A short meeting first thing in the morning can be more productive than a two hour meeting at midday, and a team working on a project no longer needs to complete one phase to start the next. These are two examples of what BBVA employees have learned since they incorporated agile methodologies into their daily working lives, practices that have been further strengthened in the last year under the pandemic.
When in 2014 the BBVA teams in charge of developing the new mobile banking app began testing a new way of working based on the agile project management model, they could never have imagined that they would become pioneers in successfully using a work methodology that would be extended to over 33,000 members of staff over the next five years.
Equally unpredictable was the fact that in 2020, agile methodologies would be a key tool in addressing the remote working situation that companies were suddenly plunged into. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the social and business paradigm around the world on its head, further accelerating hyper digitisation. As a result, many companies have extrapolated Darwinian logic to their sector and are clear that adapting to the new environment will determine whether they survive, or will even emerge stronger out of the crisis.
The agile methodology is an ideal solution to meet these new challenges. “Companies that fail to adopt this agile way of working will lose their capacity to adapt and know how to react not just to situations like a pandemic, but also to customer requirements”, explains expert in agile methodologies and consultant to BBVA Pablo Delgado, who took part in the BBVA Open Talks event by BBVA Open Innovation ‘Applying Agile in your family without losing your family’ in April.
BBVA’s Change Agent Antonio Martín, who was also involved in the BBVA Open Talks event, explains that in this frenetic era, teams need to focus on the customer from the outset. To do this, they plan their work in short cycles and adapt their strategy according to the reactions they receive from the customer, which also helps them to better monitor the entire process and minimize the risks associated with any unknown environment. “If the team is not working with the customer in mind and thinking about getting feedback as soon as possible, they won’t be able to be competitive in today’s market”, insists Martín.
An empowered and flexible team
Remote working is not a rough patch – it’s here to stay. For years now, technology has made it possible to work remotely in a productive fashion. This new “office” modality reduces a company’s fixed costs, allows employees to recoup time that would otherwise be lost to commuting, reduces carbon emissions associated with transport and even encourages delegation and a culture of responsibility.
But what can be done to implement it efficiently? Agile methodologies could be the “glue” that keeps the team together while physically apart, as they allow work to be organised and assigned in an efficient and flexible way between different multidisciplinary teams, making the best decision at each juncture.
From their homes, workers must be coordinated and keep track of what is happening with the different tasks. To do this, the agile mentality chooses ‘dailies’ – short meetings first thing in the morning – over longer meetings in the middle of the day. “It’s the best time to plan the working day and explain to the rest of the team what you did yesterday, what you intend to do today and what obstacles you’re coming up against”, explains BBVA’s Agility Coach José María Sánchez.
“This method focuses on what’s going to get done, individuals are more motivated because they know they have a voice and a say in the development of that particular product or process”
Also, “this method focuses on what’s going to get done, individuals are more motivated because they know they have a voice and a say in the development of that particular product or process”, he adds. The whole team gets to approve when the next ‘sprint’ will take place. Sánchez defines this term, part of agile jargon, as “a specific period of time where we commit ourselves to delivering value and functionality to the process in question”.
To achieve this, a series of regular meetings are also set up, this time with the customer or ‘product owner’, where people discuss which part of the product is a priority to develop. “With this mindset, you’ll be adding value to your customer in short cycles of time, usually two or three weeks, allowing you to receive constant feedback and use it to build new functionalities”, explains Sánchez.
Collaboration, coordination and transparency
“Under the agile methodology, the main unit of value is not a person, but the team”, says BBVA’s Change Agent Antonio Martín. Transparency and collaboration are also key. Martín explains that at BBVA, the decisions that are made are added to an Excel spreadsheet, which everyone who works for the organisation can access, and therefore get an overview of the company’s activities. In his view, ‘demos’ are also recommended (didactic demonstrations of operations) so that the whole team can get to grips with how a particular project has come together.
With this goal of transparency in mind, Martín also highlights the role of collaborative tools such as Jira, a piece of software designed to help teams with planning, monitoring and publishing tasks, and Trello, which allows them to collaborate visually. “Before when we came face to face, trust was generated over a coffee. Now, at home, we’re all more isolated and we need to find new ways to build that trust”, notes the Change Agent.
“Under the agile methodology, the main unit of value is not a person, but the team”
What’s more, Martín adds that they have started exploring the possibilities of asynchronous work, a model that looks to ensure that team members are in sync, but without limitations in space and time. “We no longer meet to discuss all the issues. Instead we agree on things in advance and let everyone work on their own,” he explains. So they only meet to make final decisions, enabling more flexible schedules.
Whether it’s a face-to-face or a remote working environment, communication between all those who make up a team must be encouraged so that people can adapt to each project and goal. Innovation should also become the quintessential tool for adapting to uncertain times. Being agile is not just about technique. In fact it’s a whole business culture that requires changes in the beliefs, the philosophy and the workflow of the whole organisation.
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