Finding Agile Nirvana

On alphaBeta, we’ve been sharing learnings about ATB’s own agile transformation. In Part I, we explored the Principles and Governance Framework: key assets developed to create consensus around this evolution as well as how to measure ourselves along the way. Part II dove into seeking alignment among leaders and honing the right mindset. 

There’s no finish line in agile transformation. No moment when an organization can say, “we’re done here.”

Rather, as we seek to find Agile Nirvana at ATB, what we’re really looking to accomplish at the end of this transformation is a cultural, psychological, and process shift that encompasses everything we do. Customer obsession through agility: a state of thinking, designing, building, and acting that is forever nimble and focused on delivering value.

In the last two articles in this series, we shared the foundational principles, practices, tools, and leadership philosophies that are supporting our agile journey. But as we look to the end goal of this transformation, it’s important to note that achieving ‘Nirvana’ means intentional, evolving training will make way for a more internalized, second nature. A state of simply ‘being.’ 

So in this final installment, we decided to look at the Agile shift from a product teams perspective; shifting from theory to practice once they had gone through agile bootcamp training and received coaching.

Case in point: Business Banking
The Business Banking team took on the ambitious goal of building a brand new platform for their customers - from the ground up. The scope is massive. From building the technology stack itself, to defining feature roll-outs and timing, not to mention moving customers from the old platform over to the new one. We asked them about achieving Agile Nirvana - and if they felt they were on the right path. Here’re what they believe is helping them with agile success:

  1. A solid vision. A robust roadmap.
    The team knew the vision: to help customers spend less time banking and more time growing their business. Unity in the overall product platform vision and goal is key, and a constant work in progress, but shared clarity into how a team gets there is another. For the Business Banking team, it meant collaboratively defining the product roadmap (across six different squads!). Traditionally, so many squads would lead to silos, but by defining the roadmap together (and treating it as a living document that evolves incrementally each day) gave everyone an understanding of being “in this together.” 
  2. Backlog Health
    All six Business Banking squads aim to have three sprints prepared in advance. We believe this is a marker of backlog health and certainty. With six squads in play at all times, everyone has visibility into a collective 18 sprints worth of progress. This allows for short-term planning to paint the bigger picture of the long term vision.
  3. The Art and Science of Squads
    One of the first realizations in the shift to agile was that in order to effectively use the tools at hand (such as ceremonies like standups and sprint kick-offs), squads needed to be the ‘right’ size. For Business Banking, they felt six to seven people per squad made for more effective communication and efficient decision-making as everyone could have a voice - in even the shortest of meetings.

    Another factor of success: differing opinions, perspectives, and skill sets, from team members within and outside the squad. The right skills, the right mix allows for true collaboration by embedding the habits of collaborative development. One where designers, data experts, and developers are problem-solving at the same desk in real-time instead of passing the baton down the assembly line. Bonus outcome: shared respect of one another’s expertise, and more integrated and effective use of data for decision-making.
  4. Efficient leadership
    Becoming Agile also meant Business Banking (and other units at ATB) sought to define more clarity in Product roles, realizing that - in their case - it made sense to have one Product Leader (whose role is to keep the overall eyes on the big, long term vision and creates consensus and advocates for support among executive stakeholders), one Product Manager (who serves as a mediator between that big vision while supporting teams through day-to-day opportunities and challenges), and finally — multiple Product Owners — who work with individual squads. 

This allows for keeping the big goal in mind, while remaining nimble enough to roll up sleeves and and  be granular — without getting stuck on one side of that pendulum. 

The key to becoming agile, say the team members in Business Banking, is the focus on working together on continuous releases. Not only does this practice keep the backlog healthy, but it promotes progress and a sense of shared accomplishment. 

Importantly, it puts the product and the customer right at the centre of focus.

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