Testing, learning and finding your skateboard

Sure, change is hard – but that’s not an excuse not to try. Commitment to change is more important than ever. As Nick Tasler wrote in a recent piece for the Harvard Business Review, negative biases toward change affect the outcome, creating a “toxic self-fulfilling prophecy”.

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The world is constantly changing and the pace of change is rapidly accelerating. Companies globally are trying to keep pace – with competitors, with technology, with culture.

"Although we like to think we know what our customers like, we don’t really know until we treat product development as a series of experiments.”  - Christian Venter & Katrina Kolt

As many find when trying to do things differently, making cultural change stick is tough - particularly at older, long-established institutions. The rewards are what make it all worth it.

Companies from disparate sectors like ING, Spotify and Ericsson have adopted unique ways of working - ‘going agile’ - in order to modernise their workforce, get the most out of their staff and ensure they are providing the best possible customer experience.

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What’s your skateboard?

Blogger and agile coach Henrik Kniberg has a simple but effective analogy for the test and learn process – and it comes in the form of a picture

Test and learn is an approach we have embraced at ANZ . The approach is about zooming in on the problem you are trying to solve, establishing who you are trying to solve it for and then working out where to start – asking, as Kniberg would say, ‘what’s your skateboard?’ – not ‘what‘s your wheel?’.

With this new approach, every new product built for customers at ANZ is really a question we are asking them – Did you like it? Did you hate it? Will you use it again?

It is a humbling notion - although we like to think we know what our customers like, want and respond to, we don’t really know until we treat product development as a series of experiments.

What we’ve learned so far is lessons from peers are a hugely effective learning tool for staff.

As Barry O’Reilly writes, people “remember examples and take inspiration from others” – what challenges they faced, how they addressed them and what they would do differently in the future.

According to Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in HBR in 1986, when members of a project team “…stay in close touch with outside sources of information, they can respond quickly to changing market conditions.”

“Team members engage in a continual process of trial and error to narrow down the number of alternatives that they must consider.”

Taking inspiration

Our process at ANZ has been inspired in parts by the work of Spotify which successfully crafted an agile company in the highly-competitive music streaming sector.

In financial services, lender ING took an agile approach aimed at fostering an efficient, flexible and energised workplace. ANZ’s leadership team spent time with the Dutch bank learning the ins and outs of the agile mindset. 

That leader buy-in has been a key part of the success of ANZ’s change – with a commitment that comes right from the top.

With that commitment comes a rethinking of funding – and an end to the traditional, annual  ‘corporate hunger games’, so to speak, where only the strongest survive and those who shout the loudest thrive. Funding now goes to customer-related missions, with tribes backed to prove the value. 

At ANZ we’ve started small – and are still finding our skateboard, so to speak. But we’re gaining a greater grasp of what our customers want, which is going a long way to improve our customer experience, and ultimately our business. 

Chris Venter is New Ways of Working Technology Transformation Lead and Katrina Kolt is an Enterprise Agile Coach at ANZ

This piece is an edited version of presentations given at the Scrum Australia Conference in 2017.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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