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With Ferdinand

Amongst the skyscrapers in central Jakarta, one tower stands out from its neighbours. The modern Menara BCA building rises proud and tall, its exterior of innumerable glass windows reflecting the sunlight, making the streets of Jakarta seemingly brighter.

BCA (Bank Central Asia) is an Indonesian private bank founded in the 1950s and is the largest private lender in the country. Its size now means that its movements can have an impact on the whole of the Indonesian economy. With such responsibility, you would think that change would be carefully considered, detailed plans need to be made, experimentation unheard of and Agile practices feared.

We met with Ferdinan, one of BCA’s Scrum trainers in the Menara building, in an office room so underused that the PC equipment hadn’t even been set up. “This is supposed to be my boss’s office,” Ferdinan said, explaining that managers spent very little time in their own offices. Instead, they spend their time in the open spaces with the teams. The use of the word “boss” was a bit of a misnomer; “the higher up you go,” Ferdinan told us later, “the more you serve”. During our visit we ran into Armand Hartono, the Deputy President Director of BCA who was happy to have a quick chat and have a picture taken with us.

With Armand Hartono BCA

Ferdinan himself joined BCA in February 2010, having started his career as a video game tester and IT professional in Canada. He felt a culture shock upon his return to Jakarta a year prior, finding himself adrift, unsure how to best pursue a new career in a city of 10 million people. The shining light that he and many people saw was that at BCA, its reputation as an employer meaning that there are thousands of applicants eager to join at any given time. Ferdinan was not a software developer, he was not highly technical, he was not a manager, yet those at BCA who he met with saw something in him, that he could add value, and most importantly fit in with the company culture.

Company culture is key at BCA. They have had values of customer focus, integrity, teamwork and continuous pursuit of excellence in what they do and more for a number of years, long before they started to adopt formal Agile practices. Ferdinan himself once played a role in IT project management, which involved gathering data for reporting and creating Gantt charts for estimating project completion dates.

At the time BCA processes were very document heavy. There was a feeling that the way they were working was mechanical and not being embraced. One of the development teams had heard about Scrum and had been experimenting with it – after all they were in a place where experimentation was encouraged. They reported some successes. Inspired by what he was reading, Ferdinan set his mind to leading an Agile transformation.

Things did not go to plan however. They sent several key leaders on Scrum training in December 2014. Those that attended were inspired, however many didn’t know what to do practically to get started. They made kanban boards and used sticky notes but Scrum values were not really embraced and things were not changing. There were multiple projects on the go that they were struggling with and people were still getting burnt out. More training was arranged specifically for Product Owners and development team members, but again, they lacked the concrete direction that they desired – wanting concrete examples and certainty is a cultural characteristic of people in Indonesia. Despite the false start, the understanding of the need for change was still there, as was the space and trust to keep trying.

Ferdinan took it upon himself. In June 2015, based on his meticulous reading of the Scrum guide and experience in practising LEGO® Serious Play® methodology, Ferdinan ran his own Scrum workshop. The result; disaster. Following the workshop, he reflected on what went wrong, kneeling in piles of disordered Lego in a huge ballroom that had been full of people, where nobody could hear themselves and the message of delivering value was lost in the debris of Lego bricks, Ferdinan was determined not to give up. He realised his mistakes, gathered up the Lego and went back to the drawing board.

As 2016 rolled around, Ferdinan was putting more work into the design of his workshop, with clearer objectives and a plan to run them with smaller groups of people. He ran a number of sessions. Groups were kept to a maximum of 20. By the end of the year over 300 people had been through the training. And they were beginning to get it. Ferdinan got his scrum.org PSM I (Professional Scrum Master I) certification that same year and set in motion a program where, in turn, each newly certified member of his team would become trainers for upcoming workshops. At the time of writing there are now 17 PSM I certified people (one trainer even obtained a complete set: PSM I + PSPO I + PSD I). Scrum teams were springing up. They were gaining momentum.

One of the issues they needed to address was the question of how to scale. They didn’t believe that SAFe, Nexus or any of the other scaling frameworks were right for them so they experimented to work out what would work for their context. Out of the experiments came what they term “mini-companies”. A mini-company can be made up of multiple Scrum teams. In each mini-company, there is one Chief Product Owner overseeing one central backlog which is split into team specific backlogs. These are managed independently by Product Owners that work at the team level. Mini-company backlogs are fed from other backlogs from all around the company, with requirements flowing into the mini-company backlogs by collaboration between the Product Owners and all relevant stakeholders. All backlogs are visible to everyone. Teams are not in silos away from the business though. Everyone involved in an initiative including business people are seated with the team while it is being worked on. Mini-companies are (usually) completely independent from each other. Sprints are 2-weeks long and produce potentially shippable product increments. As eluded to earlier though, they need real care on what is released. BCA’s reputation and the wider economy is on the line. Work of compliance, review and approval procedures do not need dedicated Sprints, they are embedded as part of each team’s Definition of Done. Not bad for such a large and complex organisation.

In the four years since the start of their Scrum adoption, people are more engaged. They have a process that is working better for them and which they embrace. They feel safe. Teams are trusted and empowered, each is free to experiment and decide on its own engineering practices with communities of practice set up to share learning across teams. Scrum has even spread to the central HR department. IT and HR work closely and look carefully at how candidates will fit into the team, as they did with Ferdinan, with tools such as the four colours personality test used to build teams with a variety of characteristics. The list of applicants to BCA grows, and part of the attraction is the use of Scrum, but most of all, they have a foundation of attractive company values and culture. “Most companies want to do an Agile transformation to change their company culture,” Ferdinan told us, “but we already had it. Scrum blends into the culture that we already have.”

We were feeling very inspired as we left, back out into the heat of the day with the sun light continuing to reflect off of the Menara BCA building and across Jakarta.

A huge thanks to Ferdinan for sharing the story of his and BCA’s Scrum adoption with us.

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