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Danske Bank improves customer experience faster and get happier employees with Agile

Interview with Danske Banks Kasper Uhd Jepsen, First Vice President and Head of customer experience, regulation and projects in the C&I Business development.

In short. How has Danske Bank traditionally done development?

“In regards to product development we have traditionally taken a waterfall-oriented approach with a hard line between the business and the IT organization. Going forward we are dissolving that line and executing in more cross-functional teams. The essence of our strategy is a superior customer experience, so Agile for us is also a very strong focus on customer experience, co-creation and prototype feedback. We are including real customers in our development and aim to scale this further through our customer journey concept.”

Why did you decide to start working in an agile manner?

“Our customer-focused strategy and Agile is a good fit. We are able improve customer experience faster. From an internal point of view, we are constrained on resources like other companies. Hence, the motivation is also productivity, less risk and happier employees.”

Has it been achieved?

“Partly, I believe. Like all other improvements, it will never be fully complete, but we currently have programs and projects running the way we want - however, others are not, yet. Going forward we are running new programs and project designs the right way from the get go. As a result the old way of working will eventually die.”

Can you give us an example on how you work Agile on a day-to-day basis?

“Agile is very much about high performance teams and there are rituals that characterizes them: Daily huddles and the use of Kanban/sprint boards. It is important to have clear priorities based on customer feedback and few WIP (work in progress), as it reduces the need for multitasking, which hinders productivity. If we have teams in a global context or on different sites, we typically meet in person weekly or bi-weekly for the other key rituals in Agile such as demos, retrospective and sprint planning. This way we bond socially which is core for high performance teams.”

What challenges has Danske Bank experienced in the implementation of Agile?

“I think the challenges we have experienced are similar to those of most other companies. When you do something like Agile, most leaders consider it a tool or new way of working that will bring results. Of course, results will come, but if you still have an old governance model and leadership structure, a lot of the productivity you gain is lost in this layer. This can be very frustrating for the employees.”

So far, what has been the biggest wins Danske Bank has experienced?

“As part of our customer and agile agenda, we have had a range of successful projects piloting our new way of working after the financial crisis. One example is MobilePay where Business, IT and other key stakeholders are sitting together and collaborating with our customers. The focus is getting a minimal viable product in the market fast and then learn (and perhaps fail) fast based on customer feedback. In terms of going from waterfall to Agile, another example is our cash management program. To begin with, 25 different small waterfall oriented projects tried to do more or less the same work uncoordinated. Therefore, we merged and killed some of the projects and steering committees to create a new core team across Business and IT. This new core team and their product owner, could work much faster and delivered a fully ‘minimal viable product’ within four months.”

What would you say has been the most important learning from Danske Banks work with Agile thus far?

“The most important learning in Danske Bank is that Agile actually started bottom-up in the IT organization five years ago. Since then, many capabilities has been build, but when it starts from the bottom, it depends on a few dedicated souls to drive it. I have seen this approach in other companies as well and it is not sustainable in the long run. Therefore, the most important learning is: As with all strategy changes related to ‘the way you work’ it has to be done top-down or at least middle-out. Maybe even both. It is very important that the people pushing it forward is the middle management.”

Why?

“They are typically the most difficult people to change, as they are taking a lot of risks. For an example that their jobs might change or that they even become redundant. Therefore, alignment between top and middle management is important to ensure that the transformation will be successful. Other project members like programmers and business analysts will be working differently, but they will still do more or less the same work, which is why they typically will support the change, when they discover that Agile is motivating and fun.”

What do you think you will be doing differently going forward? – will you be implementing a more agile methodology such as SAFe?

“Yes, we are working on that. However, I do not think the methodology itself is that important– it is the culture, governance and leadership transformation that is important. Currently we are doing different pilots on scaled agile. Typically scaled agile is harder to implement as it usually affects existing governance structures more and runs across multiple silos, so that is where we are focusing. After we have done the pilots, we will learn and scale up.”

How is the collaboration with suppliers in an agile context compared to that of traditional contracts?

“Some contract conditions can prevent Agile. In larger organizations where you have contract-like agreements across the value chain between e.g. IT and business it can result in problems. We believe in empowerment and there are generally nothing in our agreement systems or procurement that prevents us from working Agile. Therefore, I do not see any overall barriers here, but of course in other cases it could be a very big barrier.”

What would be your top advice for other large organizations that wish to be Agile?

“I believe Agile like lean is just an operational strategy for optimizing productivity and happiness. As with other strategies that needs to be implemented in smaller or larger companies, it is important to consider the challenges in the context you are in. For Danske Bank as well as other larger organizations, that is: How do you adapt the culture, governance and leadership to this operational change where you work in a different way? Agile and cross functional work is fun and motivating for most of the development teams, so, focus should be on adopting the habits of middle management and the structures preventing Agile.”

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