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BBVA's journey to becoming an agile organization

Two years ago, when BBVA defined its company purpose —to bring the age of opportunity to everyone— it also decided that the best way to reach this ambitious goal was to transform itself into an agile organization. Ricardo Forcano, BBVA’s Global Head of Talent & Culture, addressed more than 1,700 participants at the National Human Resources Congress where he shared the milestones of a journey that has revolutionized the way BBVA works.

By 2014 BBVA had already taken the first steps towards becoming an agile organization. “We started off slowly, bit by bit, building cross-functional teams in Spain, Mexico, and South America; teams that represented business, technology, and marketing. These multi-disciplinary teams (called scrums) were exclusively dedicated to one project and they worked together in the same physical space,” explained Forcano, in a dialogue with Be-Up executive president Pilar Jericó.

The implementation of this new model was a risky endeavor that ran against some of the bank’s procedures: functional teams working in different buildings, a hierarchical organization, and in some cases, the resistance of managers who felt they were losing control of their projects.

Nonetheless, the results of these initial forays were so positive that in less than a year, initial distrust gave way to a contagious enthusiasm that has gradually permeated the entire bank. “We achieved incredibly positive results, new products and services for our customers that we were able to deploy to the market faster than ever before. So, we rolled the model out across the organization until it had been adopted by all the business development teams.” In those first months, “support from the bank’s senior management was fundamental, allowing us to break molds and keep driving the transformation,” recalls BBVA’s Head of Talent and Culture.

More than 30,000 people working “agile” in 2018

In 2017, there were 4,000 BBVA employees who used agile methodologies for their work. “Everything was going very well, but we thought perhaps we were becoming complacent. At BBVA we have more than 130,000 people, and many areas continue to fall into silos; we found ourselves with friction between agile and ‘non-agile’ teams …” It was a key moment that signaled a point of no return. “We saw the opportunity to scale the model across the organization and decided that in 2018 we would incorporate everyone who worked in the bank’s main departments: a total of 33,000 people worldwide.”

The challenge is huge “Because ‘Agile’ is not only a project implementation methodology or an organizational model that breaks functional silos; above all, it’s a culture and a new leadership model. Multi-disciplinary teams, empowered to organize themselves and given execution capabilities, became the bank’s foundation. Executives had to stop being ‘managers’—who oversee what each person on their team needs to do and makes the lion’s share of decisions—and had to become ‘servant leaders’: leaders who inspire with vision, with purpose; they communicate a strategy, empower their teams; they help their teams resolve issues and act as coaches, challenging their teams and helping them grow professionally.”

An agile approach fits perfectly with BBVA’s values

In this second phase, what is especially important, according to Ricardo Forcano, is having metrics for the results of the work undertaken by the first scrum teams. “We have learned that project and team success stories are valuable for inspiring the rest of the company. But these success stories have to be complemented by perseverance.  Agile is not a fad, rather it is a strategic transformation that has come to BBVA to stay.” Training, coaching programs, and the encouragement of the Group’s executive management team have also been fundamental.

Some companies, when they embark on a transformation of this type, draft an agile manifesto that defines the principles of the new organization.  This wasn’t necessary at BBVA. “Our purpose —to bring the age of opportunity to everyone— is reflected in our values: The customer comes first. We are one team. We think big. ‘Agile’ is a perfect fit with these three values.”

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