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Lean and Agile Transformation at Banco BPI

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After adopting Scrum, Banco BPI, a major privately owned bank in Portugal, adopted lean practices in an iterative way, by doing things that made sense to them in their context. Their goal is to bring parties closer together to optimise the whole system and avoid micro-optimisations. Your own context and needs must guide you; don't wait to have the perfect answer, but iterate relentlessly and take small steps is what they learned.

João Miranda, deputy director of engineering, and Bruno Teixeira, project manager, spoke about the lean and agile transformation at Banco BPI at Lean Digital Summit 2018

Banco BPI started with agile at the end of 2009 by adopting Scrum. Over the years all development, from mainframe teams to cutting-edge technology teams, adopted Scrum. About three years ago they started their digital transformation projects.

The demands on digital transformation projects are huge, so they created "Business Moments". As Miranda stated: "They have a 6-month timeframe, with focused development teams and the engagement of all the relevant bank's departments, to make the quick decisions that delivering a complete omnichannel solution in such a short time frame requires."

An example of a digital transformation project is the personal loan solution, which is available through their branches network, mobile app, and homebanking channels. This project was done with a six-person team in six months, said Teixeira.

Demand management is key, argued Miranda. If you have multiple clients competing for the same development teams, you need to have a clear, transparent process to get the buy-in from all, he said.

InfoQ interviewed Miranda and Teixeira about the lean and agile transformation at Banco BPI.

InfoQ: What made Banco BPI decide to combine agile and lean?

João Miranda & Bruno Teixeira: We've decided to move to an agile approach at the end of 2009. We adopted Scrum back then, which is the basis of our development process to this day. Right from the start we took our own path and made countless changes to our processes, by performing experiments and learning what worked and what didn't work, within our own context.

For instance, along the way we noticed the importance of making the workflow from request to delivery explicit and visible for everyone, stakeholders included, with policies for each stage. We learned to keep the size of the backlog and the work in progress in check. We started measuring the number of features we delivered. In lean terms, we mapped the whole value streams, made the work visible, started managing the work in progress and used throughput as a key indicator. We just didn't use those terms. We came to lean in an iterative way, by doing things that made sense to us in our context.

In 2018 we are taking this approach further and making lean more explicit. We are measuring things such as the cycle time or the idle time of each request. We are looking for ways to optimise the whole value stream, even those stages that traditionally we don't see as the purview of the development teams. Our goal is to bring all parties closer together so that we can optimise the whole system and avoid micro-optimisations.

InfoQ: How did you start the transformation at Banco BPI?

Miranda & Teixeira: The first teams to adopt agile methods were assigned strategic projects. The management tool was a - admittedly sophisticated - spreadsheet. Our complete focus was not on the tool, but on changing the way we built software. We brought together business and IT to build those first teams. To kickstart and sustain this profound transformation, it was crucial to have the full top-down support, as well as some enthusiasts within the teams. As we said earlier, we did these changes in-house, with no external consultants.

A curious fact, that may seem counterintuitive at first, is that regulatory pressure and the goal to be CMMI certified - we are the only bank in Portugal to have all development teams CMMI certified - helped us to embed agile principles deep into the way we work. In order to keep our agility in the face of regulatory pressures that can easily lead you into a bureaucratic world of paperwork, we leveraged the CMMI certification process to codify our processes, including their own continuous improvement. We embedded them as much as possible within our own custom-built agile management tool. This was key to make our processes drive the tool and not the other way around. It allowed us to scale and change as needed.

InfoQ: What benefits did the lean and agile transformation deliver?

Miranda & Teixeira: The benefits are numerous. As a rule, business requests are much smaller than in the past, so we can deliver value much faster. We are proud to be extremely transparent. For instance, each stakeholder can know the state of each request, which teams are involved and the probable delivery date. The priorities are set with the input of all relevant stakeholders in monthly meetings. We can change course easily, so we are much more responsive to business changing needs than before.

The agile and engineering processes we built - and are building! - helped us not only to be more responsive to the business, but also to meet the ever growing regulatory demands.

InfoQ: What have you learned?

Miranda & Teixeira: Know your theory and do learn what others are doing, but let your own context and needs guide you. You must make the decisions that affect you. Don't wait to have the perfect answer. Iterate relentlessly. Take small steps, always.

Building your own management tool may help. We started with a spreadsheet and moved on to multiple iterations of our own purpose-built tool. But that's another story.

Start today, not tomorrow.

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