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Leveraging the Power of Agile through Learning Transformation

We have transformed the US Personal Banking learning organization to Agile – a mindset and project management approach that separates work into short feedback loops and emphasizes continuous collaboration and improvement. Our development cycle cultivates transparency, inspection, and adaptation through structured cadences.  The nomenclature we and our business partners now use includes “Scrum, Sprints, Squads, MVP, Iteration, User-story, Epics, Acceptance Criteria, and Definition of Done.” We have aligned ourselves with the businesses we support through this unique, innovative, and effective methodology of working. To quote our business partners, “We’d never go back to the old ways of working.” 

This case study represents one of the submissions for i4cp's 2024 Next Practice Awards, winners will be honored at the i4cp 2024 Next Practices Now Conference. You can also view other Next Practice Award case studies.

Business challenge

Disconnected Business Partners: Our business partners required a higher level and quality of service. We needed to improve our responsiveness, establish our value-add and elevate our business partner engagement.

Challenge between Operating Model and Agile Ways of Working: Our model included many hand-offs across multiple teams, which created challenges in terms of accountability and prioritization.  We had an opportunity to shift to a Helix operating model which supports two, distinct lines of accountability, roughly equal in power and authority, but fundamentally different. This model cultivates the advancement of empowered and adaptable teams, establishing the organizational structure required to become Agile.

Solution – Scope & Innovation

The What:

Our mission was to transform the structure, systems, and culture of 323 geographically dispersed learning professionals to align with Agile mindset, values, principles, and practices. Through extensive research and certification training, we transformed through systems, strategy, and design thinking to fully operate as an Agile organization – adept and mapped to business agility and continuous learning. This has enabled us to quickly pivot in a fast-changing, fast-paced environment, while exceeding customer and learner needs and requirements. We do this by:

  • Making decisions faster.
  • Increasing speed-to-market through frequent delivery of value.
  • Driving accountability and ownership.
  • Prioritizing work based on value.
  • Increasing transparency and visibility of work.
  • Simplifying work through reuse, repurpose, and minimum requirements.
  • Embracing changes and adapting quickly.
  • Breaking down silos to increase diversity, co-creation, collaboration, and innovation.
  • Fostering a culture of learning through experimentation and celebrating failure.

The How:

We took an evolutionary approach to introducing Agile, acknowledging the importance of providing ample space and time to change our culture and learn how to BE Agile before we could effectively DO Agile. We established a 3-year transformation strategy with iterative, incremental delivery.

Citi Strategy and RoadmapWe developed a holistic transformation strategy and plan, fueled by data and research, consultation, and risk management. We took a balanced approach in addressing the three pillars of Agile transformation and Business Agility: Organization, Systems, and Teams.

Organization:
Our Agile transformation started by establishing an organizational structure and operating model to serve as the foundation for the demanding and substantial change we anticipated. We created a leaner, flatter, and integrated structure in a Helix model to have a well-defined separation between value-creation and capability enrichment. We identified new roles and introduced a new interaction model to enable the Agile framework.  

Next, we focused on enhancing our organization’s operational health, change attributes, and competency. Leveraging a systematic and methodological Change Management strategy and approach, we introduced a Culture Manifesto and Agile Learning Plan that cultivated psychological safety and Agile mindset, values, and principles. We executed a blend of internal and external Change Management and Agile certifications and trainings to build a resilient, competent, and proficient organization. We invested in developing our people leaders through Agile Leadership and change management training so they could support and empower their people. 

We continue to reinforce our organizational transformation by forming Guilds (communities of practice) and change coalitions that serve as feedback and communication channels.

We measure and monitor our success through Prosci’s Change Triangle, ADKAR, and satisfaction interviews/surveys.  

Systems:

We recognized that to realize the full benefits of agility, we needed to align our infrastructure to Agile. To understand the impacts of new ways of working, we piloted two Agile teams, enabling us to identify gaps, adjust, and set our conditions to scale.

Scrum conflicted with our original style of development, inspiring us to adopt Agile Learning design and development techniques such as the Successive Approximation Model (SAM) and Lot A Like Agile Management Approach (LLAMA). Scrum and Agile Learning design and development techniques inspired adjustments, simplification, and re-engineering of our infrastructure. By aligning to Agile and removing barriers, we augmented the Agile teams’ practices, resulting in efficiency gains in the forms of removing wait time for work allocation (100% decrease), reducing review and approvals timeframe (90% decrease), and eliminating overdocumentation.

