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Supporting Digital Leadership with Agile

Digitization can no longer be stopped; with customers who increasingly act digitally and mobile it is important to show digital leadership. At the Royal Dutch Touring Club ANWB, IT is taking over traditional services like roadside assistance, and it is leading the way for new digital connected products. ANWB applied agile to change the way teams are funded and to establish teams of owners who take responsibility to put good products in the market.

Rolf Guldenmundt, manager online portals at ANWB, spoke about how they are applying agile at the annual conference of the Agile Consortium Netherlands. InfoQ is covering this conference with Q&As, summaries, and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Guldenmundt about why digital leadership is important, how they apply agile and dealt with the challenges, and what they have learned on their agile journey.

InfoQ: Can you describe what the ANWB is, and what services it provides to their members?

Rolf Guldenmundt: The Royal Dutch Touring Club ANWB is an association that, with a unique mix of influencing and service activities, represents the interests of its members in the field of mobility, travel and leisure. ANWB wants to contribute to the sustainable development of society in that work. Based on its goals, mission and vision, the ANWB undertakes a wide range of activities in the world of mobility, holidays and leisure in the sphere of influence, products and services, information and advice.

ANWB is known for its roadside service and traffic information. But it’s also active in the field of insurance, travel, leisure and our stores.

InfoQ: Why is digital leadership so important for the ANWB?

Guldenmundt: Digital leadership is very important for the ANWB. This is to ensure that we can continue to serve our members now and in the future in the best possible way for the ANWB strategic domains.

As an example, Connected Car and our safe driving assurance proposition: two new products that the ANWB has developed this year that are completely based on the use of digital connectivity. The new Connected Car product is a combination of an app and a dongle which gives car drivers inside in the health of their car. It also allows parking transactions to be stopped automatically when the car is started. The safe driving assurance proposition gives discounts based on driving behavior, using information provided by a dongle inside your car.

Digitization can no longer be stopped when it comes to our old traditional services such as roadside assistance. This is apparent from the fact that the traditional yellow emergency telephones have disappeared along the road network; they made way for a modern app in which 100% digital intake in the event of breakdown is possible. Also in the domains of leisure and travel, the digitization of services is already widely used. With more than 4 million members who increasingly act digitally and mobile, it is important to show digital leadership in the right way. Those people are also members because the ANWB is a trusted brand for them. This gives us a certain responsibility.

InfoQ: Can you give some example showing how the ANWB applies agile?

Guldenmundt: Almost four years ago ANWB started with a broad roll-out of agile working. This started within IT but now more and more the other business lines are working with this method.

ANWB has opted not to copy an agile framework like Spotify directly, but to perform the implementation of agile in an agile way. The approach taken is creating support and enthusiasm among IT employees, management, and business stakeholders and to stay focused on the long-term goals and not completely on the rules as described within a specific agile methodology. During our agile transition we are very focused on the work culture and less on tooling.

During the transition, ANWB was first supported by external agile coaches. In our second year these external coaches were replaced by internal coaches. In addition we started this year with a Product Owner Excellence program, paying particular attention to good stakeholder management (especially within complex business chains) and value management.

In the past two years also a separate workgroup has been started to define a new model for financing agile teams. The goals of this workgroup are to simplify the administrative burden and to find a solution for plotting the financing of projects to permanent agile teams. This new way for funding the agile teams is an important next step in our agile transition. In this new model we first plotted the traditional portfolio project planning on all of our agile teams. Next, we clustered our teams by business line. This resulted in a main sponsor for each agile team. An important aspect in creating support for this model was the timely involvement of senior management in the entire process. Not just bottom up or top down, but collaboration to get mutual understanding. Together with the business, control, and IT we discussed the concerns in the old system of budgeting, presented our dreams and concerns and defined new values and assumptions we all stand for regarding the business and financial control of our agile teams. We used these values to transform our project-based team funding to a dedicated team funding.

InfoQ: What challenges did you have adopting agile and how did you deal with them?

Guldenmundt: The past three years we have encountered a lot of challenges in various areas. One important aspect is that the other way of control was not that easy for everyone to apply immediately (and to let go the old system of reporting ).

ANWB is originally an association and not a real IT company. But IT is quickly taking over our traditional services. Something that was first seen as a cost item is now a crucial part of the service for a growing number of departments and products and it requires a quicker response to questions from the market and our members. This asks for a different way of management (see also previous comment on funding). However, at a company as old as the ANWB (135 years) you have to deal with a lot of history (read: the roots of your organization). You cannot easily adjust these roots. Just try to pull out a carrot from an old tree. Doesn’t work. So you will have to react agile on this and find an option (possible by using the old systems) to change the control of your organization in a different way. We are continuously involving people in the challenges we encounter, looking together at how we can adjust a little more and become more decisive. The keywords here are understanding and trust.

Another challenge is the transformation of the responsibilities of our teams. Our goal is to transform the agile teams from a team of employees to a team of owners. This requires a certain mindset among employees which is not always taken for granted. In addition, the shortage on the labor market also plays a role, as a result of which we work with a lot of (temporary) external staff. We also have to take them into this change and they too will have to take the right responsibility. This certainly means more freedom and independence in making decisions, but also more responsibility. No longer acting as an individual within your function or your simply doing your tasks, but act as a team member, do everything to put a good product into the market and keep it alive and shining. Something that you see with more companies is that attitude and behavior go beyond skills when putting together teams. Within the ANWB we have prepared a document that describes exactly what we expect from agile teams (a kind of code of conduct: code yellow). In this document we have described the behavior for change, responsibility and delivering value we expect from our people (for example: "I’ll take the responsibility for the results of the work I’ve done" , "I constantly work on simplification and improvement . If this doesn’t seem to work I work on a new solution"). This not only helps us enormously in the discussion with teams on development and growth, but also with the recruitment and training of new employees.

InfoQ: What have you learned on your agile journey?

Guldenmundt: What have we learned:

  • A model is a model, in practice it often works just a little differently.
  • You have to learn to let things go, but that is not always as easy as it touches the core and culture of your organization (think of the roots).
  • Not everything can be changed immediately. Do it in small steps based on trust and learn how to use what you’ve got.

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