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Agile at BBVA: a journey of continuous transformation

In 2019, BBVA reached a landmark milestone: By incorporating agile methodology techniques into their daily business activities it transformed the way the Group’s entire 33,000-strong central services division organizes itself and works. This achievement represents a decisive inflection point in BBVA’s transformation process and serves as an opportunity to reflect on the route that has led the bank so far.

The landscape of the financial sector is changing at breakneck speed, with technological disruption and the emergence of new entrants — both start-ups and digital giants —contributing to this change. BBVA understood that to compete within this ever-changing context, organizations would have to continuously adapt to the sector’s evolving changes. Achieving this required more than a technological transformation; an organizational and cultural transformation to completely change the bank’s way of working was needed.

With this underpinning its reasoning, five years ago BBVA embarked on a mission to deploy an agile organizational model, which would furnish the bank with the ability to constantly adapt. Driven by this mission, the bank accomplished the largest scale agile transformation undertaken by a business to date.

How did the first BBVA agile team come about?

Essentially, Agile is a project management methodology that empowers autonomous, multi-disciplinary teams who can focus on delivering tangible results in short turnaround times. The project’s progress can thus be monitored and, if necessary, the path re-routed — always with customer satisfaction as the priority.

This approach to project management made inroads at the bank with increased interest in exploring new ways of working. Testing the new approach began in 2014 with teams that were tasked with developing a new mobile banking application. The goal of the app was to address customer needs vis-a-vis the management of their accounts, in addition to offering value added services based on new technologies like artificial intelligence. To reach this goal, small autonomous teams were formed, comprised of people from different departments with specialized profiles in different domains. These teams began to work in a radically different way to how the bank had traditionally operated: these were scrum teams.

This was the beginning of the first BBVA agile team whose work proved to be a total success: BBVA’s app in Spain has been recognized by the consulting firm, Forrester, as the best in the world for three consecutive years.

From scrum to digital factories

After the success of this initiative, the bank decided to form more scrum teams in order to tackle new, high-impact business projects. Thus emerged, in Spain and Mexico, what BBVA calls its digital factories, groups dedicated to delivering projects that are high priority for the bank’s transformation.

The bank incorporated people from other departments (like the legal and compliance teams) into the growing number of scrum teams and extended this new way of working to other countries in the Group’s footprint. This process entailed significant change management, not only with respect to the bank’s people and culture, but it also involved revamping internal processes that had been designed with a hierarchical approach to work.

BBVA’s digital factories served to strengthen the bank’s commitment to the agile approach, while at the same time demonstrating that larger-scale organizational changes were needed if they were to continue pressing ahead with this way of working. Resources from various departments were being poached to create these multi-disciplinary scrum teams and to work on new, agile projects. This created work overloads as teams were stretched to keep up with normal levels of work.

This situation triggered the decision to transform the structure of the entire central services organization, so that it would be possible to respond to the demand for projects focused on delivering new technology-based, value-added offerings while at the same time continuing to respond to the business-as-usual (BAU) needs.

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The outcome: a more flexible organization

At the outset, the organization was traditionally structured along functional silos, which carried out different parts of a single process without the benefit of having a complete view of its execution. This way of working proved inadequate for the bank’s new challenges and prevented a “liquid” resource pool where people could be assigned to the highest priority projects or processes at any given time.

In light of this situation, BBVA elected to radically shake-up its organizational structure. The Group approached this change with the experience it had gained by implementing agile techniques and with the goal of creating a more transparent, flexible, and productive organization.

This organizational change also called for the total visibility and transparency of the projects that were underway. To gain this visibility, BBVA created the Single Development Agenda (SDA), which serves to prioritize all the bank’s global projects taking into account their criticality and alignment with the Group strategy, avoiding duplication and lack of strategic focus.

By establishing the SDA, the Group was able to obtain a holistic view of the bank’s capacity to deliver projects and has thus become the essential foundation for a staffing model that meets demands. Finally, the model has been designed to assign each resource to the projects where she or he will add the most value based on knowledge and experience.

A new organization, new tools for professional development

BBVA is the first large enterprise to have completed an agile transformation of its central service functions across all its subsidiaries worldwide. This accomplishment represents an all-encompassing milestone: not only was the organizational and governance structure changed, but so to was the way of working and the professional development of more than 33,000 people who work in the bank’s central services.

This change has redefined the traditional concept of departments and functional divisions, establishing a new structure composed of five main blocks for each department:

  • Customer management (“front line”): small teams that manage the relationship between different departments.
  • Project teams: autonomous, multi-disciplinary teams empowered to reallocate resources on a quarterly basis depending on the bank’s strategic priorities. Typically, they adhere to a “scrum model.”
  • Process teams: tasked with executing recurring processes supporting business activity or project teams. Typically, they work according to a kanban model.
  • Disciplines: smaller teams, focused on managing and sharing the bank’s knowledge and best practices in areas of technical expertise.
  • Control: teams that cut across all the Group’s management, business, or operational departments.

In parallel, for each discipline, Communities of Practice (CoPs) have been established, conceived to be expert communities that share knowledge and expertise and co-create solutions and tools that will be made available to the entire Group.

Teams, therefore people, are the cornerstone of the bank’s new organization, because they are the ones responsible for the success of the bank’s transformation

Tools designed to promote employee professional development in the new organization were also created. They include an evaluation model aligned to the new project approach to work and the role of the “people leader” to give employees career path advice and give employees visibility within the organization.

At the same time, to ensure the transformation’s bedding-in, the bank staff had to be trained on the new work methodologies and given support during the transition to a model that broke with tradition. To this end, firstly, the bank created a team dedicated to both promoting the agile model across all the bank’s departments and geographical footprint as well as to measuring the degree to which the new methodologies were adopted. Second, the “agile coach” role was defined to support all teams in order to guarantee that the techniques and tools of the new model were adopted, thus ensuring maximum benefit from the new approach. Agile coaches teach the teams how to work independently and support the required change of mentality, helping teams focus on deliverables, quality, and customers.

Teams, therefore people, are the cornerstone of the bank’s new organization, because they are the ones responsible for the success of the bank’s transformation. For the same reason, the bank’s leaders also assume a fundamental role; their conviction in the new culture is essential for the new model to work. To facilitate this new process, training and evaluation programs have been launched, designed to encourage the adoption of a new leadership style that puts leaders at the disposal of teams and aimed at fostering camaraderie as individuals embark on paths of professional development that are aligned to the new reality.

The transformation process came hand-in-hand with significant challenges that have been overcome over the course of the past five years. But the journey continues, and there is still a long way to go: the determination to keep moving forward is based on the conviction that embracing change is the only way to bring the age of opportunity to our customers.

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