We supplemented our infrastructure by introducing a systemic Backlog (Book of Work) using JIRA, a platform designed to empower Agile organizations. The centralized backlog enables the organization to provide visibility and transparency to all the work and value delivered to our business partners.

Teams:

We designed self-managed, self-organized, self-directed, cross-functional Agile teams that can produce end-to-end solutions (self-sufficient) and deliver value to their business partners. We introduced Agile roles and Agile coaches to align with the new framework and ways of working.

As part of Agile team onboarding, we created the Agile Dojo. This learning approach delivered education, exposure, and experience to Agile (adaptive) mindset and ways of working, simulating the iterative and incremental process of Agile. A typical Agile cycle ranges from 2-4 weeks. In the Agile Dojo, learners were subjected to accelerated cycles lasting for 1.5-2 days. The accelerated nature of the dojo allowed participants to go through cycles with ceremonies multiple times, helping learners gain exposure and experience in dealing with the situations and circumstances teams experience outside the dojo.

Our journey was not without obstacles. The newness of Agile ways of working made people uncomfortable and we had to manage resistance. As a bank, we are a highly governed organization with countless processes requiring flawless execution. Being Agile required shifting our focus to people over processes (without exposing the organization to significant risk), having a growth mindset, being open to experimentation, and working in new ways. The reality is that failure is part of learning and must be embraced as a First Attempt In Learning. This required a mindset and culture shift – progress is the goal, not perfection.

Results & Impact

Our Agile Transformation pilot yielded remarkable success, culminating in the decision to scale.  Success measures include:

Employee acceptance and ownership:

  • Increased by 23%

“I’ve never been given so much control and input over the work I’ve done.”
– Agile team member

“The Agile structure allows us to produce better outcomes for our clients compared to our old way of doing things.”
– Agile team member

Stakeholder buy-in:

  • Adoption increased by 20%
  • Engagement increased by 57%

“The team has been so responsive and collaborative with the business to ensure we are creating
high impact learning experiences for our leaders.”
– Business Partner

“Opened the door to address one-off business imperatives.”
– Business Partner

“Saves time by reducing the number of meetings and emails it takes to finalize a product.”
– Business Partner

Operational Efficiency and Effectiveness:

  • Branch Manager:  7-day reduction in course content integrating Managing Risk which prepares this audience to be “audit ready” six months sooner than their former training.
  • Speed to Market: Average of nine learning solutions every four weeks (increased 15% every week)
  • Quality: 100% (no rework)

Product Effectiveness (Creativity and Innovation):

  • Increased learner engagement by 41%
  • Streamlined a learning course through reuse and repurpose of existing programs.
  • Accelerated learner proficiency by six months.

Culture survey findings (administered July 2023) indicate discernible enhancements in our organizational culture.

  • Receives feedback on performance improvement: 
    2022: 89% 
    2023: 94.02% 
  • Psychological Safety: 
    2022: 93% 
    2023: 95.65% 
  • Celebrates successes/failures: 
    2022: 91% 
    2023: 95.66% 

Conclusion

Our organization continues to scale Agile teams, extending the positive pilot results.

Throughout our transformation, we took an experimental approach and pivoted our strategy and implementation based on learnings. We acted as risk managers, ensuring changes and adjustments met our regulatory, audit, and compliance obligations.

We designed our Agile teams to be agnostic to any framework but have made a strategic decision to induct them to Agile using Scrum. We discovered the simplicity, consistency, and repetitive nature of Scrum provided the necessary structure for our teams to learn the framework quickly, allowing them to focus on building their interpersonal skills and strengthening their team relationship. As the Agile teams adopted new ways of working, we observed organic growth and maturity in their creativity, innovation, efficiency, self-management, self-organization, self-direction, cross-functionality, and camaraderie. Other learnings include:

  • Agile isn’t for everyone; resource adjustments will be made as needed.
  • Engage leadership early and often with their teams’ change journeys.
  • It can be challenging for leaders to shift away from command & control.
  • Effective self-managed teams require conflict resolution skills, enhanced collaboration skills, autonomy, and empowerment.
  • Embrace iterative, incremental, and frequent value-add.
  • Co-creation and collaboration with business partners is essential.

We are committed to living our Agile values and principles by regularly gathering feedback from employees and business partners and adapting to find the most effective ways of working to deliver business agility.