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InfoQ Homepage News DOES London: RBS' Jennifer Wood on Conquering the Abyss and Rebirth

DOES London: RBS' Jennifer Wood on Conquering the Abyss and Rebirth

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Jennifer Wood's talk, 'Our Heroes' Journey to Agility', opened the proceedings at this year's DevOps Enterprise Summit in London. Wood first spoke at the conference last year, with her 'The Art of Scaling Agile and DevOps', and took the opportunity to build on the journey she is witnessing at RBS in her role as chief operating officer.

Wood explained that for RBS this is a long, cultural journey; not about DevOps, not about SAFe, not about Scrum or Less, and that they are not counting feature teams, but rather creating a learning organisation where the right people do the right work with the right tools. Wood described the journey using a storytelling approach, as a series of stages with a narrative arc.

The story opened in the first chapter in an ordinary world where customers needed more than they were being given, and the bank struggled to keep up with the pace of change the market was demanding and that their competitors were exhibiting.

In the next chapter, the call to adventure happened and a diagnosis phase began where the leaders embarked on learning and unlearning with teams. They created a five metre long process map and discovered their delivery approach took far too long, had far too many people involved, far too many people checking the work was done, and far too few people actually doing the work.

The next stage Wood described as 'meet the mentors'. The goal was to ensure that when they tried to change the way they worked and asked for investment, that the executive team in control of the budgets was ready. It was key that all understood that the risk of change and disruption was less than the cost of not making the change. Wood defined agility as "faster time to value" for their customers through the organisation of work, and the organisation of people by value stream and by building centres of excellence.

The fourth chapter Wood termed 'crossing the threshold', and it was at this point that the organisation decided they all wanted to do it at once. Whilst this hadn't been the transformation team's initial vision (they had been thinking more incrementally), they went with it and remained clear they were not a team that was going to be doing this to the organisation; it was not a centrally-driven change "slapped over the top," but the change was to be driven from within with the change leaders supporting and empowering all.

The challenge of the renewed scale required fundamental change to the plan, meaning more investment and a business case that had to go to the executive leadership. Wood called this chapter 'Tests, Allies and Enemies'. She said that they never once mentioned DevOps or agile in the business case. She explained that frustratingly, they didn't initially get endorsement because the CEO believes strongly in cross-organisational and transformative leadership, and sent them back to revise the change approach to ensure it impacted ALL of the company -- not just the technology teams. Wood and the change team engaged human resources, who they discovered to be highly supportive of the vision and outcomes, and they were able to return to the CIO with the support of the entire executive. As a result, suddenly all the blockers went away, and they were able to engage leaders and begin to change processes. They ran a bank-wide up-skilling programme, and held "AgileFest". They were even fielding questions from the branch about how agile would work here.

Then the narrative arc in the story hit the abyss. They began to align with the entire organisation and establish a common language, but then realised that there needed to be deep integration across all parts, and that they had to relearn together. This meant they had to slow down, which Wood said: "felt devastating". To come out of this abyss, they restarted with a co-business sponsor; ultimately, this then meant that they went faster and deeper than before.

During the seventh transformational chapter, they reduced the number of business projects, along with critical failures, increased change and reduced the overall number of applications.

The final chapter in Wood's story was about reward and rebirth. She cited SAFe PIP as a framework which supported them well dealing with dependencies. She said that the business wanted to use PIP to plan their value streams, and that this "felt like training a baby to walk". By this point in the tale though, they were releasing five times as often on mobile platforms than three years previously, and they were delivering cloud infrastructure forty-four times faster than on premise.

Looking towards the future, Wood suggested there will be a sequel to continue the RBS story:

We got to the top of the hill and there's another hill in front of us. This is a journey that doesn't stop and if we stop, we've done something wrong. Our change is about the whole organisation achieving total organisational agility. Teams still haven't got over the fact that measures are for learning not for target and they are still expecting to be targeted. Human resources own the cultural journey for agile and mindsets. Fundamental change follows a cycle.

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