What Does Agile Working Mean? - A Cultural Transformation at Capital International Group

Jerry Bowskill
 on 
January 31, 2022
Company News

Agility is defined as the ‘ability to move quickly and easily’ and an article I wrote back in July 2021 looked at how the technology product delivery function at Capital International Group applies Agile software development methods to achieve just that.

Agile

Since then, the Group has brought a digital-only corporate banking service to market, for which updates are delivered frequently on an ongoing basis. As with all new digital products, Capital are listening closely to the early users and everything that is learnt is being translated to improvements. This rapid response to customer needs would not be possible without the Group’s now firmly instilled Agile culture. As an example, in 2021, the team delivered 24 incremental versions of the bank containing 1,469 enhancements! 

What does Agile Working mean?

The core principles for agility in software engineering are defined within the ‘Agile Manifesto’ and while I am not advocating referring to them as a rulebook for wider business transformation, it is worth reflecting on the opening paragraph: 

Agile manifesto
Source: Agile Alliance

What are the Benefits of Agile?

If you peel back agile engineering principles to their core, they allow software product delivery businesses to respond quicker to market and customer opportunities because:

People’s needs are at the centre of things: The needs of the end user are always front and centre when product requirements are first defined, but this end user focus can sometimes become diluted as projects go on and internal stakeholders’ priorities change. Agile working ensures that the business always puts the end-user first. 

Open and frequent communications are promoted: Rather than fuelling meeting cultures, Agile working practices promote short impactful ‘stand-ups’ with well-defined agendas, accountability and regular demonstrations of ‘work in progress’ to increase understanding.

Teams are organised around satisfying customer needs: This means fewer handovers between departmental silos and more cross-disciplinary teams focussed on making one aspect of the customer’s life better.

Data sits at the heart of decision making: Nothing is released to users unless its performance can be measured against agreed success criteria . Reviewing KPI dashboards is a daily activity that drives decisions. 

Opportunities are unlocked incrementally and quickly: Rather than seek to implement a total solution, it is accepted that making small positive steps forward, then using user feedback to set delivery priorities, is lower risk and achieves better results most of the time.

Teams are empowered to take decisions: Creating an organisational culture that promotes ‘Aligned Autonomy’ is the goal. With Agile, the centralised decision making based on the hierarchical management structures that have been favoured since the industrial revolution gives way to cross-disciplinary teams being empowered to take decisions themselves.

Agile working

Is Agile just for Engineers?

Definitely not. And in this article, I want to highlight how Agile methodologies have been helping teams across Capital International Group to achieve increased productivity and efficiency. Our experience so far is that the adoption of Agile has served as a catalyst for a cultural transformation.

If we take a look through the antique lens which maintains that ‘a satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all’, then these modern Agile principles clearly support several common-sense behaviours exhibited in varying degrees by all successful businesses. Agile provides a framework for promoting good behaviours more of the time but (and it’s a big step) to embrace Agile principles really does challenge the management and organisational culture often found within traditionally run investment and banking businesses.

Inciting Viral Cultural Reform

Changing a company’s culture is the most difficult of all management challenges and the many Agile ways of working really do break traditional cultures that have been built on hierarchical, department-based organisations with centralised management control and a focus on internal needs rather than solving the needs of the customer.

Based on my own business experience, I am a firm believer that in most circumstances, cultural reform is less disruptive if it happens ground up, rather than being dictated top down. An Agile working environment isn’t created overnight!

The adoption of Agile at Capital has been successful because the senior management have been open to change. As with all business reform, the executive team must be aligned with a clear incentive to embrace changes to working practices and to their own responsibilities. At Capital, the goal of launching a new digital bank unified the executive team and provided complete clarity that change was the only option. 

Within the technology department, we created an Agile team over a period of 12 months, initially working within some traditional interfaces to the business while starting to selectively showcase ways of working that were completely alien to most other teams. I was very surprised to see how quickly some of the ‘development’ practices were then adopted across the business, not because of a directive within our Change Program but because individual team members recognised Agile solutions to business problems that were nothing to do with engineering. 

My next article will look more closely at the elements of Agile that were adopted most quickly outside the technology teams and highlight those that have made the biggest difference to our business. In most cases, these are working practices and ways of thinking that required no investment in technology tools. Keep your eyes peeled for my next blog post on Capital’s social media channels.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts and opinions expressed within this article / video are those of the author, and not those of any company within the Capital International Group (CIG) and as such are neither given nor endorsed by CIG. Information in this article / video does not constitute investment advice or an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of any company within the Capital International Group of companies to buy or sell any product or security or to make a bank deposit.

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