Three big answers to ‘why agile?’

If someone said to me 12 months ago words such as ‘tribe’, ‘squad’, ‘sprint wall’, ‘retrospective’ or ‘epic’ would be unexceptional and part of my everyday language I’m not sure I would have believed them.

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But here we are. Trying new things. At ANZ, we see it as the only way we will be able to deliver quality services to our customers, quicker value to market and better engage and energise our staff. 

"We need to be fast to try things. Even if we fail, that’s how we learn. It’s the agile way.”

We need to be fast to try things. Even if we fail, that’s how we learn. It’s the agile way.

It’s hard to pursue such a mindset in a 180-year-old company but we’re trying. With less emphasis placed on level of hierarchy in the way we work, there is a greater focus on collaboration and delivering better customer outcomes.

As Boston Consulting Group’s Sam Stewart writes, “a flatter hierarchy helps speed decision making”.

At ANZ, having spent the last year working in earnest on what we know will be a much longer journey, we’ve already taken some meaningful lessons on the key beneficiaries of the change.  I’ve collected some of my observations below. 

But why?

The business case for agile in three points.

  • To drive speed to market for customers

Agile is not just about pace in isolation but deeply understanding what customers value. Asking ‘what will they reward us for with their advocacy?’ before getting those capabilities to market with pace and quality.

As author and consultant Michael Bolton writes, agile speed is “not necessarily forward motion but the ability to turn quickly and to recover your balance quickly when something comes along to knock you off it”.

“The kind of speed allows agile teams to make quick and graceful course corrections, rather than running frantically in one directly. Frantic plus agile equals fragile.”

  • To energise people and creative a collaborative work environment

We know when people operate in an agile environment, empowered and galvanised around a customer mission, they are simply more engaged.

As JEC MD and agile consultant John Eary says, by “empowering their employees to work how, where and when they choose, there is evidence [staff] increase their productivity and provide service improvements by working in a way that suits them best”.

At ANZ, we’ve spent enough time learning through doing over the years in our projects and tech spaces – where agile has long-since been more common – to know that.

A flatter structure is paramount. As Dr Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum says, a manager’s “prime directive shouldn’t be to manage, it should be to help and facilitate, to motivate and guide others around a vision”.

“In other words, what growing tech companies need are leaders, not managers.”

  • To being more productive and efficient

At ANZ, by simplifying our own operating environment, eliminating waste, breaking down silos and blowing up bureaucracy we’ve increased the metabolic rate of the organisation - and frankly made it easier to get stuff done.

According to Harvard Business Review, using agile techniques helped machinery group John Deere compress its project cycle speeds in some cases by more than 75 per cent. One particular working prototype was developed in about eight months.

“If everything went perfectly in a traditional process,” a Deere executive told HBR, “it would be a year and a half at best. And it could be as much as two and a half or three years.”


Agile is so much more than a set of practices, methodology and tools. Indeed, one of the pitfalls we could very easily have fallen into is to focus too much on ‘tools’.  And in that way, we could have ended up trading one set of practises for another; one set of doctrines for another

As my colleague Maile Carnegie says, the agile methodology is more than just theatre.

What excites me with agile at ANZ is liberating ourselves and our people from the constraints of bureaucracy, empowering people to crack on and deliver.

That, by the way, has not been without its challenges. We may all like to think everyone dislikes bureaucracy and process but, let’s face it, we’ve brought up generations for whom that is a safety net, for whom it’s disconcerting to be singularly accountable.

Many leaders have become successful because of their ability to put their arms around a situation, take control and wrestle it to the ground. Now we are asking them to let go of a few things.

It’s a major cultural change and therefore one which needs to be deeply embedded in the fabric of large businesses. Fundamentally, the DNA of large organisation is to codify, to process, to ‘lock it down’. Resist!

This is precisely the point of an agile transformation: becoming more adaptive and being flexible in the face of the unknown.

None of us knows what the future looks like. We don’t have perfect foresight but we do know it’s going to be different. We need the courage to be honest and responsive to it.

Kath Bray is customer engagement lead at ANZ

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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