As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Over 200 years later, some would argue that ‘it is impossible for a large bank to be Agile’ could be added to the list. Stories from the trenches told to us by other Agile practitioners lend weight to this view. We were invited to meet the team at Scotiabank’s Digital Bank in Santiago for the chance to experience Agility in a bank for ourselves.
When we arrived we found a modern, forward thinking office. Developers were hard at work, concentrating at their laptops, alone or in pairs, while other team members were having discussions. An arcade machine and football table sat in the open plan office and numerous Kanban boards covered the walls. It was an Agile coach’s dream to see so many post-it notes! First impressions count for a lot, but as we were to discover, there was a lot of Agile substance to the style.
We met with the Scrum Masters and Director of the Digital Bank to hear about the history of their adoption of Agile and how they work. As well as the Santiago office, Scotiabank has set up similar offices in Peru, Colombia and Mexico, de-centralising power from the Toronto office who had set up the management structure in the other offices, but empowered them to evolve ways of working that work for them. A highly experienced Agile Enterprise coach in Toronto provides guidance and helps where needed. Scotiabank’s strategy is to expand into these new markets, using local knowledge of customers needs and behaviours to build the right products. The team in Santiago told us about heading down to the Starbucks next door for guerilla testing of prototypes and ideas directly with the public. They strive to build what the customer wants, not what the bank thinks the customer wants.
In the year since their Agile adoption, the Santiago office is releasing software more frequently. What they work on is driven by KPIs relating to real value. Targets are given to the development teams, such as increasing number of customers, who work on and experiment to discover the best ways to fulfil the KPIs. They use balanced score cards for prioritizing what initiatives should be started on in each period, cutting the chances of doing low value work. Story points are used purely as a tool for planning purposes and kept within teams.
Most teams are product rather than project focused with QA embedded into the team. As part of the QA automation strategy, there is active encouragement for testers and developers to collaborate closely so it becomes ingrained. The team members themselves are motivated and happy. They have a good work / life balance, in part because of South American culture and politics not accepting of long working hours that take people away from their families, which sits well with the Agile principles of sustainable pace and trusting individuals. People enjoy their work, the feeling of belonging to their team and having ownership of what they are doing.
There are of course challenges to overcome. They are actively building communities of practice between the Latin American and Toronto offices. Language and geography is a barrier to good collaboration but they persevere in finding ways to make their CoPs work. They would like to deliver more frequently and they are working on breaking through and simplifying current SLA and compliance procedures. And while The Digital Bank has embraced Agile, they are still building trust with the rest of the company; they are aware of being seen as ‘the guys in T-Shirts’. There is further work to spread and integrate the Agile mindset. However, we found the progress that has been achieved in a relatively short time with their Agile adoption very impressive.
As hinted at by Franklin, very little is certain in life. Perhaps one day, it will be accepted as one of life’s certainties that Agile, when the principles and values are followed properly, does work in any industry or company.