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Lean and Agile Culture at the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle

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Scaling lean and agile is not a question of frameworks- it’s about values, principles and mindset. At Yle the company management has been involved in the agile transformation by carrying out experiments, learning and doing; not by implementing frameworks. Magic happens when you work together with people in teams on all levels.

Mirette Kangas, head of lean and agile development at Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle), spoke about transforming the company culture of Yle to lean and agile at the Lean IT Summit 2017. InfoQ is covering this conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

Yle (Yleisradio, Finnish Broadcasting Company) is Finland’s national public service broadcasting company. They started their journey towards agile and lean in 2009 in the internet development teams. In 2012 they did their first Lean-vision workshop. Since then, agile and lean have spread to different units throughout the organization, including media units, operations, content creation and strategic and multiplatform program projects. Currently more than 40 teams are using lean and agile and 17% of the organization’s workforce is participating.

In 2012 they took a snapshot of the work being done at internet development areas to find out that only 25% of the activities were adding value for customers, said Kangas. This made it very clear that action was needed. They started looking for ways to make the organization flatter and more transparent.

Yle created a roadmap to agile with things that would help them to increase customer value and reduce cycle time. This included activities like a lean and agile portfolio and program modeling, co-operation between teams, DevOps culture, and preparing leaders for the agile change.

Visualization plays an important role in the agile and lean way of working. Teams in units and their managers use kanban boards and are doing daily or weekly stand ups. It’s more than kanban, said Kangas: managers are leading by example, and teams are exploring new ways of working and using feedback loops, PDCA, and retrospectives to improve. The culture has changed, for instance by applying lean leadership, systems thinking, lean startup, and growth hacking.

InfoQ interviewed Mirette Kangas about how they got the management of Yle involved in the transformation, how transparency helps to change the culture, how agile and lean practices support each other for scaling, what they have learned from scaling agile and lean at Yle, and why teal might be a next step beyond agile and lean.

InfoQ: How did you get the management of Yle involved in the agile and lean transformation?

Mirette Kangas: Everything started from web development. The traditional model for project management didn’t work anymore. And the traditional model for investment processes meant a lot of waste. So the whole process in internet development, from project level to top management including the investment process, was changed to lean and agile.

This change was an experiment for the rest of the company as well. Using this as an example, best practices where scaled to other business areas outside internet step by step. Today, 17% of the company understands and/or works with lean and agile methods or uses continuous learning practices.

The short answer is: the company management has been involved in the agile transformation by experiments, learning and doing. Not by implementing certain frameworks.

InfoQ: You mentioned giving a lot of focus to transparency. Can you give an example?

Kangas: It’s about visual management. For example, the portfolio kanban of the company web development shows clearly what we are doing as a whole. Everybody can see the overlaps and synergies between swim lanes and epics. The web management team actually works as a community now - it’s a huge cultural changes that has happened.

Another example comes from our key product strategy and how we can put it into practice. In the key product kanban we can easily see how projects are going on. If they are not going well then we can see what we need to do and make all the decisions that are needed. Before we had a huge problem between the strategic and practical levels.

InfoQ: How can agile and lean practices support each other for scaling?

Kangas: Agile and lean practices very often mix in daily life. When coaching management teams, I have used, for example, Scrum to build a lean startup culture for understanding what Build-Measure-Learn means for general management. A3 has been very useful specially to set a vision and common goals for a transformation in the way management teams work. The most important thing is to walk the talk as lean-agile coach and experiment creatively with methods and practices, specially in scaling. There is no ready made processes or models to take into action.

InfoQ: What have you learned from scaling agile and lean at Yle?

Kangas: Scaling lean and agile is not a question of frameworks. It’s a question of values, principles and mindset. Magic happens when you work together with people in teams at all levels and build the practices, do the experiments, fail fast and see the benefits that makes the involvement. It’s not something like a company development project, but instead it’s a network of development processes, sharing best practices and experiences between teams. It’s about feedback loops and continuous learning in a people-centric journey.

At the Lean IT Summit, Kangas spoke about how they are exploring ideas from teal organizations based on the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. InfoQ summarized Frederic Laloux’s ideas in adopting innovative ways to manage organizations in which he mentioned three fundamental breakthroughs in management that make a difference:

  1. Self-management - organizations can operate entirely without managers, no boss-subordinate relationships
  2. Wholeness - bringing together the ego and the deeper parts of the self
  3. Evolutionary purpose - people align their power and wisdom with the life force of the organization

InfoQ: You mentioned in your talk that teal might be a next step beyond agile and lean. Can you explain why?

Kangas: I think Teal is a next step and level in Lean leadership and management. Self management, intrapreneurship and autonomy are at the centre of organization. And organizations are more like organisms, living systems, and networks, not as hierarchies at all.

In Teal, an organization is a group of self managed intrapreneurs who build networks depending on what they are doing and optimize interaction and contribution. Results come from networks effects. The leader role is something like a gardener in this ecosystem. If you are good gardener, you have a role as a good leader. If you are not gardener, you are not working as a leader at all.

Adaptivity is key to success in complex environment like the digital world. Living systems can be proactive in complexity. In this kind of work environments, people perform better than in traditional ones when they are self energized and self motivated. That is crucial.

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