivery but this is the place where the team based on their own reflections can suggest new and better ways to work together and make new agreements, that are valid and kept from the moment they are made- no need for Change Management.

In this case the role of the Project Manager (in other cases this could be a team leader or someone else) was crucial as her role was to support the team on this journey. First, she had to get closer and became part of the team before she could start stepping back step-by-step. Her own process was supported by coaching, mentoring and shadowing. The team only met the consultant twice, when the Consultant facilitated the two Retrospectives, and through a month she was there in the background for the Weekly Meetings and Retrospective, shadowing and supporting the Project Manager. Almost right after the first Retrospective the whole operation moved online due to the COVID19- and this has not slowed down the process at all.

How did you notice that you do not need the Consultant anymore?

Zsuzsi Papp: I would rather say what signs I have noticed regarding the team development that made me confident we are on a good way:

· The team has reached a level where they are interested in and drive their own learning process.

· I could back out from my Project Manager role almost completely as the team took responsibility for the goal setting, the planning, the task allocating, the progress reviewing functions completely. In this of course every member of the team played a huge role, especially the Business Analyst and the Head Developer.

· Due to the strengthening tendency of self-organisation, the team cohesion has become incredibly strong- that is a great satisfaction and pleasure to see. The shared goals are important for everyone and the team is ready to focus its attention and efforts towards delivering them.

· On the Retrospectives the team is focusing on finding the solutions to their problems and are able to use these events as the space for team level learning. We have almost run out of the things they want to stop and almost everything moved over into the continuous category. We have found our own agile way.

Elvira Kalmár: The team has improved incredibly during these 3 months. The best signs of this was how they were becoming more and more honest and transparent in evaluating what they did and how they worked together. For the 2nd Retrospective they arrived with already prepared suggestions about what else they would like to try to do differently, what would they like to experiment with. The team took over these retrospectives from the Project Manager more and more and with time they were ready to take over and share between themselves the role the Project Manager fulfilled until now and she could slip into the role of mentoring them in their new roles.

What made me also confident that Zsuzsi will be a good person to support the others is that I heard more and more in our mentoring sessions how she used the tools and knowledge with the team that I have used and shared with her earlier. She has truly grown in front of my eyes from a very good Project Manager into a very good internal Agile Champion, who is well equipped to support others on their journey.

Last but not least, the clearest sign for me that we have reached the goals of our joint journey was when Zsuzsi stopped bringing topics into her mentoring sessions about the CRM team and started talking about her challenges she has now as the new Project Lead of the company’s biggest program and how could she bring in there agility when it is not about software development only and more.

György Pászty: On my side our joint work on this Transformation has overreached every of my expectations, it was very-very interesting and full of insights and learnings being part of it, and I am very sure we will benefit from it in the future in many ways we cannot even foresee yet.


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